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John Calipari dwells on 40-0, the season's first 10 practices and the federal shutdown

Kentucky coach John Calipari gave his annual media day news conference Tuesday. It’s always a big to-do with well over a hundred media members in attendance, and it’s always the week of Big Blue Madness. What makes this year’s edition unique compared to years past is that Big Blue Madness is not the fall practice kick-off party it used to be; instead, UK had already held 10 practices before Tuesday’s media day.
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So in his nearly 45-minute news conference Tuesday, he shed more light on his team than he has in the past on the same occasion, if only because he’s already spent 10 practices on the floor with them.


Below is an edited transcript of Calipari’s news conference. Questions are in italics.




Now that you’ve had several practices or a few practices, what have been the revelations or maybe surprises to you about your team so far? 


No revelations, but Marcus Lee is better than I thought. Derek Willis is better than I thought. I just got done watching our practice tape from yesterday. Jarrod Polson and Dominique (Hawkins) played well. Guys are learning new ways of playing and are making strides. Everybody that walks in the building, the guy that they’re saying is the standout is James Young—like, every day. We’ve had NBA scouts in here every day. They’re all speaking about him, and I’m kind of watching everybody, so (I’m) not seeing it.


Kentucky coach John Calipari, a year after a first-round loss in the NIT, is deflecting talks of going undefeated in 2013-14. | Photo by Jon Hale

Kentucky coach John Calipari, a year after a first-round loss in the NIT, is deflecting talks of going undefeated in 2013-14. | Photo by Jon Hale

Jon Hood is getting better. Jarrod Polson is getting better. Willie (Cauley-Stein) yesterday for the first time practiced, and James (Young) practiced. Now you’ve got a couple of 7-footers on each team, a couple of 6-9s on each team, a couple of 6-8s on each team.


Just a couple of your comments the last couple of weeks, it seems like you’ve gotten some of the swagger back.  Just how excited are you for this team compared to where you were a year ago? 


You know, everybody keeps saying, well, I sound different. Well, there’s a process that we teach with, and you guys who have watched me know I don’t need a team in October playing like it’s January. We have not done any defense, none. Yesterday was the first rebounding that we’ve done. We’ve done no pick and roll. So I’m not letting them play pick and roll basketball, making them cut in space and create, instead of two guys playing and three standing.


That being said, we do have an out-of-bounds play on the baseline, we do have one on the sideline. We have nothing—no zone, but what I like is that the instincts of the players. So their instincts are normally right. They’re not thinking. They’re instinctive, and that makes it kind of fun, especially as fast and as aggressive as we play.


What is it that’s impressing people that come in here about James Young? 


He is really fast. He’s now not settling for jump shots. So you’re seeing a young man get his head and shoulders by people, take contact, and make baskets, which a month ago he was not going in there. In transition, he’s kind of like Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist). If he’s out ahead, you throw him the ball. Something good will happen. And he has a chance of being a terrific defender. Part of what happened to us last year with Nerlens (Noel), some other guys we thought would be good defenders really weren’t. I think this team could and should be, not just because you have a shot blocker. We have a couple of big kids. We can guard the ball better.


You’ve been quite open about 40-0 as a goal or a target, and most coaches say the day-to-day process is what brings results.


What I’ve said—let me, again—I feel like Jay Carney up here. Let me again tell you what I’ve said for about eight years. I’ve said, before I retire I would love to coach a team that goes 40-0.  Now, as a Democrat, you can say what I said, as a Republican, you can say what I said. But I’ll say it again. I’ve said it for eight to ten years. Before I retire, I would like to coach a team that goes 40-0. Will that happen? I don’t know.


Every game we play, we play to win. We’re not playing any game not to win. The reason I like the mentality of every game matters is you don’t want to get upset by people that you shouldn’t be beat by. That game matters as much as a North Carolina or Michigan State or whoever else.  Those games matter too. We don’t talk about it as a team. I mean, I don’t—it’s not like, oh, we’re going 40-0. We don’t. The way we do this is a process.


Now, being that’s something I would like, who knows whether the team would like that. Now, that being in mind, I’ve had three teams that already did it. We started talking—three (of my) teams almost did it, and by not doing it, we won the most games in the history of the NCAA. No team has won more games, two of my teams. So you may not go 40-0, but you’re doing special things.


Should this team be the No.1 team in the country? 


I haven’t seen anyone else. So I don’t know.


But don’t you—


Really, I don’t know anyone else. So I can’t really tell you.


You’ve coached No. 1 teams before, though. 


But they were veteran teams. You’re talking about an inexperienced team. We’ll be the most inexperienced team in the country, but we’re really talented. We’ve got great size and speed and skill. Will we be a great defensive team and rebounding team, and will we share the ball? If we do that, we have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country. Are we right now? I have no idea because I don’t know where anybody else is.


Independent of experience, is this the most talented team you’ve had? 


Boy, that first team I had here was really talented. That first team was like, whew. 2012—it’s funny, we talk about 2011. How did we ever get to the Final Four? I like to say it’s my coaching and my system and my style of play and all that, but Brandon Knight’s in the league. Terrence Jones is in the league. Doron Lamb is in the league. Josh Harrellson is in the league. Darius Miller is in the league. DeAndre Liggins is a league player. We had good players that year. They just weren’t as good as the year before.


I’d like this to play out a little bit and look back. I will tell you, this team is deeper than that team. We have a couple more that we didn’t have, but you just had two guys sign max deals in the NBA. So, you know.


If you can remember back to this, compared to how you felt about that 2012 team at this stage, when you look at them, when you watched them practice through however many number, how does that compare when you look at these guys and see what they can do early? 


It’s a totally different backdrop now. We just lost in the first round of the NIT. So I’m saying this group. That group’s coming off a Final Four, and if we didn’t win a national title, it was a total failure to try to build that up so that we would fail.

So I like—you won’t believe this. I like my team. And anybody that’s watched this know we have good kids that are listening, that are sharing. We had the women’s clinic, 660 women come out, and as we did go up and down, I saw some showtime stuff. Now, is that what’s going to happen when there are people in the seats? I don’t know. Hope not, but I saw a little bit of, ‘Stop, why did you do that? Where did that come from?” Well, there’s people here. I’m going to show them some stuff.


So there’s a lot—you know, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but we could start five freshmen. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it may because I—basically, I don’t make that choice. It could happen.


Jerry Tipton, Fox News. What—


The Republicans have shut down the government, and the Democrats are trying to feed everybody. What is going on here? Go ahead.


How would you describe the leadership qualities of Julius (Randle) in terms of playing hard or just being a good player? Is what components add up to a good leader? 


Well, what’s happening right now, we’re playing him in a position as though he’s a two or a three. So he’s just now getting comfortable starting from 20 feet out. You still have to offensive rebound, which he is not. He’s not defensive rebounding the way he needs to. He is driving the ball better and recognizing better, trying to figure out when do I shoot jumpers, when do I drive?


Yet that being said, he’s still playing hard. Yesterday, we had an unbelievable practice until 15 minutes to go, and then they all backed up, and it starts with one or two guys. We didn’t finish the practice. But he is—you know, he’s 6-9, 250, and he’s, you know, he’s skilled. But I don’t want to play him under the basket. That’s not preparing him for what’s ahead for him. I could play him at seven feet (from the basket) and try to win college games, tell him, ‘I’m really helping you,’ or I can make him play out on the floor like we did Patrick Patterson. Do you remember Patrick went from standing under the basket to playing at the top of the key offensively? So it’s going to take him time.


That’s probably why people walked in and looked at James Young. It’s more natural for him. He’s playing like he naturally would, and the other guys are still learning and try to get their feel, their feet underneath them about how they’re going to play this new way of playing.


How much has it changed your approach, the idea that the rules and the way the game is called are going to change? 


Well, I—I’ve been saying, again, for ten years, I’ve said the same thing, and then everybody says, well, he’s only saying that because he’s trying to get at. Scoring’s gone down because we foul more. So now they’re going to say you’re not fouling. If you put a body hip-check on a guy dribbling full-court, it is now a foul. If you hold a guy from getting open, it’s now a foul. It’s automatic.


Do you remember the charge block where I used to go crazy? You had to have your toe off the ground? Now if you’re in an up motion—I don’t even have to jump yet. I’m in an up motion. If that man is not standing there, it is a block every single time. There’s no more flopping. So he comes in, I drive, and I beat my man, and I raise the ball, you’d better be standing there, which means as a driver, your head had to be down to run him over because, if your head’s up and he’s standing and he’s there, unless you don’t know how to play, you’re not going to run the guy over.


So I think scoring will go up. It’s going to open the game up. Here’s what a press will be now. If you want to press and hold and bump, you’re going to foul out your whole team, but you can track quick and try to steal the ball, but if you don’t steal the ball, you’ve got to run back because, if you bump that driver, it is now a foul.


It’s according to what they’ve told us. The one I’m not sure of is post defense. That’s a little bit harder to decipher how they’re going to play it. If you don’t give the guy motion. If you put a hip, if you—forearm in the back or two, they’re going to make calls. That one is a little less clear to me, but the others are clear.


You drive the ball and you get your head and shoulders by the guy, and there’s contact, where before they could sometimes say, well, the offense created it. No, the rule states, you get your head and shoulders by the guy and there’s contact, that’s a foul on the defense. It’s the new rules.  Not my rules, it’s the rules.


If you drive and raise a ball and weak side defender comes as you’re raising the ball and his feet aren’t set and then you continue to jump, that is a block every single time. So I think it eliminates flops. I mean, you can’t get there. Unless you’re standing there and the guy has his head down and runs, just bowls you over into cheerleaders and two officials. So I think it’s good for the game, but we’ll see. They’ve got—what we all say is they’ll call it in November and December. Are they going to call it in January, February and March? They are convinced they are, and I think it’s good for the game.


The last two years, you’ve had three guys with (Derrick) Rose, (John) Wall, and (Anthony) Davis, who won a National Player of the Year Award. Is Randle in that group? 


Yeah, he’s good, but we’ve got guys on our team playing better right now, but he is that good. My thing will be—I’ll give you an example. I come in last night. I’m in my office about 11, 10:30. He’s in there shooting. This morning, I hear, ‘Blup, blup, blup,’ and I look out my window in the morning, and he’s got a full sweat going, and he’s going to practice today. So when you ask me, does he have a chance at that? Yes, he does because of that.


The only kid that worked like that that I’ve had has been Brandon Knight, who willed himself in the league, willed himself to be a top five, six, seven pick because, physically, you look at him, and there’s no way, but he willed himself. This kid has got that body and he does it.


But listen, he’s—we’re changing how he plays. So he’s not as confident. He doesn’t have the swagger that he had right now because we’re changing—you can’t do it from seven feet. Now get out there and do it from the perimeter.


Coach, you said earlier that you want to win every game you play, but then you said, if you just wanted to win college games, you’d play Julius down low. Can you talk about the seeming inconsistency with those statements. 


If I’m about my players and I do right by their growth, we’ll win our college games, make it simple for you. So there’s—I’m just going to worry about winning college games. Whatever happens after, that’s not on me. Or I can say I’m really going to work on these individual players even if I know we win more games with them here, I’m going to teach them here, and if I really teach them and they get going, we’ll win college games.


It’s just a different approach. OK, we got a system. Here’s how—we don’t have a system here. We’re going to run more dribble drive this year than since 2008 with this team and these rules, which means we’re going to face a lot of zones and a lot of sagging defenses. So we’ve got to be prepared.


Since you’ve now been here about 5 years, Call—it probably feels like that—how have you changed as a coach since you left Memphis?


The only thing I’ll tell you, we have a video that we take into homes in recruiting, and it has me at the first press conference. Did you chase me?  No, you chased the other guy. (Editor’s note: Calipari’s quote here is in reference to this incident. The reporter in the video is who asked the question in this news conference.)


When people see that picture and they see me standing there, they’re like, ‘You’ve aged more than Obama.’ In this job, you age. It’s just part of what you do. You’re on a treadmill, and I love it. I love the fact that our fans are so active and a part of it. I mean, we have a media day, and look at this. It’s ridiculous. This is what it is here.


It’s a different deal. It just is. But it’s what you strive for when you’re coaching. You want to be a part of that kind of program, and the hard thing is sustaining that. I always say, you take mediocre players and try to win, that’s one thing. But go take the best players and get those guys to come together as a team and then win with that team, it’s a different thing.


I was just talking to a guy driving in here who helped build a company in Louisville, left the company, went out west, and is trying to rebrand another company. You know what he said? Two totally different jobs. Totally different. I built a company out of nothing. Now I’m coming to an established company, and we’re trying to rebrand and take it another—it’s two other—this is different than most of those kinds of things. It’s a different deal.


I’m wondering if you can give us a comment on Tod Lanter, Sam Malone, and Brian Long, what they bring or any sort of comment on their contribution. 


The walk-ons, it’s tough because I’m coaching those 12 guys, and those walk-ons, it’s hard here because it’s hard to get on the court. Now, you look at Jarrod Polson, guess what? He was that walk-on. Now all of a sudden, if you watched tape yesterday, people walked off and said, man, he’s good. Now think about who he’s had to play against every day for four years. Think about the guards he’s had to guard and be out there with. So you want those guys to grow. They’re good kids. They’re as big a part of the team as anybody. They just don’t get on the floor that much.


John, one of your players before you all began workouts, said that in the pick-up games, defense has been really something to see. I see you grinning. Is that an attitude you want to hear? 


Yeah, but I don’t know if they always played zone and now they’re playing man and they think they’re really playing. We have not talked about defense at all. So there’s all kind of ways of doing this job. You can help them offensively and build their confidence and then go to your defense when you’ve got confident players, or you start right with the defense, and we’re going to make that our staple, and then it kind of squelches that offense because the defense gets ahead of the offense and the offense can’t even make plays.


We just do it the other way. That doesn’t mean it’s the right way, but you want to establish that. We’ve always become a pretty good defensive team, but we’ve done nothing. Haven’t done pick-and-roll defense, post defense, playing the screen. All we do in a dribble-drive, you’ve got to guard the dribble, and they start figuring out how to guard the driver, and that’s the hardest thing to teach in the game.


Cal, what is your thought process when you have this many talented players on your roster in terms of dealing with egos, bruised feelings, things like that, playing time such as—I mean, you’re in control, but how do you …


Not really. They’re in control. They—the thing that makes this tougher in a normal situation, if it you remember what Coach (Dean) Smith used to do at North Carolina, they’d have their top seven or eight, and then they’d bring in the bomb squad five. Remember they used to do that? And they’d just say, you’re going to play four straight minutes a half, and you’re going to play four straight. But he had a veteran team of eight that didn’t need that extra time.


The problem we have right now is we have a brand new team every year, so it’s hard to say, ‘OK, we’re going to play these seven or eight, and these five are going to play four minutes.’ But the whole thing is, they earn it. No one’s promised anything here. You’re going to have to earn minutes.


I tell them the thing about sharing the ball, we played Louisville in the semifinal game in the NCAA Tournament. No one took more than nine shots. No one took more than nine shots. We had the No. 1 and No. 2 pick in the draft, and six guys got drafted.  So obviously, shots don’t matter. Had a guy come in, ‘I’m just not maybe getting the ball enough.’ Really? So you think that’s what—how they’re going to judge you, you getting the ball and scoring. You really think that’s how … ? No. So why are you worrying about that? Go rebound, defend, run the floor, make baskets, do the things that help us win and make you look good. So you just have to explain it.


The other thing is, as long as the kids know you’re about them, you’re not saying I’m about you but really you’re about the program or yourself. As long as you’re about them, they’ll listen. They trust you, they’ll play hard. You’re not getting as many minutes because of this and this, but we’ve got your back. You’re fine. You’re going to be good. That’s a challenge when you have a good, full team.


John, after 2010, you said that you had to figure out that last little skip over the hump for a young team, and obviously, they did it in 2012. What is that element? What can you call upon for these guys? 


This will be a team that, when they get teams down, will they bury them, or do they go to showtime? Do they let up off the gas? If you ask me right now, that will be our Achilles’ heel early. We’ll let up off the gas. We’ll have it going good and then back up because that’s what they’ve done their whole lives, and they’re 18 years old.


So some of it is, you’ve got to get dinged. Sometimes you’ve got to take losses to prove a point. Our game with Indiana helped propel us in another direction in 2012. So I think that’s what will be the case, but I don’t know. Let them get on the court. We’ve got tough games early. We’ve got one of the best schedules in the country. We’ve got one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. So it will be interesting.


In most of the preseason rankings, Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville in some order are the top three. Does the team know? Do they realize that, and are they excited about it? 


They might. Again, this thing is a process of us learning each time out and self-evaluating, where they know, OK, how do you learn? Well, you learn against teams like that, and you want to win every game. We play to win every game. But the biggest point is you’ve got to learn from every game.


So those are great learning experiences. Now, you hope you win and learn. You hope you learn from someone else’s mistakes by watching and say, oh, we don’t want to do that. The reality of it is, it doesn’t always work out that way.


Coach, in 2012, a lot of people looked at that team, putting a young group of guys together and winning a national title is kind of the exception. I wonder what you say about that. Is that the exception, or is that becoming the norm around Kentucky? 


I don’t know if that’s the exception. We had a really—we had good players, but more importantly, we were the best team. We were the most efficient team on offense. We were the best defensive team in the country. They played—they were a great team, and we had really good players, but we were a great team.


Will this team become that? I don’t know. We’ve had 10 practices. Today will be our 11th practice. Could we become that? If we choose to. I just don’t know. Is it the norm? I wish the rules would change and kids stayed for two years, or we did more to encourage kids to stay for two years minimum, but that’s not the rule right now. So you have to deal with it. And this, I would not wish this on anybody every year, trying to coach a new team.


When you all went in it two years ago, Louisville last year, does that kind of push the reset button on the rivalry, and what pressure does that add? 


I think both teams could have losing records, and in this state, it matters. I’m not sure nationally it matters as much, but I know in this state it does. I remember saying, what if we won every game and lost to Louisville my first year? People around the state said, ‘We’d be disappointed, bad year.’ I mean, that’s just how they are. So that game is going to be that game, and probably both programs look to have it done. Play the game, who wins, who loses, move on now because it takes on a life of its own.


John, you had issues at point guard last year. This year it looks like you’ll probably have a freshman at point, and yet the perception is you’ll be better. How do you feel about that? 


I’ll also tell you Jarrod Polson is way better.  He’s—like, right now, if you watched him practice, you would say he’s fine, and he’s confident. He’s stronger. He’s more skilled. He knows how we’re playing.  He’s just not as big.


Those two guys are 6-6, 220, and they’re bulldogs. What I’m trying to do with both Andrew and Aaron (Harrison) are: Play faster, run faster, show your speed more. You don’t have to—either throw a lob or shoot a layup or shoot a five-footer. So I’m trying to create habits that they don’t have right now.


They want to spin back. They want to throw scoop passes and bounce through … you know, stuff that normal freshmen do. But I will tell you, with their size and skill set, and they—right now, you’ll notice I’m making Andrew keep his hair longer than Aaron’s so I know who’s who, but when the season goes, then we’ll have them so the other team doesn’t know who’s who, and we’ll have them cut it it back down where no one will know.


I told Andrew he’s got to keep one line somewhere on his head that I can see, and then I’ll know it’s him and not Aaron.


If you have the locker room leadership that you want, does that solve your desire for sharing the basketball?


My job is to teach all these kids what leadership is and what it means and how to lead. In our mind, we’re trying to teach servant leadership. That you got to be more about your teammates than yourself to really lead. I’m trying to teach the whole team that, not just one guy. You want to lead, you have to serve. You’re not leading to say, ‘Go get me the water.’ You’re leading to say, ‘Does anybody need water?  Are we all right?’


But that’s not in their initial nature, and that’s what my job is. What I’m hoping is, when kids leave us, they understand and have the basics for leadership skills to take over if they had to.


So right now, Willie has been hurt, practiced yesterday for the first time. Hard to lead, hard to make the club in the tub. And you have Alex just started practicing with his hamstring. So he’s practiced.  I think yesterday was his first full practice.  So those two are veterans.


But I’ll tell you, Jon and Jarrod are showing great leadership. I love it. Julius and Andrew and Aaron. James is not. He hasn’t—he doesn’t have that yet. But he’s a great kid on the court, unselfish. He’s starting to talk more.


You’re already one of two coaches to lead three different schools to No. 1 rankings. When you hear that, what do you think? 


Well, we’ve had a bunch of teams be No. 1, and you’re right, three of them from different programs, and all of them were great defensive teams. I don’t know exactly how many of my teams were No. 1 in the country.  Do you know (To sports information director John Hayden)?



If you look back at those six teams that all were No. 1 in the country at some point, they were all great defensive teams. They were efficient offensively. They rebound the the ball.


Obviously—are you ready?—they were talented. You win because you have good players. If you don’t have good players, you’re not winning. Don’t even want to talk to you. You have good players. That’s why you win.


But those players have got to come together, they’ve got to share, they’ve got to be good defensively, they’ve got to be efficient offensively, and my best teams have been that way. We’re not near that yet, but the team has a chance.


Cal, has there been a moment in practice, or maybe more than one, where you saw somebody do something and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you could do that.’


They are getting to the point—you know, we have the helmet award. If you get dunked on, you’ve got to take the shot with the helmet on. So Derek Willis dunked on both Julius and Dakari. Like, both of them. We just stopped practice, like, oh, my gosh. Derek Willis is going to be a really good player. He’s learning. He’s creating good habits.  This team is going to be a hard team to steal minutes, but I’ll tell you what, he’s playing as well as anybody.


And the other guy is Marcus Lee, who’s just so active. What he is is a young Dennis Rodman. You’re like, offensively, where do I put him? Then you watch defensively, and he can guard every position. He rebounds like crazy. He’s tipping balls in offensively. He’s got a clubliness about him.


I sent him home for the weekend, and on Sunday he texts me about noon, and he said, ‘Coach, I cannot wait to practice. How do you feel?’ I mean, that’s who he is.


What have you seen from Dominique early and how he might figure in? 


Dominique had his best practice yesterday. You have to understand who he’s going against. And the best thing that’s happened for him, he’s on the court with Jarrod Polson. So I made it so he and Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson are on the team. So he’s got two guys leading him.

Jarrod has been the point guard and he’s been the off-guard, but when you play dribble-drive, it really doesn’t matter. There’s four perimeter positions. So I told Jarrod, ‘You’ve got to start letting him be the point.’ Well, he’s not quite ready for that yet, but he does it some.


But yesterday’s practice, he made jump shots, he made runners, and you’re going against 7-foot now. There’s always a 7-footer on the court, and there’s always another 6-10 guy out there, and the guards he’s going against are 6-5. Not afraid. He’s physically going to not back down. With the Wildcat Code here, Julius are one or two. Every two weeks, as we judge it, he and Julius are one and two, two and one. So he does everything he’s supposed to. He’s a great kid.


Cal, you earlier were talking about best teams winning it all. 


Best what?


Best teams. How often—what percentage of the time would you say the best team wins the whole thing? 


Well, you start knowing in the middle of January, late January, ‘OK, we’ve got a chance,’ and then you start looking at what could hold us back. 2010, we knew it was shooting. We knew. We had a bad the shooing night, we were going to lose. You think of our team, that’s what worried us the most.


This team, I don’t know what that will be, but by the middle of January, late January, we’ll know, ‘OK, that’s the Achilles’ heel.’ What will they try to do?


Coach, you were asked about the point guard position.  Who’s going to be the backup point guard? Will it be Polson? If not, is that something you’re working on? 


Still trying to figure it out. There’s two parts of this. You’ve got to keep some of these guys on the floor. No one is going to play 40 minutes, but you need to keep guys out 30, 32 minutes, especially early until they get a feel for what they’re doing, especially against good teams. I think what’s going to happen, the way they’re calling fouls, all of us coaches are going to have to adjust. You can argue the point, but we’re all going to have to adjust. And that being said, I think there’s going to be enough playing time, because of fouls, for everybody. So if you do have a deep team, you’ve got an advantage if they call these fouls.


You haven’t done much of anything defensively, but just athleticism-wise, can this be one of your better defensive teams and the potential there for that?


There’s no—the reason ’12 was so good is that you had Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist), who could guard all five positions and guarded their best player, and if he had any slip-ups, you had a kid, I think his name was Anthony Davis, behind there, blocking everything in sight. And the other guys were physical enough to guard and do their thing.


I don’t know. You don’t have an Anthony, even though we have some good shot blockers, and I don’t know if we have a Michael Kidd because Michael had the combination of toughness, mental toughness, and length to do it and athleticism. So that ended up making that team the best defensive team in the country. So this team has a chance, but for different reasons. Your guards are bigger. Your length—you know you’re big at every position.


John, is there any unique challenge at all to coaching identical twins? If you have to get after one, maybe the other one doesn’t like that? 


No, they get on each other. And their personalities are really different.  The more I’m around them—one, they’re great kids. Everybody that’s come through the building, every scout, all this, the myth about them is being blown up because you see, when they’re being challenged and being coached, they respond the right way.


What they don’t know how to respond to, and neither did Derrick Rose, some of my best players.  They don’t know how to respond when they don’t make a shot or they turn it over. That’s what they’re learning. Like, they get upset on a missed layup except we tip dunked it. So why are you upset? ‘I should have made it.’ No, we won the game because we tipped it in. So be happy. Jump up and down.


That’s something that they’re still learning. They’re very critical of themselves, and I’m going to tell you, each other. So they do some yapping to each other. But as far as being good teammates and coachable and listening and trying to do what you want, they’ve been great.


In 2010 and 2011, if you needed a basket, Wall or Knight had the ball. In 2012, it kind of depended on the game. Is this a team where there’s a Wall or Knight guy at the end, or is this a 2012 kind of thing?


Don’t know yet because what will happen is there’s three parts of this. There are guys that I will want to have the ball and they don’t want it. And then there’s guys that really want the ball and I don’t want them to have it. And then there’s guys that want the ball and I want them to have it, and the only way you figure that out is in those close, tough games. It comes down to who made the plays, who made the free throws.


I’ve heard great stuff from the USA Basketball coaches about Julius. When the games got on the line, he took the games over. They said it wasn’t close. I’ve heard the same things about Andrew, and what I’m seeing in practice about James, it could be him. But you’ve also got to be able to make free throws, whoever that is, and you have to know, if they come at you, you have to be a good enough passer that we’re basically playing through you, not saying you take the shot.


Coach, this being the last year of the State Farm Champions Classic, is there anything on the horizon special-wise scheduling that you might be able to share with us? And could you talk about the conference, how it’s gotten better, just different teams. 


Boy, if we—OK. So the decision being made on the Champions, do we continue? But we’ve also got, we’ll probably announce here in the next two weeks to a month, another, which I would call ridiculous event that we will be a part of. Again, we have that kind of schedule. They’re adding two more leagues games, as you know.


The league has gotten better. Florida is going to be good. Tennessee is going to be good. You’ve got Mississippi is still going to be good. Missouri’s talking they’re going to be strong again.  We’re playing at Auburn again for the ninth straight year. I don’t think Auburn—has Auburn played here yet? Tony’s got those guys, they did a foreign trip, and they’re better. So I may be leaving teams out, but I think it’s going to be the same kind of league it was a year ago.


You mentioned Michael Kidd, and I thought of DeAndre Liggins also, stopper on the perimeter.  How important is it finding a guy like that, or can it be done as a team sort of way? 


Do it both, but it’s much easier if one guy can do it. Let me say this: That guy, if he’s the guy and that other guy is trying to attack, you can’t have that guy be your best offensive player, and the reason is they’re going to call fouls. That’s the emphasis.


So if I put my best offensive player and say, you stay in front of this guy, DeAndre and Michael were not the first option for us, even though they both could score and they’ve both done well. Foul trouble was not, you know, that big an issue.


Right now what we’re doing is we’re still fouling on drives. They come at you and go by, you’ve got to give ground. You can’t hit. You know the old hit the guy out of bounds. The officials say the offense created it. They’re not going to be able to say that anymore. If my head and shoulders are by you and there’s contact, it is a foul on the defense every single time, 100 percent of the time.


So you put a guy you need in the game as your stopper, you’re in jeopardy, especially early.


You’ve got a couple guys on the roster in Willie and Marcus who are really unique personalities off the court. Have you coached guys like that in the past? Are there maybe some challenges to coaching guys who aren’t just basketball all the time? 


Well, I’ve done this 20-some years now. So I’ve just seen or heard or coached just about any of that. What you have is these kids all need us in different ways. They’re not cookie cutters.  Everyone’s different. I want every kid to express himself as long as it’s not hurting his teammates or hurting himself or his family. My job is to help protect them not only against others outside but also themselves.


But we’re not against Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff because, I hate to tell you, all you old people in here, my son is not watching TV when he gets home. What’s he looking at? The computer.  I know, if you’re my age, 46 or 47 …


You don’t want to hear that, but that’s the fact. So to get these guys to understand that you can use this stuff, if you do it in a positive way and that you’re—everything you put out there is out there for the rest of your life. And if I guy doesn’t do it, we’ll counsel him and talk to him. We’ve got a great group of people here that watch everything they send out. There’s nothing they put out that’s not seen.


And we train them, just so you understand. They get training in social media. We bring people in to train them. They show them some of the stuff they put in, and the whole team cracks up. I can’t—why would you—and we talk to them about it. I think, again, if it you’re trying to prepare these young people for the rest of their lives, that’s all part of it.


Willie is different than Marcus Lee, who’s different than Derek Willis. You know, I’m trying to get those guys to speak a little bit, to talk, come out. Your personality’s in there, come on, throw it, let us see it.


The thing that we’re working on right now is failing fast. Fail fast. In other words, try things, go, attack, so I can correct and you can figure out what’s not going to work and work. We don’t have seven months. We’ve got a brand new team. Fail fast so we can work and move on, and they’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.

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