Today I attended my first UK Basketball Media Day and I must admit it was as much of a madhouse as I had imagined it to be. With football in full swing and Big Blue Weekend and the upcoming season upon us this is a busy time for the BBN (and us journalists who write about it).
Calipari spoke to around 100-150 media members on this team and the upcoming season. There’s a video coming (I promise!) But until then, here’s the main things he had to say:
- He underestimated this team. That’s right, UNDERESTIMATED. In the opening question Cal was asked what were the revelations or surprises he has had a few practices in. He mentioned Willis and Lee and said that Polson has really stepped up and improved along with Hood. He mentioned WCS was back from his hand injury and looked good in his first practice and casually (in typical Calipari fashion) threw out the fact that UK now has “a couple of 7-footers” on each end of the court during scrimmages. Cal also said James Young’s ability was a big surprise
“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 not seeing it.”
“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. “ -Cal on James Young
- Cal told us the team has just began covering rebounding, they have done no defense and no pick and roll- just basics. He did say that he liked this team’s natural instincts
- Coach was asked about the “40-0 goal” and Cal took the opportunity to set the record straight. He said that 40-0 was not the “goal” (and when we separately asked the players they essentially said the same thing). Here’s what he had to say on that: “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 ‑‑ 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 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.”
- When Cal was asked about should UK be ranked preseason #1 he, and all the players had the same answer: “I haven’t seen any other team”.
- Cal also told what seems to inevitably become the “helmet award urban legend of Derek Willis” story: “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 (Johnson), 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. It’s ‑‑ you know, 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. “ We asked all the players about this dunk. They all agreed the ball went in- most agreed that it was a dunk by Willis, except, you guessed it-Dakari and Julius who say they “blocked it in”. I guess what you believe is up for you to decide, but if that’s the biggest team controversy I’d say we’re in good shape.
- Coach Cal told a great story about the always-positive Marcus Lee also: “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. There was no like ‑‑ that’s just who he is.” I personally am becoming a big Marcus Lee fan for nothing more than his attitude (since I haven’t actually seen him play). All his teammates agreed he is the most upbeat and positive and an all-around good teammate.
As far as the players go: I talked to James Young, Julius Randle, both Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Dominique Hawkins, Jarrod Polson, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. Every player had a great attitude about this season; just positivity and no entitlement what-so-ever. Pretty much all the guys talked about how intense practices were, Dominique Hawkins said it was “like an all-star game every day”. I asked Polson if these practices were comparable to some of the other practices he has had since he’s been on some “decent” teams. He told me that they were about the same as far as intensity so that’s good news. All the guys agreed that Julius was a beast and Cal told us he is first in the gym and last to leave regularly. The twins talked a lot about how they consider themselves to be perfectionists and push each other to be “perfect”. This attitude has become contagious throughout the team. Several of the guys also mentioned to me that they are comfortable enough with each other to call each other out if something needs work or if they’re lacking hustle. They all clarified, not in a mean way, but to the side just to make sure its corrected. Poythress told me being a vet, he has kind of taken that role upon himself to correct the freshmen and Hood and Polson have become mentors to Hawkins. If I had to sum these guy’s comments up in three words it would be “intensity, perfection and accountability”.
One question I asked several of the guys was since they are playing lots of top teams (Michigan State, Louisville…) what game were they looking forward to most? They genrally had the same answer: they were ready to play whoever was next on the schedule and compete. Good answer boys…
I would have to say that my favorite interviews of the day were Willie Cauley-Stein and Dominique Hawkins. WCS was extremely open about his injury and return to practice and had lots of great things to say about all his teammates, especially Dominique and Dakari. I think he is going to step up and be a great leader this year. Dominique was a big surprise to me, because he seemed pretty quite when I worked the fantasy camp,and he said himself he is shy. He has an extremely positive attitude and I like his work ethic and how grateful he seems for the opportunity to play at Kentucky. All his teammates agree that he goes out there and works as hard as anyone.
I’ll have more on media day later, I also went to football defense day today so be sure and check out both sets of videos as they go up! Get ready for the first annual Big Blue Weekend this weekend with BBM on Friday and John Wall and the Wizards and Anthony Davis and the Pelicans return to Lexington for some preseason NBA action!
Topics: Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Andrew Harrison, Basketball Articles, Dakari Johnson, Dominique Hawkins, James Young, Jarrod Polson, John Calipari, Jon Hood, Julius Randle, Kentucky Wildcats, Willie Cauley-Stein