Sunday, March 12, 2017

Calipari and Player Thoughts On Selection Sunday

Head Coach John Calipari:

Opening statement...
“How many of you looked at these brackets? Because I have not. I just walked in the door. I know it's our little corner of the world is Northern Kentucky, who has had a terrific year; then Wichita State, who has won 15 in a row; and Dayton who is coached by one of the young stars in our profession in Archie Miller. So that's our little corner. Then I think it's North Carolina, UCLA, and Butler. So that's what I know. I don't know another region – how is that region? I mean, there's got to be some others that are tough, too. They said they put out the seed, we played into the No. 5 overall, which we played. Guys did what they were supposed to. They did it in tournament play, and finished the year, and won tough games and got down and still won and so.”

On his initial thoughts on playing Northern Kentucky in Indianapolis...“Well I love Indy. What a great place to be. So it's a great town, it's a city, but it's kind of like a small town, so it will be great. And they're basketball bennies up there. And the greatest thing is our fans can get there and they probably already scooped up a ton of those tickets, knowing our fans. So, kind of like it.”

On how much his team improved over the last few days...“Not the last few days, the last three, four weeks. If you remember, it took us three weeks to get to where we were like, ‘What in the world is happening here?’ And then I said it was going to take us another three weeks to get back and start to grow, and that's what's happened. It's kind of played out that way. So, we had to change some stuff around. We had to do some things a little different. We had to practice a little different. Had to emphasize some different things. But the only way that stuff works is if that group in there says, ‘Yeah, you tell us what to do, we'll do it.’ The biggest thing was just energy. Playing and fighting and knowing that you're going to have tough starts and sometimes you're going to have great starts and get up 18, but you just are trying to play for 40 minutes. And what's happened right now is De'Aaron Fox is really, he's come on. He's shooting the ball better, making free throws. How about playing through bumps? Do you remember he would drive and just the guy, ‘Oooh,” and just throw it. And now all of a sudden he's connected, hitting, making and-ones, getting to the foul line. We’re still having some bad turnovers at times, but I'm not worried about that if they fight and we – this, what happens for us the rest of the way, will all be based on how we guard. If we defend and we figure out how people are going to try to attack us and we have some different ways to combat that, but it will be all based on defense.”

On whether he likes when they put you with one of the small schools from the state like they have this year...“That's fine. What time is the game? What day of the week is it? They gave us Friday? I thought they would try to make it Thursday again. Thursday at noon. So Friday means – what's the chances of noon?”

On the game being at 7:30...
“Yes, that's my guess. So, play a normal time game. I kind of like these noon games. The game's over, you win, you're happy, whistling, skipping, take a little nap, watch some tape. But I'm not sure they – like Malik and those guys, I saw Derek get up this morning. So I was leaving the hotel around five to 7 (a.m.) and they were waiting for their ride to the arena. So, it's kind of neat seeing that, too.”

On whether he feels his team made a case for a No. 1 seed?
“Well, I mean Gonzaga, they lose one game. Oregon and Arizona, I thought Arizona would be the No. 1, but wouldn't matter, it's the No. 1 and the No. 2, and they're both where you would expect them to be. But they said we were No. 5 overall, I would say North Carolina's, right now, when you talk about who has got the team, it's probably North Carolina. But that's fine, I mean, we played our way in. From what everybody's saying, there's a couple – can you imagine a couple brackets harder than ours? Now this is my eighth year. It's not been close. Called it Murderer's Row and Insane Row and so they say – I haven't looked at them, but.”

On being worked up over the seeding in past years but seeming OK with it this season...
“OK. Let me tell you why, let me tell you why. There are teams that get into tournament play and play well and go from a five seed to a two seed. We win our tournament and the team in front of us goes to a two seed and we go to a four. And we beat them. What do you want me to say? We go to the Florida game, they give us an eight seed. Eight seed. Give us a six or a five and I would have been, okay. Eight? Even last year, that affected how we do. The seeding is really important if you want to advance. And if you don't think it's important, you have never coached. You never been a part of this. So, other than a one seed, which that little, the hiccup in the middle of the season, but, again, we lost to Kansas and UCLA and Louisville on the road and Florida on the road and, I mean, the Tennessee game on the road. Other than that, who else beats us? Oh, no one. I mean, we took care of business for a young team.”

On how he feels about potentially playing teams they’ve already seen like UCLA and North Carolina...
“I don't know. They're really good teams. We had a guy that went for 47. They should have beat us. And the other team beat us and beat us good. The score wasn't indicative of how bad they beat us. So hopefully we're a better team for both of those games. And North Carolina had a kid out, point guard we weren't sure was going to play, it was first game back. They're good. But so is Dayton, there's teams along the way that you look at and you say, wow. For us it's just, ‘Let's get started. Let's get this first weekend and see what happens.’ I'm not looking ahead. You guys know how I do this. We'll focus on this weekend and see if we can be the best of that group and if we are, we'll move on.”

On his thoughts of the competition as a whole within this tournament...

“Well, this is one of those years. Look, in past years we all knew there were about five teams that could win the national title, sometimes less. Three teams, four teams. But there would be about 10 or 12 that could get to the Final Four. This year, you're talking 10 or 12 that could maybe break through and do something crazy. And you're probably talking 20 to 22, 23, that could get to a Final Four. I mean, when you talk West of, I imagine Arizona is out there with Gonzaga. Those are Final Four teams. I don't know who the three is out there.”

On Florida State being the No. 3 seed in the West Region...
“Florida State? Who is maybe one of those talented teams. And the four, if they're not with us, they're probably West, West Virginia. Are they in our bracket? (No.) So then they're West. OK. So, now you got another team that's hard to play, man. They play a different style and if you've never seen it and you walk in, you know West Virginia could be another team that could make it.”

On his team being more mentally prepared in difficult situations as of late...
“Well, I think that they're just starting to rely on each other and everybody's, you have to really focus on what's the job at hand and what is my role in this, what do have I to do. And we're just, it's hard when you get it started everybody's trying to figure out where they are and now we're kind of coming together and we're kind of linking arms a little bit and that's what you want to do. I was so happy Wenyen (Gabriel) played better today and Isaac (Humphries) played better today. Mychal Mulder has never played better for us. Dom (Hawkins), come on. Who didn't shed a tear on seeing that? I mean Dom, all-conference, what he did all week. De'Aaron Fox, you're seeing him break through. Malik (Monk) struggled, but did other things to help us win. We're finally throwing the ball to Bam (Adebayo). I mean, there's stuff we haven't done all year that we're starting to do and in that kind of environment – and again, look, we use the conference tournament to prepare us for this. That's it. Like to win it, but we're playing it to say, what are we going to look like next week. What do we got to do? And there were things today I got on them about and I said, ‘I'm not worried about this game. You can't do this in an 8-point, 6-point game.’ This was 17. But if it's eight, all of a sudden if you do that and do that and do that and miss two free throws. All of a sudden, dudes, it went the wrong way and your season ends. You can't do these things. But that's a young team and it gave me three more games and a chance to teach and work with them, which was good.”

On whether they’ll do any more tweaking or just build on what they’ve been doing...
“Well, there's some things. We're going to talk as a staff. Are there any defensive weaknesses that we have that they may try to exploit. And if they do, let's not surrender like we did last year. Let's not say, if these don't play well, these guys, we lose. We'll play five guards. We'll do – what do you do, how do we do this. And we'll probably discuss that and then we'll work on it a bit. I would say some teams are going to play us zone. We have got to get in that a little bit and maybe work on our zone a little bit, in case someone's beating us on the dribble or we get in foul trouble. You got to have enough. I like the fact that we're pressing different ways now. We got more bullets in the gun. We don't, it's not just one round and you spin it and, ping, oh, geez, we missed. It's alright. We can try this, we can try this, we got different things. The biggest thing is we got really good players. If they defend, we'll have a chance in every game we play. If they will just come out and say, we're going to be the best defense. We'll score just because of our talent, our speed, the ability to shoot the ball from different positions.”

On his Selection Sunday ritual...
“It's not a ritual, what I'll do is we'll see what we can get on Northern Kentucky. We won't do anything, I won't, beyond Northern Kentucky. The staff will. I don't want to hear about it, I don't want to know. I'm worried about Northern Kentucky. We'll see what they do and how they play and what we have to do. Tomorrow will be an individual workday with the guys that haven't played a whole lot. The other guys will get massaged. And they're on break, so we'll do something tomorrow night. Probably a dinner and a movie. And then Tuesday, Wednesday we'll have two great practices. We'll leave on Wednesday for Indy, I imagine, and then we play Friday. So, we got like time. I mean, and if you look back, they fired us in on Thursdays. Like, deal with that. Like, you know, they gave us Thursdays. And that stuff is a hard – that's five games, folks, in eight days. The NBA doesn't do that. Five games in eight days, all away from home, all against ranked opponents. They're not machines, they're not computers. I mean, I hope maybe we can move this championship off this Sunday. Because it's just, it's a tough deal.”

On if he’s happy...
“I'm happy. I'm always happy. Come on, what are you talking about? What? What, I've not been happy? Come on.”
Derek Willis:

On whether they are playing their best right now…
“I think I’ve been, yeah. I would definitely agree with that. I think our whole team’s collectively starting to come together. I think we’re starting to, like I said, hit the incline, starting to peak at the right moment and we can take it as far as we want to go.”

On their sense of urgency in the tournament…
“This is all it is. You gotta come out, you gotta get the Ws and this is what we prepare for every year, this part of the season. You just gotta be desperate. Everything’s going to be a dogfight and it’s the last game for a lot of people, so it means a lot to us and I know me and Dom as seniors, we’ll be prepared for it.”

On the prospect of rematches with UCLA and UNC and the overall strength of the region…
“The only thing I’ve really seen—I’ve only seen like the updates on my Twitter feed. It was typically like UNC and UCLA and people were kind of like griping this and that about that, but, like I said, you still gotta come out and play the games. It’s anybody’s game any night, so it kind of is what it is.”

On having a lot of fans in Indianapolis…
“Yeah, we’re familiar with Indianapolis. I can’t remember where we played at up in Indy. Oh, the football stadium, the football stadium, yeah. So I’m not sure if it’s the same place. I think it’s Banker’s Life, probably, but it’s close enough for our fans to travel. I feel like our fans enjoy that city for the most part, so we’ll have a good showing out there, I’m sure.”

On how he found out UK’s seed…
“People I think started leaking stuff on Twitter about it and when we got here, I think walking up the driveway I’d see we had already gotten seeded. I was just like, well, we take what we get and then just go from there. Still gotta come out and play, whoever it is.”

On their depth…
“You need all the players you can get. It can be anyone any night. I think freshman year it was—I think Marcus (Lee) had come in and had a great game. He had like 10 points, rebounds, blocks I think even. That could be any one of these players that thinks they’re not really getting quality minutes, they could come out and have a night like that and that gets us a win. Everybody’s gotta be prepared.”

On being used to March Madness…
“Yeah. I feel like me and Dom definitely have the most experience with postseason play. That’s just what’s going to take us—that’s how we’ve been prepared for this moment. We’re just going to go from there. We’ll be ready though.”

On facing UNC and UCLA again potentially…
“I don’t really care who we play, to be honest with you. I feel like we gotta worry about the first two games rather than games potentially. I think our main focus right now is Northern Kentucky and after that we go from there and see who our next opponent is and get ready for them. That’s how we take all the games like that.”

On what he remembers about facing Wichita State…
“Their coach is still there. They had that great coach. He’s a really smart guy, just really liked the way he ran his team and his players that year were really talented as well. They had a great season and, like I said, it just comes down to the point of who wants it more. You get in those dogfights and whoever comes out on top comes out on top.”

On whether he knows anyone on NKU…
“I think Lavone Holland is about the only one I know and I only know that because he’s a Kentucky guy. My fiancée, they used to be friends or something in high school and she said that’s where he’s playing. You kind of hear that stuff out in public. It’ll be exciting. It’ll be good to play against him again.”

On his reaction to UK’s two seed…
“I was expecting for us to get a two seed. It just kind of depended on who fell into that bracket with us was the different thing. I don’t know. Like I said, you still gotta go out and play the games and not worry about who you could potentially play, just take it one weekend at a time.”

On the difference in his defense and rebounding of late …
“Just kind of have a sense of urgency. You have to be desperate and it’s the last time playing college basketball and you want to leave it all out on the court. I think the thing with rebounding though is kind of being more aware of where ball’s going to come off on the rim and stuff. It’s really positioning and then just making contact with the guy and going up and getting the ball. So that’s really about it though.”

On whether he has ever seen Hawkins play so well …
“He keeps getting better and better each year he’s been here. I think he was definitely the x-factor this weekend bringing energy and just his defensive effort was crazy good. This past game I don’t think he was really hitting shots the first game or two, but he was still—you had to leave him out on the court. He was doing way too much.”

On whether he and Hawkins have talked about their careers coming to an end …
“It’s kind of like a little bittersweet feeling, I guess. Even like leaving the SEC Tournament we just won, it was kind of like, ah, this is my last SEC Tournament, whatever, last time I’ll be here. I’m also looking forward to this weekend. I know it’s going to be exciting and being in Indianapolis we’re going to have an awesome crowd show up for us. I’m just looking forward to that too.”

Dominique Hawkins:

On how he’s feeling about his last Selection Sunday …“I feel good about it. We got a great seed and we’re ready to play.”

On when he found out about the seeding and placement …“Once we got into the house people were telling us we got the two seed in the South Region.”

On if they expected a two seed …“We really didn’t know what we were getting. We all probably thought we were going to get a two seed. That’s what we had been seeing all over the social media and on the television.”

On if he knows anyone on the Northern Kentucky roster …“I actually played AAU with a guy. I don’t know his last name, but Lavone (Holland II). I played AAU with him.”

On if he had a chance on the plane to reflect on his performance against Arkansas …“Nah, I’ll reflect on it a little later. I’m still living the enjoyment of it. It’s incredible. All the hard work and all the patience definitely paid off.”

On how surprised he was of his selection on the SEC All-Tournament Team …“I wasn’t too shocked. People were telling me I’ve been playing really well the last few games. I really didn’t think I was going to win. I thought another teammate probably would get it. But I’m beyond blessed to be able to be part of the All-Tournament Team.”

On if he likes the idea of potentially facing UCLA and North Carolina again …“Yeah. We’re going to be ready for whoever we have to play, but we’re just going to focus on the teams we need to focus on.”

On what’s been special about this team …“This is the funnest group of guys I’ve been around since I’ve been here for four years. Everybody is just coming together. We have a great brotherhood on and off the court.”

On what he remembers of UK’s game against Wichita State in 2014 …“I remember they were undefeated and I feel like we shocked the world that year. It’ll be nice, whoever we have to play, we’ll play them again.”

On if they’re playing their best basketball of the year …“Definitely. Definitely defensive wise I would say that. I feel like defensive wise we’ve been stopping the best scorers and making them take tough shots. Offensively, we’ve been giving it to the guy with the hot hand.”

On if he just played his best game at Kentucky …“I don’t want to say ever, but maybe. I got six more to go. Maybe I’ll play another game like that. To this point, I would say yes.”

On the team maturing and getting closer …“It starts off with leadership. Isaiah (Briscoe), he’s our leader. I’ve never seen a guy so vocal in the huddles and timeouts. He motivates me in the timeout huddle. He tells us we need to get this stop, we need to make these plays and all the freshmen are growing up. They know what they need to do to prepare themselves for the games now.”

On the four-guard lineup they’ve played lately …“I like it. As long as it works for us I would say we’ll go to it a lot. We’ll have to play that way if another team goes four guards.”

On the bond the team has …“Like I was saying, this is the funnest group I’ve been around all my four years here. Everybody just loves each and everybody. As the freshmen came in, they didn’t come in shy at all. They were ready to meet the guys and just able to communicate with us as well. I’m not a really talkative person, but they turned me into a talkative person. When I’m around them I want to talk. I know, right? Just when I’m around them they make me want to talk and talk about basketball and other stuff we always talk about.”

On if he’ll be giving leadership tips about the tournament to those who haven’t played in it …“Yeah, I feel like I can definitely give advice to them. The first game is always probably the most nervous game you probably play in. I remember my freshman year going in I was so nervous to play in the NCAA Tournament game. These guys are great athletes, have great skills and they’ll be ready to play.”

On Indianapolis being so close and accessible to UK fans …“It’s great. I’m pretty sure the fans are going to travel – I feel like they would travel anywhere to be honest. But I feel like a lot of fans will be there to cheer us on.”

On potentially facing a team they’ve already played before, such as UCLA or UNC …“We’re not really focused about all those other teams. We’re just focused on the teams we have to play, but once we have to play them we’ll be really focused on them.”

On if there’s a sense of urgency for him with it being his last year …“Nah, not really. I just feel like if I look at it that way I’ll be too nervous or not trying to be aggressive enough. So, I’m just going to take it just as any other game.”

On the team handling adversity on the court better …“I’d definitely agree with that. All the guys here want to win and they’re doing whatever they have to do to win, like everybody knows that Malik (Monk) and Wenyen (Gabriel) have been getting up early just to go to shootarounds, and that’s preparing for the game to win.”

On if he’ll talk to Holland II this week or after the game …“Probably before the game and after I’ll talk to him, but if don’t want to talk to me that’s fine.” (laughter)

On what he thought of the draw …“That it’s OK. We know that we’re going to have to play elite teams to advance to the next round, so any team we play we’re just going to prepare for them and be very focused on what we have to do to beat them.”

On Coach Cal saying defense is what will win games for UK …“I would definitely agree with that. The way we’ve been playing defense is the reason we’ve been winning. If we continue to do that we’ll definitely advance.”

On freshman forward Bam Adebayo’s play …“Our objective is to give Bam the ball in the post. We know that he can score in many ways down there. With him on the block it actually opens up the court for us to score. All the guards love when Bam’s getting trapped (because) we either get an open shot or a drive to the basket easily.”

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