LEXINGTON, Ky. – Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Kentucky lost six significant contributors (three to early NBA entry, two to transfer, one senior) from last year’s team but is nevertheless considered a national title contender thanks to five 5-star freshmen and a few key veterans returning.
John Calipari has reloaded again, and he he’s giddy about coaching the talented 2016-17 Wildcats, including his son, Brad, a walk-on freshman. The elder Calipari talked about that – and his other rookies, consensus top-25 recruits De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones – in a preseason roundtable interview with local reporters last month.
He also broke down the progress of returning players Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Isaac Humphries, Mychal Mulder and Tai Wynyard at great length. This is not a quick read, but it is a fairly exhaustive preview of the new-look Cats. Enjoy:
You told Briscoe to improve his shooting, but do you lay out a plan for him to do that or is it all on the kid to get in the gym on his own?
“No, we sat down and talked about it. He’s really improved his shooting. I think part of it is going to be if he has the ball a little bit more, he shoots it better probably off the bounce than he does catching it and shooting it because he’s not really played that way before, which probably affected him last year. But, I told him, I said, ‘It doesn’t matter if I put the ball in your hands more or less, play you at another position. It doesn’t matter if you don’t improve your shooting.’ The good news for him is he was so bad last year, if he shoots 30 percent (from three) and 67 from the foul line, he’s like a lottery pick. You would say, ‘What?’ Yeah, because the improvement is so drastic, they look and say, ‘Wow, if he’s on that path…’ So, he’s been working on it.
“Since he got back – he sprained his toe, so he’s been doing conditioning but not the same with the guys. So he’s had to come in at nights, and he’s doing some shooting but he’s not practiced. (Editor’s Note: This was a month ago and probably no longer a concern.) But, my challenge to him is we need him to lead because he knows what this is. He knows what it’s about. He’s been in the trenches. He’s done a heck of a job right now. I’m pleased with him.”
Some of the players have suggested summer workouts were harder this year. Did you make a change?
“You know, I let the weight/strength coach and the coaches come up with stuff they think they need to do, but I would tell you it’s been the first summer we’ve had everybody here, which is good for us. I mean, the year we took everybody to the Bahamas, Willie (Cauley-Stein) and Trey (Lyles) did not play, if you remember. Jamal (Murray) wasn’t here until (late summer). I mean, we’ve never had everybody here like we did. So, it was a good – like the pickup games were really good in that they got to know one another, and they talked about it. Like, when I had individual meetings, that’s part of what they said: They really competed, they got a good feel for each other. I said, ‘How are you guys off the court?’ (One of the players) said, ‘We’re really good.’ That’s the one advantage we have being here: the best kids, good students. You just don’t have to sacrifice something that you think is important.
“Character matters here, and it really matters in that when you’re trying to do what we do, which is … How many kids have been drafted here? (28) How many years? (Seven). That is seven divided by … (It’s an average of four a year). What? Is that the right number? (That’s the right number). So four a year. If you’re going to do that, you cannot have some disruptive – you can’t or there’s no way that four kids make it. Part of making it is the team has to do well. I’m absolutely convinced if last year we had won two more games in the NCAA Tournament, Tyler (Ulis) absolutely would have been in the lottery, Skal (Labissiere) would have been in the late lottery, Jamal probably would’ve moved three, four spots, and Alex (Poythress) would have been a second-round pick. No question in my mind. I just know how the NBA thinks, their scouts think. And by us losing, it affected all of them.
“So winning matters, but the only way you win is they get along so well (and) you’re talented enough. So, this summer, good summer. Worked hard. I think they got in shape. They’re still not – we worked out yesterday (Note: Again, this was a month ago) and we did individuals at both ends for about 30 minutes, which is pre-practice. Like, we’ll do a 30-minute, 25-minutes pre-practice, and we practiced for 2 hours and 15 minutes. They’re exhausted after this. I told them, ‘You understand, you just went through pre-practice?’ Now, we would be practicing 2 ½ hours, 2:15, and this year because of this team I’m coaching, we’ll probably be 75 percent defense. Not much offense. Are you kidding me? But they’re better. Wenyen (Gabriel) is way better. Wenyen has got bumps in his legs. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s gotten stronger.”
Why so much focus on defense with these guys?
“Because I think that’s going to be what this team – what we are, we’ve got shot-blocking, you’ve got size, you’ve got guards who can really … De’Aaron Fox should be – when you start talking those three and Dom (Hawkins) as a fourth. Mychal (Mulder) would be more of a shooter, maybe a rebounder because he’s a little bit bigger than those guys, but those four, you know will just maul you.
“De’Aaron Fox is going nose to nose right now with Malik Sealy. Did I say Malik Sealy? Did I just say that? How long ago was that? Look that up. Malik Sealy, I think it was ‘94. Malik Monk. But they went at each other, and De’Aaron stole the ball from him twice. You just have guys that can maul people.
“(And) I think we’ll have some shot-blocking. Derek Willis has gotten better. Derek Willis has been on a great path right now. He’s got to sustain it. He can’t have a game and then say, ‘My body is breaking down.’ Just play the season. Go do what you did in the middle. That’s who you are now. Be that guy.”
Did his success last season give Willis a new attitude, a little more edge?
“I don’t know, but he’s got to prove to all of us that this is who he is – not that other guy. That’s all we try to do here: Help them develop habits. Habits mean you’ve got to do it every day and then you own that habit, you own who that is. And obviously he didn’t own it last year. He played some and did some and all the sudden like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then all the sudden it wasn’t his anymore, ‘I’m not that guy.’ So he’s got to, you know, go do it. I think he’s capable of it. I mean, right now we have him and Wenyen working with the bigs just to get them – toughen them up and make them play next to that basket some. But he’s doing fine. He stays after and shoots. Dom’s playing well. Dom is just – he’s been unlucky with some injuries when he had his chance and all the sudden he gets hurt. So, let’s hope he stays healthy.”
You’ve been really high on Isaac Humphries all summer …
“He’s been great. He was good yesterday. (A month ago.) Wow.”
What can he give you this year based on what you’ve seen?
“He’s 7-foot tall. He’s got good skills. With his size to be able to pick-and-roll or pick-and-short-roll and find pocket passes or shots that he can make. He was always pretty good in pick-and-roll defense. Yesterday was funny because De’Aaron Fox was going at him, and he kind of made him look bad. If you can guard the guards we’re coming at you with, you can guard anybody we’re playing against. But he’s in great shape. I watched him in high school. Literally, everything was below the rim. Everything.
“That’s why I said, ‘Ah, he might be Josh Harrellson when we first got Josh.’ Then Josh started dunking balls. Well, that’s what this kid’s doing now. Like, he does not lay any balls in. He’s trying to dunk every ball. He’s physically able to run. And the crazy thing is he’ll still be one of the youngest players in college basketball. So basically he’s a freshman. He got an extra year last year because of his age.”
He said he treated last year like a learning opportunity. How much has his attitude toward learning helped him?
“Really intelligent player, intelligent person. He’s not saying a whole lot right now. We need him to talk more, but the thing that he’s becoming is he’s becoming a confident – he’s a little more self-assured. And I can’t help you with that. You either demonstrate performance on the court (or you don’t). He’s got to build confidence where his teammates want to throw him the ball. I can’t just say, ‘Have confidence in him, throw him the ball.’ Well, it doesn’t work that way. So he’s doing that himself, and that’s why you look at him out there and you say, ‘Wow.’
“And Bam (Adebayo) is just now starting. So you could have two of those guys on the floor together. You could have a Derek or a Wenyen out there with him, which means you’re 6-10 across the floor. Makes you a pretty long team, too. Guards are all 6-3, 6-4, so they’re big. Then Dom, who is terrific athletically.”
You said after the Indiana loss to end last season that this group of freshmen might be the best you’ve signed. Are they ready to handle that title and pressure?
“We’ve got a long way to go. The guards are just too casual. They kind of think that, and they’ve got to think like this. He’ll miss eight shots in a row and then go back to the line and miss a ninth. Like, ‘Dude, you can’t.’ We’re now charting every shot and every workout. So, when it’s done – yesterday they knew exactly what they shot. There was a time where Malik (Monk) came down and made eight straight. And I mean, they’re running and it’s not just standing and shooting. Then I stopped everybody and I said, ‘OK, so he just made eight straight. What does that tell you?’ He can. ‘Should he ever miss seven straight?’ No.
“If he misses seven straight, he’s not even thinking about making it, he’s singing a song, he’s not looking at the rim. How do you miss seven in a row if you can make eight in a row? So, the same with De’Aaron Fox. I mean, it’s just having them approach all this different and think different. This will be new to them. I mean, Malik’s mind moves a little faster. De’Aaron’s mind moves real slow. Like you see him just see things develop where Malik just jumps that high (hand several feet off the floor) on the shot. So now every shot he takes is like, ‘Well, I was open.’ You weren’t really open. You just happened to jump over the guy.”
That was Monk in high school: a streaky shooter …
“Yeah, but he settles for shots. I mean, he could literally – he has the best runners, like shots left and right, that I’ve seen. Why don’t you shoot more of those? Why don’t you just go by people, jump over them and shoot runners? ‘Nah, I like that other one too much.’ What? Like, it’s almost like, OK, like I’m doing with Wenyen: ‘Wenyen, get really good, proficient at 7 feet. Then we’re going to do all this other stuff.’ Because he can be like Derek, a 6-10 perimeter, inside-outside. But he’s got more of a motor, he blocks more shots, he’ll rebound the ball. He’s different in that regard than Derek, but let’s learn 7 feet first. So, you’ve got something – jumper is not going – that you always have. You’re able to rebound, get a ball in, you’re able to slide into the post. So we’re doing that stuff with him.
“With those guards, helping them define, ‘You’re not just playing, and let me figure this out each trip down.’ The great thing is they’re all good kids. They listen. If you walked in our practice they’re very locked in and focused. Practices will be hard for them early on. I think early on we will be a team that only runs three or four things offensively. Probably our first month, and that’s not good because we’ve got some really big games that first month. Then it will be primarily, ‘Let’s be defensive-minded. Let’s be a team that’s all right, even if we don’t shoot it well we’re going to execute well. We can still win the game.’ That’s what I think we’ll do with this team. I told Tony Barbee, I said, ‘Maybe back to my UMass days, which was about 70 percent defense.’ He goes, ‘What? It was about 90 percent defense. 70 percent?’”
How long to freshmen typically take to figure it out?
“They’re all different. It’s all different. Some of it’s mentally, some of it’s physically. Some of it’s their feel for the game, you took a couple guys that were just more athletic than basketball and it just takes time. It’s a process that we go through every year. You look at this: We could end up losing seven or eight guys from this team. Then you’re coming back with, ‘OK, let’s start five freshmen.’ What? I mean, that’s how it is. So it’s a process. You could lose early and then try to get it right, right the ship by the end of the year. You’ve just got to be ready. Late February, March rolls around, let’s be ready and let’s be at our best. Even last year I think we were playing at our best. We just needed one guy near that goal that we could throw some balls to to get easy baskets. There’s was no consistency with that. Like, we just knew Jamal was going to have to go for 25 or 20, which is what he did. Tyler was going to have to play. Isaiah was going to do what he did. And then you’re trying to find who are the other guys that could give you something.”
How do you think the frontcourt pieces on this team compare to last season?
“Well, Isaac is way better. Bam hasn’t been on the court enough for me to give you an honest opinion of what I see. Then we have the stretch fours if we want to go that way or big threes. So, I was talking to Herb Sendek, whose daughter is on our dance team. He was in town, so we had a coffee. Talking about zones that he plays. He does a lot of zone stuff, and we spent a couple hours. There’s some zones that we could play. Not the traditional 2-3, but those three big guards out with two bigs, 6-10 at the top of the key with that way where you have a big guy out there that can really guard and make that tough on people. So, we could have two big guys or three big guys. We could have one big guy in a stretch four. I mean, there’s all kind of ways.
“Again, I can’t tell you what’s – like last year, any time we had three guys that could not make shots early in the year it taught us you’re never going to beat anybody. You’re can’t have three guys that can’t shoot. They don’t have to guard three guys. So we always went to, ‘Let’s try to have one guy in the game that doesn’t shoot it well, maybe two at the most, but never three.’ That’s what we learned early. This may be is that stretch four how we play this? Is it a bigger three? Is it the three guards? How do we do this? We’ll just figure out as we go.”
Given the shooting he gives you, how critical is it for Willis to do all the other things it takes to leave him on the floor?
“He’ll be in that eight-man rotation. The question is, ‘Are you a guy that we know we can count on every game for 25 minutes, 30 minutes or is it every once in a while you can do that?’ Well then what we’re doing is every once in a while we’ll play you 25 minutes. It’s just, ‘What are you? How consistent are you?’ Now, he should be as a senior – Dom should be. Dom should be mentally ahead of these guys. Now, maybe phsycially they’re basketball skill, some of these guys, may be a little bit better than him, but mentally, physically? No, no. They shouldn’t be. And Derek the same.
“Wenyen should not be past Derek at this point. If he is then, you know. And I would say if you watch they’re two different players. Derek is more of a threeish, four stretch, and Wenyen’s probably a straight stretch four. But he could play three. Wenyen is just bigger. He’s bigger and longer and blocks shots.”
Is he your best shot blocker right now?
“I haven’t seen Bam enough, but I would say those guys. You’ve still got – I tell you I saw De’Aaron Fox make a play in transition, shoot it, miss the layup, grab it and dunk it. What? Like, and that’s your guard, point guard. And Malik – so, you’ve got a lot of guys that can block and be active and long.”
Does Isaiah playing so much in three-guard lineups last year help him when you’re bringing two new high-profile guards?
“Yeah, but the good news for him is one of those other two guards isn’t Tyler Ulis that you had to have it all in his hands 90 percent of the time unless it was malpractice. You had to. So, he had to accept that that kid was so good with the ball it’s what it is. So, now De’Aaron is really good with the ball. I would say Malik would be good with the ball. But when you talk those three it’s pretty even, so now you can figure out, ‘OK, how are we going to do this?’ And that’s the challenge of this. How do you put every guy in the best position?
“And let me just say this, with Isaiah last year if he shot the ball better he would have been in the first round. Does that matter where he played? Because everybody saw him defensively, rebounding. He had a heck of a year last year. Just didn’t shoot the ball well. Now it becomes, ‘OK, you had the summer, you had it. You’re going to miss some shots, how do you recover from that?’ He’s got a great frame of mind right now. He’s a confident kid anyway, but I think just trying to figure out half-court offense, who’s running it, transition game, who has it? Those other two probably at this point shoot the ball better than him. Does that mean it’s better that he has it? Well, you’ve got to guard him with the ball because he’s a great layup shooter. Or do you have De’Aaron have it and him run, which means if you get it to him he’s a finisher. It’s just a lot of stuff you have to figure out when you’re doing this this way. There’s no ‘Billy ball,’ this is how we play, fit in. It just doesn’t work that way here.”
Briscoe said you coming to him like you did Ulis the year before and asking him to lead has changed his mentality. Have you seen that with other guys when challenged to lead?
“Some guys, they pee themselves. Like, what? He’s on a mission, and he should be. But being on a mission – I’ll say this, how many players in the NBA are role players all you Basketball Bennies in here? (95 percent) Right. So the chances of any of these guys being volume shooters or being the guy on their team, pretty slim. About as slim as it used to be when they told us growing up, ‘Why would you ever plan on playing in the NBA? There’s .001 chance. Make sure you have something else ready, because you’re never going to be.’ Then we laugh. If you come here and you’re a scholarship player 76 percent of you get drafted.
“Then it becomes, ‘You’re getting drafted. How many of you are going to be the John Wall, the DeMarcus Cousins, who’s just forced his way into that position like I’m shooting ever ball?’ Karl Towns should be in time that guy. Anthony Davis. We’ve had probably more than the normal, and even those four that I told you about how much did they score here? 11, 12, 13? John Wall probably had 16, 15, whatever it was. So you come here, you’re on a mission and it’s not about numbers. It isn’t. It’s, ‘I want to be the best player. I want to be an efficient player. I want whatever I do to be able to transfer into that league. And that’s what we talk about. The guys that don’t get that, that I call them sometimes they’re delusional. Like, ‘If you just let me shoot more.’ Mmmmm, nope. That means you’re going to miss more. That means we’re not going to win. So, if you are efficient with the shots you’re getting.
“Like I said this year as much as I’m saying to him, ‘You’re leading this team,’ when he talked to me I said, ‘Understand those two’ and he started talking about Malik and De’Aaron. I said, ‘Wait a minute, don’t you take a backseat to those two. Yes, I want them to perform and you’ve got to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are so that we can help them play toward their strengths, but don’t you take a backseat. You’re as good as anybody. Physically, mentally, he’s got a killer in him.’ You win with guys like him. Then it’s our job to just teach them how to lead and what it means to be a leader both on and off the court. It’s all part of what we do here. It’s not, ‘OK the lesson plans from last year, what were they?’ OK, I may look at practice plans, but most of it’s how I organized them, not what we were doing.”
What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen from Tai Wynyard from last year to this year?
“Again, knowing what’s expected. I still think he’s a little behind physically, conditioning. Until you break that it’s really hard to break through because you’re behind the action, which means you’re late to balls, which means shots get blocked. Being in great conditioning, that’s what Isaac has done and that’s what Tai has to do. But he’s a big body. He gives us another size. He and Sacha (Killeya-Jones) give us two more guys. I’d say Sacha the same thing: conditioning, training so that he can be that guy. It’s hard when you’re not up to speed with that.”
What did you see in Killeya-Jones as a recruit?
“Well, first of all he came at us. So that’s always a good thing. Like he wanted to visit. He had decommitted from Virginia and he and his mother and father came in with his brother. Tell me why you have an interest in us? ‘I want to be in a program that have had guys like me who have grown and have been taught and been coached and challenged and made it. And the way you guys play is the way I want to play.’ So, then watching him, I’m like, ‘The kid’s good enough.’ He’s skilled, but he’s got a long way to go.
“They’re all on different paths. When you look at Bam, physically and athletically he’s just – that separates him. So he may be on a different path than Sacha and even a different path than Isaac. They’re all on different paths, but he’s big, he’s long. Knee’s been bothering him, so I’m hoping that’s from that growth plate is still open. It would be nice if he gets to 7-foot tall, but he has tendonitis stuff which is slowing him down. I’ve had to tell him, ‘You understand, if you don’t practice you’re not going to play here, right? Like, someone has told you that, right? Like if your knee really hurts and you can’t practice it’s OK, but you will not get in a game. Right? Like, you know that, right?’ Then tendonitis is – 75 percent of the NBA has tendonitis in their knees and their ankles. You have tendonitis. They play and practice. You have to figure out how to play and practice. If it hurts and you can’t do it, I’m good. You’re not playing, but I’m OK. So, he’s got to get through that stuff.
“That’s all – what can I? DeMarcus Cousins: ‘My feet are on fire, I can’t go.’ He sits down, takes his shoes off. ‘OK, you can’t go. You know you’re not every starting here, right, if you can’t do conditioning? Oh, no. I’ll play you some, but you’re not starting. If you play good, I’ll play you more and if you play bad I’ll play you less but you will never start here unless you get through conditioning.’ He made every conditioning after that, but that one was one of those. So you have guys go through that. Malik will go through it. De’Aaron, ‘I don’t feel like it today.’ No, that’s not how it works. So, our job is to teach them habits that they then own.
“See, the guys that we’re over top of them they develop a habit only because I’m making them and when they’re out of line you push them back. They leave here, they don’t own that habit, they don’t want that habit, that’s not them. Those are usually the guys on the edge. The guys that develop those habits, own those habits, that becomes who they are, who they play, how they train, how they think. Usually those guys, that’s what carries them. In that league, it’s professional. They’re not going to tell you, ‘Are you up? Did you go to your workout?’ No, they say, ‘He didn’t go? Shit, he doesn’t want to be here. I’m trying to keep my job. Send me somebody else. Get this sum-a-bitch out of here.’ That’s – I mean, to put it bluntly that’s what it is. So we’re about teaching habits, developing habits and then in the end they’ve got to own them, they’ve got to be theirs.”
You’ve always advocated your guys being involved in the community, especially after they leave here. What do you think about athletes using their platform politically and for social causes and those kind of things?
“I had a meeting with the team. I think I did this a year ago. Then I had it again with this group. If there is something happening in the world or around you that you want to make a statement about and you want to be a part of, thoroughly – first of all – educate yourself, thoroughly know what they stand for. Do you stand for everything they stand for? If you don’t, don’t get involved. If you do, that’s the first step. Do you agree with what they’re asking? Because most cases they want you in the front of the line. Why do they want you in the front of the line? Because you bring attention to their cause. If their cause is your cause and you’ve been thorough about it, that’s the first step.
“The second step would be, ‘If I get involved will it make a difference?’ And, ‘Tell me the downside.’ So, the downside may be you lose your job, you lose your this, you lose your family. Is it worth that? If it is, go for it. But you better know the downside of it. But you thoroughly have to educate yourself on what the cause is. It’s not, ‘Well, this cause may be overaching.’ And I told them, ‘There are times you’ve got to make a stand.’ I told them…We talked to them about the police and how to handle yourself if you get pulled over, this, that and the other.
“I’ve been in the company of – there was Bruiser Flint when I was at UMass where we’d be in a store and I’d go one way, he’d go the other way and there’d be two people following him, watching him. No one watched me. I’ve been in a car where I’m on the passenger side sitting back, he’s driving and it’s two in the morning, we get pulled over. ‘Where you going? What are you doing? Which road did you take? Which road did you take? Why were you there? What were you doing? Did you take this road or did you take the other road?’ Until I sit up and, ‘Sir, did we do something? Is there something here?’ I’ve been on an airplane where we’re in first class and they come over to me, ‘Hey sir, would you like something to drink?’ And then they go to Bruiser, and what do they said to him? ‘Can I see your ticket?’ Can you see his ticket? You know me: ‘Why did you ask me for my ticket? Why you asking him for his ticket?’
“So, I tell these guys, just because you have a Kentucky uniform you don’t feel all this stuff. It’s there, OK. So, the cause becomes if you thoroughly research it and you feel the same. If you think you can make a difference. If you don’t, getting involved for what reason? If you know you can make a decision, what’s the downside of this? What could happen to this? So, I’m not telling them not to. I’m just telling them the approach if they were to get involved.”
Having seen some of those things that you just described and seeing some of the things that unfold around our country lately, is it difficult for you not to speak out yourself?
“If I think there’s something I need to jump in with, I would. I would have no problem. You know, I just – what I just did, I spoke my mind and told you how I felt. ‘This is what I see.’ But, you know, again, I’m an adult who would look at what I just said. Is it worth it? Would I make a difference or am I just doing it to do it? Am I going to make a difference and if I want to make a difference what’s the downside? Tell me where this goes.
“But, for them, they’re 18, 19. If they don’t think it through and they do something it could wreck them the rest of their life. You don’t want that. If they feel so strongly, they know they can make a difference and then not worry, they know what the downside is, the worst thing that can happen and ‘I’m willing to deal with that,’ then they’ve got to do what they think they socially – their social conscious. I wouldn’t go crazy on them. I’d ask them though: ‘Talk to me, tell me why.’”
How much do you help educate them in that process? There’s so much on the Internet, how do you separate fact from fiction?
“I would tell you that it’s hard to try to do the education myself because there may be a bias there. I wan’t them to know, ‘Educate yourself.’ There’s all kind of ways now. This isn’t 30 years ago. You can press a button and get information. You can go (talks into phone), ‘Could you give me information on…?’ And then come right back at you. So, they can get it, but I would probably – I’ve told them, ‘If you’re going to do something come to me first, tell me why, we’ll talk it through and then you go do your thing.’ That’s my approach. All I need to do – It’s kind of like a kid wanting to leave here or stay. ‘Tell me why you’re leaving. Really? Did you think this thing through? Who is talking to you?’ Or you’re staying: ‘Wait a minute, tell me why you’re staying.’ Then you sit there and you go, ‘You know what, you’ve got good reasons. Let’s go for this.’
“So, look, in one year many of these kids – if not two years – they’re leaving me and going to a man’s world. I can’t have them do stuff because it makes me look good or bad. ‘You can’t do it, I’ll look like…’ What? It’s nothing to do with me. This is about a young, 17, 18, 19 year old making decisions which in a year and a half, two years he’s going to have to make. Now how do you help him make decisions? The stuff we talk about girls. I’m pretty blunt. I mean, you can’t – if you hit a girl you should get punched in the face. You don’t hit. What? And if you have an issue with a girl and it’s in front of a judge: Men, a 6-7 black man and a 5-2 white girl, you’re going to jail. You are going to jail. You’re not winning. I don’t care what you said. Unless something is on camera, you’re going to jail. There are neighborhoods where – I was in Memphis. There are some tough neighborhoods where men and women blend. They’re the same. She smacks you, you smack her….
“But my job is help them develop habits. One of those habits may be when I’m approached with something how do I logically go through this and think about it? Business, money. I talk to them about money before they leave. If it’s too good to be true, it is. If it’s too good to be true, it is. If someone is going to make you 80 percent on your money just give them the money, say, ‘Just take it.’ I mean, there’s stuff – 80 percent is you’re either selling drugs, you’re stealing or you’re and actor. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. Short of that, you’re a grinder like the rest of us. Hit a bunch of bunts and singles and hit a bunch of those. I mean, it’s all what we try to do here. And then basketball on top of it, we better win games.”
De’Aaron is stepping into very big point guard shoes …
“I haven’t figured out is he going to have the ball as much as Tyler. I haven’t figured it out yet. Now, let me say this, as I watch him he’s going to have the ball. But Tyler had it would say 97 percent of the time? And he probably needed 98 percent? Yeah, OK, but this is totally different. And last year it was a little bit of Jamal, who we end up finding out the way we wanted him to play, which is both with and without the ball, ended up benefiting him. So now, what do we do? Like De’Aaron with the ball now, he can get to the rim, he’s getting more physical, he can create contact. He hits and then shoots. He’s not flailing. I mean, you just watch him and — His pace of game is too casual at times. My thing is there are times he can look as fast as John Wall. John Wall knew that was his No. 1 weapon and he used it all the time, probably too much. De’Aaron hasn’t figured out that should be his No. 1 weapon. It’s a weapon he’ll use every once in a while, but it’s really hard to run that fast all the time. ‘So, I’ll run fast…The rest of the time I’m so good with the ball I don’t want to run fast. I’m going to slow down so he catches me so I can..’
“So, there’s stuff. He’s going to have the ball. He’s going to be in pick-and-rolls. He’s going to be in play-making decisions. He can score the ball too. Malik may be played like Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist), which is if he’s ahead, give it to him. If you don’t give it to him you’re coming out, because he can just, you know. His explosion to go back by you, his ability to make runners. He’s getting better at taking hits. Again, I’m telling you this with a summer and a couple hours a week. I mean, we haven’t – the real stuff of playing and then the schedule, which is you know top-heavy for this group being this young.”
Has coaching Brad been what you expected? Have there been any surprises as you’ve gotten him here this summer?
“No, he’s been pretty good by the way, but physically he’s in the gym in at night. He’s shooting the ball well. He’s a walk-on that if he doesn’t try to go and play like the rest of these guys, if he doesn’t turn it over and he can make shots he can play a little bit. Like, you can be up 20 and put him in. But it was funny this summer he had a friend and we were down on the shore and he was just, you know, being a typical 18, 19-year-old jerk. So I finally said, ‘Son, come over here. Do you understand that you’ve got to make me like you? Do you know that? This stuff has just changed. You understand if I don’t like you, like I don’t want you in practice, I don’t want you around me? You’ve got to think, how do I make this man like me?’”
Because you have to love him, but you don’t have to like him.
“Right, and if I don’t want you around you’re not around. I’m just, ‘Get out of here, beat it.’”
He’s talked about being a coach one day or maybe wanting to be a coach. Have you talked to him about that?
“He told me that for the first time. He’s not like the most talkative kid. He’s more like his mother that way. He’s a little bit more quiet, but he said, ‘I think I want to get into coaching.’ I said, ‘Well, then you’re doing the right thing and I’ll get you around Joel (Justus) and we’ll get you around some of the video stuff and you can – Kenny (Payne) will be working you out and the other coaches. You’ll see all that side of it. You’ve got four years to really study what we do here.’ Like I’ve said, I’ve helped a lot of guys into coaching if that’s what they want to do, players that played for me, assistant coaches who worked for me. I mean, it’s what I do here, so good for him.
“My thing to him, ‘If you really want to play you probably got to go Division II or a lower Division I.’ And he had a reason why he wanted to come here. Like I said, ‘Tell me why you’d want to do this.’ And I said ‘OK, that’s good. It’s a hard job.’ And I still – his mother thinks he’s playing. She’s out of her mind. She’s like, ‘You’re playing him, I’m telling you you’re going to play him.’ OK, all right, just stop. What are we having for dinner?”
With the mix you have of older guys and the freshmen, does this team remind you of previous teams at all?
“No. No. I’m excited about coaching them, but it’s funny. My wife had them and just said like every year the kids have just gotten like they’re great kids and they’ve just gotten better. She said of this group and Isaac said to me, ‘Last year coach, the team we had, the way we got along, it was unbelievable.’ And he said, ‘I never have played on a team like that, and now this year’s team is the same, maybe even closer.’ And what our guys don’t understand until they leave us: It is not usually like that. It’s usually you’ve got a couple guys or this and that. We’ve been fortunate.
“Like I said, being at Kentucky it’s a different deal. I mean, we don’t get everybody we’re recruiting. There are kids that act like Kentucky was one of the schools and I decided…Well, I haven’t talked to the kid in two months. Us? Like, no. I’ve had kids call me: ‘Coach, why haven’t you talked to me?’ Duh. Why haven’t I talked to you? You know where you’re going to school. You just want us involved. So go where you’re going. I leave this week and it’s going to be a grueling six, seven days. But, after that seven days we’ll have a good idea of where we are. We’re not recruiting that many guys. Seven, eight, nine guys, maybe.
“One kid texted me, ‘Are you OK if you put me on my five, my final five?’ Because he knows I haven’t talked to him in two months and he knows that he doesn’t want to put it out there and then have us come out and say we’re not – he doesn’t want to be embarrassed. I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re fine.’ I’m not going to hurt these kids, but the reality of it is we’re not recruiting every kid out there. The ones that need to come here come here. Some other kids that look at this and just don’t want all this or it’s too much or are convinced, ‘Do you really want to be a part of that, do you really want to share? Why would you go score 11 a game when you could score 20 here? I’ll make you the center of attention.’ You’re 18 or you’re their family and you think 20 points is what’s going to get you a better draft pick than 11, you probably should talk to Karl or Anthony or one of those guys but, you know, you can believe that.
“It’s going to be a grueling – like I’m going to be from one coast to the other. (Points at imaginary map) and then come home, and when I’m home we’ll have some kids on campus…It’s an interesting time of the year. It’s grueling, but you know – and you guys understand why I have to go try to hit every kid in the first three or four days. Why would you say I have to be? If I don’t hit them in the first three or four or five days, what? (You don’t want them) Right. And who’s telling them that? So, I have to. Like, you’ve got no choice. If I said, I’ll see you in the second week, ‘Oh yeah, he really wants you. I was here at midnight waiting on your doorstep and he’s coming week two. Come on.’ So, we just say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re doing.”
How tough is it to manage a class like this when you said you might lose six, seven, eight guys from this current team?
“Well, some kids are going to wait, and that’s OK. It’s OK in that we feel we’ll lose enough that it’s not going to affect. You’ll have people tell them to wait thinking, ‘Let’s hope all his team stays.’ Three of them, ‘You don’t want to do it early. You want to wait, you want to wait, you want to wait.’ And you’re like, ‘Why would someone tell them to wait?’ Because they don’t think they’re getting him if he goes early but if they wait they’ve got a chance if everyone else signs. And some of the kids go for it. ‘You know what, I do want to wait. I want to see.’ And that’s OK. And then other kids are going to make decisions early, ‘I want to get this done.’ And this kind of class we’ve got to sign five or six guys.
“I told one guy, the great thing of the old way of recruiting when I was at UMass: Every third year you had to have a big year. The other two you were just kind of plugging holes and if you got somebody fine, if you didn’t you’re fine. But the third year you had to get three or four guys. Think about that. We’re trying to sign five a year. Not every high school class is like really good. You’re trying to get the best of what it is. Then you have 28 that got drafted, it kind of helps you when you go out. So what do they say then? ‘Ah, they were good before. There’s no such thing as preparing kids. They’re there before.’ Well, what about Eric Bledsoe? ‘Ah, I’m just telling you they were there before. He was a lottery pick before he got there.’ Really, I never heard of him. ‘Ah, that just doesn’t matter. You don’t know.’”
When you go into a summer is it harder to get over a tournament like last year when you went out earlier than you expected versus a Final Four team where just missed at the end?
“Let me say this: The year in 2010 I knew that our Achilles’ heel was that we were very streaky shooting the ball. When Eric Bledsoe came out of the game early against West Virginia and were 0 for 20 in the 3-point line, we knew that could happen. Believe me, we had discussed it. What do we do if this happens? Is there some way we try to stay in the game? Well, we did stay in the game and we ended up losing by whatever it was. It wasn’t like we got buried, but you’re 0 for 20 you’re going to lose. Last year’s team, we knew if we faced a physical team around that basket or they had a guy that could score and our guys didn’t do it we were in trouble. We knew it.
“We knew it before, so when it happened it was kind of like we kind of knew that could happen. We didn’t want it to happen. The first game we looked like, ‘OK, we’re going to be OK.’ Well, yeah, and that 2010 team against I think it was Wake Forest and somebody else shot the lights out. Against Cornell in the first half – I think it was Cornell – shot the ball well and you’re thinking, ‘OK.’ Then the second half against Cornell, if you remember, we missed 10 straight. You’re thinking, ‘Oh geeze, please don’t have that mindset.’ They did.”
So it’s a lot harder when you have a team that you think all the pieces are there?
“That one is when you knew – when we knew the year where we started and we weren’t real good and then we got better because we had no one here in the summer with the twins and Julius (Randle) and those guys. But we knew we had enough. We had enough guys. That was hard. Obviously the 38-0 team was really difficult because we thought we could beat the field from that point, but yeah there are some year’s you’re just like, ‘Look, this team maxed out. I’m good, let’s go.’ Do we got the guys signed? Let’s go. How do we help the guys that are there? I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. I move on.
“Last year’s team, I was happy for the guys. I wish Alex would have been drafted in the second round somewhere, but he worked out with enough teams. And that’s the other thing that’s great about being here: Every one of the kids if there in this program and they want a chance to be in the NBA you’re either getting drafted or we’ll get you on a summer league team. But people are going to know who you are and see you. Well, ‘If I had the ball, or more shots…’ No, no. You’re in there now. You’re there now. Now it’s your time to prove what you’re saying is true, and you’ve got to go do it. Whether you’re a first rounder and you say I could have been the third pick if I shot more. OK, then go shoot more now that you’re in the league, you’re a first-round pick. You’re on their team, go do it.
“That’s the greatest thing about being here: You know you’re going to get your opportunity. I really think both Dom and Derek will get an opportunity. I think they’re going to get an opportunity. Now, OK, go do it. I think the experience here, the habits developed. You think about the guys those guys played against. Come on. I mean, you just spent four years against those kind of players. You’re going to go work out for an NBA team and say, ‘Shit, I played against all these guys in practice every day.’ Not 12 times a year. In practice every day. So, you know, like I said the stuff that we’re doing, 28 in seven years. How stupid is that? Literally it’s like, ‘That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard in my life.’
“I mean, are you kidding me? And now going forward what if you’re here 10 years and its 40? Then all the sudden you look and you’re saying, ‘Holly geeze, it’s 10 years and its 40 guys and 10 of them are all-stars.’ What? Then they say, ‘Well, he should have won national titles every year.’ Yeah, John Wooden and I. Yeah, you’re right. Our guys stay for one year and leave, you’re right. It should have happened. That’s a good point, good point. But you’re still doing your stuff and we’re still – I feel satisfied. I don’t feel at all like I’m just – I feel good about what we’ve accomplished. We could have own three more national titles, I know. But has that – you should have won more national titles, does that have any effect on the kids? Who are they gearing that to? Me. I’m good, throw it. You’re right, I should have won four, and I only won one. Yeah you’re right, we went to six final fours, should have been to 12…Should have been the one seed and the three seed.”