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March 19, 2010

Eric Bledsoe

John Calipari

DeMarcus Cousins

Darius Miller


MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. It's been a lot about the individual talents of you guys, John, Patrick. How have you guys been able to fairly quickly assemble that into a team? Most of you guys have only been here for the one season, including the coach.
ERIC BLEDSOE: We just kind of worked hard at practice and bonded. I mean, we came in the first day, we didn't really know too much about each other. But as the season progressed, we just bonded as one big family.
DEMARCUS COUSINS: Like he said, we just came in and worked. The returning players they welcomed us with open arms, so it was easy to adjust to the rest -- well to the returners. We just came in and worked, and we slowly started to bond, and now you've got this.

Q. What makes Calipari a good coach?
DEMARCUS COUSINS: The way he interacts with his players, the feedback. He allows us to give. I mean, it's just easy to work along with him. I mean, we just communicate well, and he's a good coach.

Q. Given that you guys have had so much success, but you're so young, how much better can it still get with you guys? Do you guys feel like you've come close to reaching your peak as a team, or is there still a lot of upside that we haven't seen yet?
DARIUS MILLER: I think we've still got a lot to work on. At times we don't play the whole 40 minutes and stuff. So we've still got a little bit of ways to go. But I think we still have a lot more potential that we can reach.

Q. What about Wake Forest concerns you? Obviously they're very big, too. Is there anything about matching up with them that is a concern?
DEMARCUS COUSINS: My own concern is just us coming out with a high energy and playing our game. And if they come out with a high energy and we come out lackadaisical, they could beat us.

Q. You guys played the one game in New Orleans yesterday that didn't come down to the wire. Did you guys have any chance to enjoy the other games that were played here on the first day and what were your thoughts on those games?
DEMARCUS COUSINS: I got to see some of the games. I mean, so far what I've seen is that you can lose to any team on any given day in this tournament. All the rankings and the star players, all of that in the beginning of the season really doesn't matter anymore because every team brings it like it's their last game. You can lose on any given night.
ERIC BLEDSOE: Like DeMarcus said, you can lose any given time. Like don't matter who your star player is, you're still like brothers, you've still got to have that team chemistry.

Q. You all played so well yesterday. Now going in against Wake, do you have to guard against overconfidence? You gained so much confidence from yesterday.
ERIC BLEDSOE: Yeah, because I had to come in and work on my shot. They told me they weren't falling at beginning of the season. Like they were going to come, just keep coming in the gym and work so I get that confidence, and it built real strong. Whatever the team needs, I'm going to do it.

Q. I'm curious as to whether yesterday's game, did it feel like one of those games where nothing could go wrong and you know that it's not always going to be like that, or did it feel like a normal game? I don't know if 15 threes is something you guys expect to do every game.
ERIC BLEDSOE: I mean, it was our first NCAA Tournament game. We were real nervous to start the game off, but as the game went on on, we just calmed down and just played our game.

Q. This is your first experience in the NCAA Tournament. After last night's game, did you watch the Wake game and what did you know about Wake coming in? This is the first time you've all had to scout a brand-new opponent on such a short term.
DEMARCUS COUSINS: What I noticed is they're a big team and they're a physical team. And they crash the boards.
ERIC BLEDSOE: I didn't really get much to see them play the whole game because they kept taking it over. But as far as I seen, they were real big and physical.
DARIUS MILLER: I got to see a little bit of it. Like they said, they crashed the boards really well. Looked like a pretty athletic team, pretty big team. I think we'll be ready to go, though.

Q. Talk about fouling and foul trouble. You've kind of gotten into foul trouble a few times in the first half. You're going against a real physical team. What is the mindset going into a game like that? Do you consciously think about fouls and how you can avoid them, or do you just have to play your game?
DEMARCUS COUSINS: You've just got to play your game. You can't really control how the ref blows the whistle. If he thinks it's a foul, it's a foul. But you've just got to go play your game.
MODERATOR: Coach, your thoughts and follow-up to yesterday, and your outlook as you go into the Wake Forest game.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I was pleased with how we played and how we defended and how we shot the ball, and how we passed it to one another. And we got everybody in the game, and everybody that went in the game played well.
But now it's on to that next round. It's just you're playing a team from the ACC who did damage. They're physical. They outrebounded Texas by 25. Think about that. 25 rebounds. They got 20 offensive rebounds against Texas who prides itself in that toughness and that rebounding. That's the one thing you're not going to beat them with, and they did.
They've got their little point guard, Smith, who is as good -- he's Devan Downey that beat us at South Carolina.
They've got size. They're big. You know, I just watched tape and, you know, you get sick to your stomach. I hate watching too much tape because you like start like, oh, my gosh, how are we going to even stay on the court with these guys.
But they're really good. They're well coached. Dino does a great job, and we're just going to try to do what we have to to be ready to go.

Q. Would you walk me through the recruitment or re-recruitment of Daniel Orton? And what was it that you said that perhaps convinced him that this is still the institution that we want you to play?
COACH CALIPARI: That's a great question. In our locker room after one of our games I was proud of how he played and how he's responded to this team. And I said, Daniel, when you were recruited here, what did they tell you? They told me I would start. Did they tell you you'd be the man? Yes, they did. And I said, Now all of a sudden, guys, he's playing behind DeMarcus Cousins, and, you know what, all he's done is helped our team win.
And I'll tell you right now, Daniel will have options at the end of the year to make a decision on what he wants to do. Can you imagine? And I'm not sure that would have happened if he was on a team that was an NIT team. You hear what I'm saying? Now they're looking at him saying this kid is really, really good. And he is.
The other side of it is people love his attitude in that he's dealt with it. But he's a talented big player who blocks shots, who rebounds. And he's taken on his role to say I'm going to do whatever I need to do.
At the end of the day, like I told him, it's worked out better for you. You're going to be fine. If you choose to do something, it's there for you. If you choose to come back, that's fine, too.

Q. Did you know anything much about him?
COACH CALIPARI: Oh, sure, sure. He played for the Oklahoma AAU team that we recruited very hard. I was recruiting Xavier Henry. We weren't involved with Daniel because that was so far down the road with a couple of schools recruiting him. But I watched him play a hundred times and saw all the stuff.
He's very skilled, too. You haven't seen enough of his shooting because of how we played. But you can put him in pick-and-rolls, he can shoot free-throw shots, he can shoot threes. He's elbow jumpers, he's talented.

Q. Coach, you said Patrick Patterson could have been selfish and said this is my team. How beneficial is that for you and your teammates to have a guy who's willing to share the load, so to speak?
COACH CALIPARI: You know, he -- again, it's funny. I watch him. During the game I'll get mad that he didn't get this ball or that ball. And I watched the game and he really played well. He just didn't get those three balls. And I said, Patrick, I guess it's I want you to be perfect. I don't know. But you played well. Nine for ten from the floor, he made his free throws, blocked the shots.
Yet he does it in a way of I'm playing with the flow. But I've also told him, If you're not getting the ball, come over and say something to me. Say, Coach, get it to me the next couple of times. I'll do that. We've got no issue with that. This team has no ego that way.
But he's a great leader because he does it by example. He didn't come in and say, I've got to shoot the balls, this is my last year or this is my junior year, this is my year to do this.
Also is a great example because he's going to graduate in three years, so he'll have his diploma in three years, which is a big thing.
He came back, he played back to the basket. He took one three-point shot all last year. He played underneath the goal, and all of a sudden you see this kid that's going out and guarding twos and threes and fours, and shooting threes and driving and still posting and still rebounding and still blocking shots. You see his athleticism run up and down the court.
You know, he's really comfortable in his own skin, let me say that. He's comfortable in his own skin, comfortable with himself as a player. So your success does not bother him. He knows where he's going and what he's about to do.

Q. How are you a better coach than you were at UMass say in '96 when you took up with the NCAA?
COACH CALIPARI: Hopefully I'm more experienced. Hopefully I've mellowed. Have I mellowed? I don't think I have. I'm much grayer, I'm going to tell you that.
But the experience that you have as you go through this, this is my 18th year as a head coach at the major college level. I was an assistant for six years. I was in the NBA for three years or four years, whatever it was. So I've been doing this a long time.
The longer you're in it, there is not a whole lot that you're going to see that you haven't seen somewhere. But I tell you, the reason we had success at UMass, we had terrific players. The reason we had success at Memphis, we had terrific players. The reason we're having success here, it's not because they hired me, it's because this group of players -- think about it, six new guys and six returning players. Starters who are now ninth and tenth on the team and accepting their roles.
Perry Stevenson said, I'd rather be a reserve on this team than a starter on an NIT team. Think about that.
So the kind of players that I've coached, I've been blessed. You think about my last three point guards. You think about Marcus Camby. I had an opportunity to coach him, or DeMarcus Cousins or Patrick Patterson. I've been blessed.
All in all the kids I've coached have been good kids. This team here, man, it's -- they call my wife "Mom." It's just they're good.
There is some back and forth with me and them. But if you watched me at Memphis and Massachusetts, I've always been that way. Doesn't bother me. It's like dealing with my own children. But this team is inexperienced and immature at times.
My teams at Massachusetts were not. They were veteran teams as we went deeper in the tournament. My teams at Memphis were veteran teams. All-in-all most of them were that way. Not this young.

Q. Rick Barnes called Ishmael Smith a one-man fast break the other day. Can you talk a little more about how you deal with that. Also you mentioned Downey. Who else did you see this season that brings that kind of speed?
COACH CALIPARI: John Wall. Derrick Rose. He's fast. He is a one-man break. Seems like a great kid and a good player and score, and gets his teammates involved and brings it the whole game. I mean, that shot he made late in the game, I was sitting on my bed at the hotel. And Rick Barnes and I are friends, Dino and I are friends, too. But I watched that shot I felt so bad for Rick. Then I'm thinking, yeah, it's great for Dino. I mean, you're sitting there.
But the play he made, wow. And if you don't get back, if you jog back, he's scoring lay-ups. It adds a dimension to your team. And I think Dino's done a great job of saying I'm going to let this kid go some, because he does something that the normal kids won't be able to do, and the other team won't be able to guard. Just beat them off the court. And that's what he does.

Q. Is there anyone you would compare Wake to that they're real similar to somebody you've already played this year? And other than transition defense, what are the defensive keys if are your guys?
COACH CALIPARI: Obviously they outrebounded Texas by 25. So if you're not going to get in there and mix it up, we won't win the game. That is a given. You will lose the game. They're so big and physical, they're a combination, a little bit of what Vandy did in South Carolina. Because South Carolina didn't have those other big kids, but they had the guards very similar. And Devan Downey just wreaked havoc.
A lot of their offensive rebounding is from the drive from the point guard. So now you help on him. He shoots the ball, and those are the men that are rebounding the ball that are helping on the point guard. So South Carolina played the same way that way.
They're different because they're very big and physical. Their guard play is so solid. And, again, they'll play a zone. They'll throw a 1-3-1 at you. They'll throw a 2-3. But mainly they're going to play man-to-man. They're not going to stretch the court out. You're going to have to beat them with one shot. To this point haven't trapped a whole lot in the post, but they play. They ball. They're physical. They're not afraid to mix it up. They're really good.

Q. We've talked a lot today about the talent you've been blessed to have over the years and the accumulation that you have now. What's been the key to getting them to play as more than just a collection of talent, but as a functional team? And has it been easier than you thought it would be to do that?
COACH CALIPARI: The thing that has made this hard is again their inexperience, their immaturity of their age. Which they're so young, deal with it or don't have them on your team. Play somebody else. That's what you're going to get when you get a bunch of young kids together. They laugh. They grab each other. Tickle their ear in the middle of practice. Why are you doing that? Stop. We're practicing. They're kids.
To get them to play together, you've got to make sure as you recruit them, they're good teammates. You have to see if a guy's not a good teammate, I truly wouldn't want him. I want to know that the other players like him. And I want to know that they'll like him because they all know he is for them.
Then the other side of it is you've got to say this is what we're about. They've got to buy into being a great defensive team, a great rebounding team, a team that is great from offense to defense and from defense to offense, we're flying, and a team that tries to help each other. You're out there for each other. You're your brother's keeper. And that's what we try to do.
The kids that we've had over the years have been good kids. They say, you know what, it's beneficial to all of us if I play this way. It's beneficial to me too if I play this way.
I'll give an example. Patrick Patterson is scoring less points and less rebounds this year, and his stock has gone through the roof. Think about that. I'm not scoring as much, I'm not rebounding as much, but I'm thought of as a much better player than I was a year ago, and my stock has risen. I mean, that's what you would hope other players see. It's good for us coaches when those kind of things happen.

Q. You've put programs on the map. Rebuilt them. You've always had a lot of success. But there's been off-the-record criticism from some of your peers and other coaches in the leagues you were in. And Scott Drew of Baylor gets a lot of that, too. How has that affected you at all? Is it kind of a sign of you're doing well if people are upset at what you're doing?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I'm trying to please the school and the administration and the people I work with, my staff and players. I'm not sure. I don't hear it, what you're saying. I have a lot of friends in this profession. I don't hear as much as you're insinuating there. But maybe there is some of that out there.
I would say in this profession it's so competitive that there would be some of that. It doesn't matter if you're at Duke or if you're at North Carolina or you're at Memphis or you're at Kentucky. Doesn't matter where you are, that's out there. If you're worried about all that as a head coach, then you're not spending time worrying about these young people.
My job is to prepare them for life after basketball. Whatever that may mean for them. To get them ready for what they're about to undertake, that is my job. If I'm trying to please all the people up in the seats, I'll be up there with them.

Q. All week you've been using the saying "land the plane." How many times do you use a metaphor like that and all you're getting back are blank faces before you start explaining it?
COACH CALIPARI: They didn't know what I meant at first. And I just said, this is going to be -- this will not be easy. There's going to be a lot of things thrown at us from all different areas. We had Tony Delk and Scott Padgett talk to them about being a Kentucky player in the NCAA Tournament.
You have to understand none of these players have ever been in the NCAA Tournament. Being a Kentucky player in the NCAA Tournament, even more so because of the distractions of family and fans and all the other things that goes along with it.
So we've done all that. And, again, I'm trying to get them focused on one or two things. We played the season to get the seed and to be in this tournament. It wasn't to win the conference. It wasn't to win the conference tournament. After we got in the conference tournament and got into the final, we said we might as well win it. But we're here to get into this tournament and be seeded high. I think these guys have responded.
It was just another thing. Land the plane. It's going to be coming. There's going to be things said and written. There's going to be things that happen. There's going to be foul trouble. There's going to be officials' calls, there's going to be rough play. There's going to be everything coming at you nine different ways.
We started collecting their phones, which I've never done in my coaching career. The night of the game we collected their phones. You don't need a phone. What are you on the phone for? We collect all the phones, we give them to them the next morning. Clear your mind, focus on what we're doing. Have fun with each other. No one needs to break this wall that we should have around us right now, and that's what we're talking about.

Q. I'm wondering when you look at the amount of rebounds he had last night --
COACH CALIPARI: Can you imagine? He had 12 rebounds (laughing).

Q. Do you think that's indicative of a certain headiness he has, an instinctive prowess that might test John Wall's game and aspects of his game in ways that he's not used to?
COACH CALIPARI: It's going to be interesting. I'm anxious to see what happens and how they go against each other. If they run and we run, they better have a young officials crew on this game, because it will be hard to stay up with it.
To get 12 rebounds -- and, believe me, I talked about it a bunch today. He got 12 rebounds at his size. He's not afraid to mix it up. He's not afraid to stick his nose in there. And when he does get it, what's he do? The minute he gets a defensive rebound. He's at half court in two seconds.
So him rebounding the ball is not good for us. John Wall rebounding the ball for us, which he does well, is good for us. Now, he does the same thing. He's at half court in two seconds when he rebounds.

Q. Was the Kentucky basketball coach -- the culture, was it what you expected or was it greater than you expected?
COACH CALIPARI: Probably bigger, more connected to the state than I've ever seen. The blue mist is everywhere. I'll give you an example. We have 1.3 million people on Twitter, over 130,000 or so on Facebook, on this social media that you at your age probably know nothing about or would never know any of that, right? And I didn't when I started it.
But we did a thing with Papa John's pizza. A code, buy a pizza, $1 goes to Children's Hospital in Kentucky. 45,000 pizzas later in six weeks. What? $45,000 went to the Children's Hospital. They did a study. Only 25 percent of them came from the state of Kentucky. The other 75 percent came from every state in the union including Hawaii and Alaska. They're everywhere, and they're crazy. And I love them. But they're crazy.
I mean, they just find their way to the SEC Tournament. How do they buy the tickets? The tickets were going for two or three dollars a pair. It was crazy. They'll start finding way down here. I heard the airlines kind of raised ticket prices on us between Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington, or we would have had another 3- or 4,000 down here. But they're great. Because it's the one thing they connect to in the state. There's no pro team, it's Kentucky basketball.
But there is a responsibility that goes with it in the seat that I sit. I always say this: I'm here for a short period of time. This program will be big 50 years from now, and whoever is the head coach will have an important seat in this state, whether it's me or anybody else.
And then how you use that seat is kind of important. Do you use it for everyone else? Do you use it for causes that do good for other people? Or are you sitting in your office watching video? I think Kentucky's a place where you have an opportunity to move people. And in the short period of time that we've been there, we've tried to do some things that have helped.

Q. I asked you if you had an opportunity to take your team around the city, and you said you hadn't but you might. I'm just interested in what your schedule has been the last couple of days other than the game, obviously, and what you're going to be doing tomorrow because you have the late game?
COACH CALIPARI: Because it's a game day, they won't have anything. Today would be the one day to go out and I'm not sure we're going to do anything. I had them go down on Bourbon Street and go in the French Quarter. But we didn't get on the bus and travel around the city, which I've done with all my other teams. Basically because this is a shorter trip and we didn't have the time.
But we'll talk again about Katrina and what happened to this city. My thing for this city is I'm just happy when I'm walking around I see it coming back. People are excited. The Super Bowl, it's like a blessing, the Super Bowl. Winning, who needed the Super Bowl win more than New Orleans. And it happened. And you had a coach who was so aggressive, I love him. Went for a fourth down. What are you doing? You can't do this. Onside kick? Is this guy crazy? I love this guy, and they did it.
It's just great for the city. I've always enjoyed New Orleans. Playing Tulane we've always had fun down here. I love staying down near the Quarter where we stay. Going out and eating in the city and walking around. My wife and I and my daughter walked around yesterday and before the game took a little stroll around. It's a fun place to be.

Q. Yesterday was such is a confidence-building game. You have such a young team. Do you have to do things to guard against them being overconfident going into the Wake game?
COACH CALIPARI: The one thing I talked about is we're not a three-point shooting team. That's not why we win. We win because of defense, we win because of rebounding, we win because of our shot blocking ability and our ability to create good shots for each other. If we make threes, we're better than that. But that's not why we win.
We've had games of 1-for-13 and win. We had one game 2-for-22, and at 65-65 with two minutes to play.
So trying to get them to understand play, play loose, play and have fun. And I keep coming back to this. We have some guys here that won't shoot the ball, and it drives me absolutely berserk.
Three things happen. You shoot the ball and make it. Good for us. You shoot the ball and miss it, we're a great offensive rebounding team. Good for us. You shoot it and miss it. We have good court balance, we get back on defense, and it's their ball. Two of three are good for us.
You turn it over, you're leading their break, and that's not good for us. So shoot the ball. If you don't shoot the ball, I'm taking you out. That's what I say to my team.

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