INDIANAPOLIS – Kentucky basketball put on a show for hundreds of fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday to watch the Wildcats practice before their 2017 NCAA Tournament opener against Northern Kentucky on Friday night. But first, coach John Calipari took the podium to preview his latest postseason pursuit.
“This is a team that I’m really proud to be coaching: a young team, but you’re also seeing three seniors up here (on the podium with him) who carried their weight, took over this team when they needed to, were able to step back when they needed to,” Calipari said of Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis and Mychal Mulder. “Servant leaders, all three of them. They’ve had a big impact on the year, and it’s just fun to see young guys come together with veterans and figure it out. This team is slowly becoming that team.”
Big Blue Nation is surely thrilled to hear that. Here are the other highlights from Calipari’s media conference in Indy.
- What’s gotten into the Cats lately? All the coach to explain. “A couple things have happened: Early in the year, we didn’t know who we were. We were just flying up and down the court,” he said, adding that eventually teams figured them out. “We had to learn to play in the half court. We had to learn to grind it out. Bad shots lead to bad defense. Like, ‘Wow, you’re not guarding. Wow, you take bad shots.’ … Second thing is we got down 18, 19, 17 in different games and came back and won; we learned we could do it. We also got up 22, 23 and look around and it’s a 3-point game. So there were so many things we had to learn.”
- That’s not all. Calipari said UK had to learn to win when Malik Monk had a bad offensive night and how to win when De’Aaron Fox was out or limited physically in several games, or when Isaiah Briscoe was checked out. “We have the youngest team in this tournament, so it takes time to really figure things out and learn. But we’ve learned to win a lot of different ways.”
- Why is Willis defending better? He attempted to explain, but Calipari interjected: “Tell the truth: You got engaged and your fiancé said you better start guarding people. All of a sudden, he’s gotten better.”
- Calipari, who had Canadian Jamal Murray last season and Canadian Mulder the last two years: “I love Toronto. If there are any players in Toronto, I will go up there myself to recruit them because I think that’s one of the great cities in the world.”
- Indiana fired coach Tom Crean on Thursday and Calipari, an old friend, had the reaction you might expect: “Just disappointed. Hard profession. It’s just disappointing. I feel for him and his family. I’ve been fired. I know what it’s like. I know what it is to your family, your wife, your kids. They take it harder than you take it. Two Big Ten titles the last four years, had injuries this year, beat North Carolina, beat Kansas, have injuries, stuff happens. But you know what? In this profession, you’re hired and you’re fired. That’s the two things that happen. And you have to buy into that coming in. Whether I think it’s right or not, I’m just disappointed. I’m disappointed for him and his family. But let me say this, someone will hire him because he’s Tom Crean. He can coach. He works. Great integrity. There will be a job. If he wants to take another job, he’ll get it. If not, he’ll sit out and do what I did. I became the highest paid amateur golfer in the country for about six months.”