LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari spoke with reporters Tuesday about his four former players hoping to hear their name called in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Quick updates here:
* On all of the draft hopefuls: “I’ve talked to a bunch of the teams about the kids and one of the things is they’ve really enjoyed the conversations, the meetings, the interviews they’ve had with all of the kids. The thing that comes back is, ‘Wow, great guys.’ ” One GM told him all UK’s guys come with a winning attitude.
* On recent rumors of Tyler Ulis’ hip problem and NBA teams worried: “Did he look like he had a hip injury (last season)? There may be something structurally that they’re seeing … that I don’t know about, but I just can’t believe it. He did hurt his knee in one of the workouts. I don’t think the hip issue … the kid was the energy of our team. … If they want to know about hips, I had both hips replaced. They may be talking about me and not him.”
* On Jamal Murray’s meditation and mentality: “Roger, his father, did an unbelievable job raising his son, opening his mind, getting him to think about the game in a different way. You’ve got to give Roger credit for that.” Calipari once found Murray in a dark video room meditating before a game. The team needed that room, so Calipari let him use his office to meditate. “This kid had a smile on his face every day. He would walk into practice and if I wasn’t smiling, he would point to his smile, like, ‘C’mon, Coach.’ ” Calipari adds that in the NBA, “shooting is at a premium right now” and Murray “can flat shoot the ball with anybody.”
* On all his scheduled media appearances on draft day: “Any chance I get to brag about my kids, I’m bragging about them. … I believe that Jamal Murray will be the leading-scoring rookie in the NBA. … I get a chance to go on and talk about Skal. … I am so proud of Alex right now. (Getting calls from NBA teams saying he looks great in workouts.) … The chance to brag about these guys. And how about the chance to brag about the 25 guys that are in the league? You give me that chance, I’m doing it.”
* On what makes Ulis special, despite being 5-foot-9: “When you talk about stuff that is not on paper, that is exactly Tyler Ulis. Tyler Ulis is going to have a long career. Tyler Ulis is going to sell a lot of tickets in that league” because people won’t believe what he can do at that size and will want to pay to see it.”
* On Skal Labissiere’s high draft stock after struggling at UK: “People would look at Skal and say, ‘Well, he had a disappointing year.’ No he didn’t. No he didn’t.” Said it’s based on our wrong expectations of him. But NBA teams love that he never gave up, kept fighting, and he’s a 7-footer who can shoot. Calipari takes some blame. “I was trying to use a blueprint of Karl Towns and Anthony Davis. Guess what? That lesson plan didn’t fit him.” NBA scouts saying, “He fought through Kentucky. He didn’t use it as an excuse.”
* On Murray’s defense now compared to when he first got him: “Here’s the other thing that you have to talk about, and it matters: Where a kid is as a 19-year-old, which is what Jamal is, and where a kid is as a 23-year-old … they also project, which is why some young kids will go before a veteran player, because they look and say, ‘That young guy, he’s 19.’ … Now all of a sudden Jamal, who reclassified and went to school early, he’s that guy.” Calipari said he told five teams last year that Devin Booker was the best shooter in the draft and now Murray: “I’m sold on him.” Defensively, Murray improved “a thousand percent” over last season.
* On reports that the Spurs are looking hard at Ulis: “If he could ever play for the Spurs and that organization, I would do a backflip on draft day,” because he’d be around pros and winners and a great culture. “I think he’d be ecstatic there, and I think he’d be a great fit.”
* On Labissiere’s story, surviving an earthquake in Haiti, and this NBA dream coming true now: “When you hear his story, it makes you cry. He never stopped, he never quit, he never complained. He just kept trying. So to see him go in this draft … hopefully it plays out lottery, it’s life-changing, for his family, for him. When you ask him, ‘What is your why?’ he’ll tell you, ‘Coach, my family.’ ” When Calipari asked him after the season if he was sure he was ready, he said, ‘Coach, I gotta do this for my family.’ ”
* On Poythress: “If there’s a better athlete, a more dominating kind of athlete in this draft, tell me who he is. … But I know this: there’s not a better person. You don’t go wrong with a pick like that.”
* On if Minnesota adds Murray to go with Towns: “Jamal loves Minnesota. Matter of fact, that’s where he’d like to go.”
* On draft night: “I get so nervous I want to throw up,” even more so than before a big game, because it’s life-changing stuff for his players. Remembers being “sick” when Brandon Knight was sitting there through the first six picks in 2011.