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March 28, 2011

John Calipari

DAVE WORLOCK: We have Coach John Calipari on the phone. We'll jump right into questions and get you on your way.

Q. You and Jim have both been here several times before. What do you see in him that allows him to take all these different kinds of teams, especially like a young group, to a Final Four? What is it about his makeup?
COACH CALIPARI: I think he's a battler and I think he holds the bar high and doesn't accept anything except their best. He gets them to a point where they look at it and say, Hey, we can do this. And he has talented players.
He named some names of guys that are in the league and doing very well. So he got talented players to buy in and has done a great job throughout his whole career.

Q. Every year there's talk about Jim retiring, Jim going out. Obviously this year he's back in the Final Four. There seems to be something about this guy and other great coaches that they don't think about the end. Do you see him as one of these guys?
COACH CALIPARI: I see me as one of those guys, that I see the end. I don't see him seeing the end (laughter).
I would be stunned when that day comes and he said, You know what, I'm not going to coach. I would be stunned. I would be like, Wow, I never expected it.
It's what he does, he coaches. He gets kids better, he wins. He creates an atmosphere within his team. But he's as good as they get.

Q. I know you discussed it many times over the years because it happened to you a few times, but there's been a lot of talk about late-game possessions. Seems there's been so many key free throws missed all over the place. Have you seen a drop-off in players making free throws? What is the difference in current players from players 30 years ago?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know 20, 30 years ago, but I will tell you, I've had teams that have been really bad free-throw shooting teams. As a matter of fact, the worst going into a tournament, I think it was 2008. At the end it did not hurt us throughout the whole tournament until a minute to go in a game and we started missing free throws. So it can affect you.
But I think the kids are playing so fast. The kids are working on ball skills that they don't go shoot 500 free throws a day like we used to. I just don't think that's the most important thing on their radar screen.

Q. I know you work on it in practice, but do you have a limited window in terms of the amount of practice time you put in? Are free throws something that's up to the player to work on on their own?
COACH CALIPARI: What we've done to really, really, really improve our free-throw shooting is we recruited better free-throw shooters. That's what I can tell you.

Q. Earlier in the year it seemed like Terrence Jones was scoring a lot more, but as the year progressed it seemed like he hasn't taken on as big of a scoring load but the team has progressed better. How would you say that he's accepted the role change, if you will? How do you view his improvements over the course of the season?
COACH CALIPARI: He's gotten better and better. What's happened is people are zeroing in on him and they're really making runs at him and they're trying to make him give up the ball, which is a smart thing. If they play him one-on-one, he's going to be able to get baskets down.
The other thing that's happened is he's been playing against better competition so now all of a sudden it's not so easy. But he is a much better player than he was at the beginning of the year. He's in better condition. He's tougher. He's rougher. He's shooting the ball better. But he's not taking as many shots and he's playing against a better level of player.

Q. Would you say mentally he's tougher, as well?
COACH CALIPARI: I think he's mentally tougher. But I think this stuff is for all these young kids. This is high level. It's like Brandon the game before against Ohio State couldn't make a shot till that last shot. This is not easy. These kids are 18 and 19 years old. My veterans have probably performed as well as anybody.
Now, Brandon's last game was phenomenal. But the reality of it is these are young kids. They're young.

Q. When you look back to going to the Final Four with UMass, you were 36, 37, how much did that embolden you in developing the self-confidence in you that you were going to be a very good college coach?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I think what I've learned at an early age is just to continue to make this about these kids, to continue to try to make kids better, and then have them buy into team, whether it's team defense or being unselfish. But it still comes back to: How do I get individual players better? Not just one or two guys, but the entire team. How does each individual improve? How do they feel unleashed? Make it more about them or me or style of play or any of that. That's what I try to do.
But, again, we were fortunate that Marcus Camby wanted to play for us. We went from a top-20 team, we were a good team, to one of those teams. Kind of the same stuff at Memphis. We were a top-20 team, did some good stuff, then all of a sudden we jump up to that next level.
This is totally different than that. We lost five first-round draft picks and two backup players who were starters the year before. So we lost seven guys. To replace them with some inexperienced veterans and freshmen and be like this, this team has done phenomenal this year. We really improved, really improved as the year went along.

Q. When you look back at being a young coach at that time, did you feel validated in terms of the direction you were going individually by getting to a Final Four at that early stage of your career?
COACH CALIPARI: No. I don't think you ever feel validated in this profession because this is kind of like golf: you think you've got it figured out, you get humbled real quick. I followed up that Final Four, within a year and a half I was fired in New Jersey. So I don't know if it validated anything. Obviously it made me feel good at the time.
But this is a humbling profession. It's very, very hard. It can be very rewarding, but it also could be one of those things that you get slapped in the mouth when you really think: I got this figured out.
Let me explain to all that are listening: I do not have this figured out. One of the reasons we lost six close games in our league is I was trying to figure it out with my team. We wanted to put it on individual players. It wasn't about our team. We didn't know how to finish a game yet because I hadn't figured out my team yet.
As we went forward and we started believing in each other, figuring out each other, how we're going to play, the team did better.
I'll tell you, what you feel is blessed and lucky and fortunate because there are so many coaches in our profession who are as good as they get that have never been to a Final Four, but they're unbelievable coaches. Sometimes it's luck; other times it's the situation they're in.
I mean, they're at a school, there's no way that school should be at a Final Four ever. If they get to an Elite 8, it's like winning a national title. I think that's part of it.
Plus I can't remember back that long. I know I was in my mid 30s. I'm now in my late 40s. I think I'm a little older than that. But, you know, trying to just think ahead I guess.

Q. I've asked each of the coaches this. I'm wondering if there was a practice, a game, a meeting this year where you felt your team really galvanized, sort of came together, and this kind of run became improbable to maybe possible?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we had a span of games when we lost to Arkansas on the road in overtime, we had to play Vanderbilt at home, Florida at home, had to go to Tennessee. All three NCAA tournament teams to end our season.
I think after that Arkansas game, they had a players-only meeting. Normally those meetings don't do anything. But I think they wanted to understand each other. The veterans talked about committing to what they had to do. The young kids committed to what they had to do. I think they just came together.
It's not like we changed how we played. We had to make plays at the end of games. We had to finish a game offensively and had to figure out how we did it. But they came together. That's when it was.

Q. As a guy who's been around it now, when you hear that a players-only meeting has been called, do you say to yourself, I want to see how this next practice and game goes? What's the message it sends to you?
COACH CALIPARI: Here is my thing: there's only one thing that brings about change within a team, and that's a crisis. I don't think meetings do anything.
If that meeting was brought about because of a crisis and we're telling everybody, This ship is going down, folks, don't take this lightly, we have to change or we're going down. That may change.
But to just have a meeting, I don't think they do anything. But I do know this: a crisis will bring about change. We were in that crisis mode after that Arkansas game.

Q. I wanted to know how much you know about either Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart. Having been where they are at a fairly young age, how impressed are you with what they've been able to do already?
COACH CALIPARI: I will tell you, they're both better than I was at that stage. Both of them. What Brad has done. You're talking about guys, I've been in their shoes, and I know how hard it is, one, to get your kids to forget about what that name on the front of the jersey is versus that name. This is about bodies in jerseys. This is about who is in the jersey, not what name is on the jersey.
So I know how hard that is. I also know you're not going to get a break. You got to go out and do it. And as a coach, you got to battle. You can't accept anything. I've watched those guys coach. I think they're battling both in their own ways. I think they've got their teams believing, which is so hard to do.
But the biggest thing in both cases, not only do they believe, they're doing it together. They're truly good teams. Some of the best teams I had was when we were at Massachusetts. That last team I had was maybe one of the best teams that I coached.
This team is becoming that kind of team, the one I'm coaching now. But that's the challenge of this.

Q. Coach, is there a special pride or different sort of pride you take in having done this in multiple programs now, different scenarios?
COACH CALIPARI: What I take grade pride in is players at each of those programs have done well and gone on to do well. You think about not only my young kids that everyone talks about, Josh Harrelson's life has change, so has DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller. They've now put themselves on a different trajectory. I'm as proud of that as anything I've done with a team.
When I first took the job at Kentucky, I said this is going to be a players-first program. Some people were angry about that. I look at this and say, If we can do right by these young people, then they'll do right by us and we'll accomplish as a program what we're trying to accomplish. But we've got to do right by them. We've got to help them reach their dreams too. During the season it's about team, after the season it's about each individual player.
It's a neat thing. I never thought about it that way, like I don't do this by numbers, how many wins, this. I'm just coaching these guys. I try to stay focused on them.
If you're worried about numbers, if you're worried about all that other stuff, I think it takes us off point of why we do what we do, which is trying to help young people get from Point A to Point B, and in some cases get from Point A to Paint Z. That's all I'm trying to do.

Q. You've done it at UMass, going to a Final Four from a school that is 'out of the BCS leagues.' How much does a program have to make of an opportunity like that to keep building?
COACH CALIPARI: That's a great question. That is a great question because what happens is sometimes they think they don't have to reinvest. Sometimes they don't look at, All right, we've done this, but now how do we make this better?
Let me make the analogy. For Butler, and I know Butler, and I know VCU, they've got great administrations, both of them, great ADs. That snowball is big and it's rolling downhill.
My suggestion is, Push it faster because down the road a little bit there's going to be a ridge and that snowball has to make it over that ridge. If you don't push it down the hill faster, it won't make it over that ridge.
If you want to keep this rolling, you reinvest in practice facilities, you reinvest in all the things that surround these players, academic support, the recruiting budget so they can continue to go out in doing it, scheduling, driving TV games.
I thought at both UMass and Memphis, Bob Barkham (phonetic) and R.C. Johnson did that. They kept reinvesting in the programs which kept the program going to the next level. I think it's so important for those programs.
As I say that, both have ADs that understand that, that are as good as they get.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Calipari. We appreciate your time. We'll see you in a couple days. Safe travels down to Houston.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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