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March 26, 2010
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in. Before we take questions, Coach, can we ask you to make a brief opening statement on the match-up tomorrow night.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: We know we're playing a terrific team who has had a great season in a great league. And they've done it in the Tournament. They've done it in their league. They've done it non-conference. They've done it in their league tournament, which is hard. They're as good as it gets out there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We'll open it up to questions, now.
Q. Would you talk about your relationship with Huggs and the incident in '02 when a relative of yours was in the ambulance when Huggs had that problem?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Bob and I go way back to when he was at Walsh College. You know, obviously I say this, and I mean it, he's as good as any coach out there. He's a Hall-of-Famer, but he's also a guy that would give you the shirt off his back. And when he had the heart attack at the Pittsburgh airport, my nephew was in the ambulance picking him up. When they got him and they put him on the ambulance and he said, "Coach Huggins, you're going to be all right. I'm John Calipari's nephew." And he went, "oh, my goodness. I'm not going to make it." (Laughter).
But he and I go way back. He's as competitive and as good a coach as you'll see out there.
Q. One more follow-up: Any truth to the rumor your relatives said, "You can't die yet because Cal has to beat you once?"
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: No, Bob said that. That's what Bob adds. He likes to embellish. I don't know we beat him the next year by 20 but it was shortly thereafter, the next year. The next year.
Q. For DeMarcus: West Virginia is a physical team, but you're still much bigger than their front line. What kind of things have you found that defenses have tried to do to control you in the paint, and how tough has it been to handle at times?
DeMARCUS COUSINS: What I found out they try to do is grab me, hold me and hug me (laughter). And basically I mean just keep playing, hope the refs call it.
Q. Patrick, can you just talk about growing up in West Virginia? Were you a fan of the Mountaineers? Did they recruit you? What was their level of involvement with you in high school?
PATRICK PATTERSON: Pretty much growing up it was either Marshall or West Virginia. I went to a lot of Marshall games. Talked to Coach Beilein a lot of times. As far as being a fan, I really wasn't a fan but I had a lot of interest in them. I went up towards to the campus and met Coach Beilein, a couple of players and facilities. I liked it. It was home and all my friends were going there. I think Beilein was looking at going to the Michigan job at the time and he had left. And Coach Huggins came in and picked up where he left off in talking to me. By that time I had been interested in Kentucky.
PATRICK PATTERSON: It was after he had the job.
Q. This is also for Patrick: Your decision not to enter the NBA draft last year and now that you're in the Elite Eight, has that paid off? And how happy are you in how you went about your business over this past year?
PATRICK PATTERSON: The decision to come back has definitely paid off. I'm meeting bunch of great guys, having such a successful career as a team and just enjoying everything we've been going through. My three reasons to come back and this being one of them, just makes my decision to come back more sweet and more enjoyable.
Q. Patrick, I was wondering if you could discuss how different it's been around Kentucky basketball this year, especially compared to the last few seasons? And if you notice, even though it's a big change on the court, if you notice a change in the way fans and people treat Kentucky now off the court as well?
PATRICK PATTERSON: Pretty much the main difference since I've been here my freshman year is the fans - their involvement, their support, them traveling millions of miles just to come to a game. So the drastic change I've seen since my freshman year is the fans, their involvement and intensity in the games, how they've interacted with us, the passion they're showing and just everything they've been doing.
Q. For Patrick and Darius: If you both can talk about what was the hardest part of the transition to playing for Coach Cal was this season.
PATRICK PATTERSON: Pretty much for myself it was just learning to play on the perimeter, learning to guard the perimeter. First two years I was in the post, back to the basket. Never really took anybody off the dribble, never really shot in the perimeter. Pretty much early in the season when we were doing workouts, working out with the guards rather than working out with the big men. So that was probably the hardest thing for myself.
DARIUS MILLER: I don't think any of it was that hard, because the coaching staff did a great job of showing us what they expect from us from the beginning. We had a lot of new players going through the same thing we were going through. We were all pretty much in the same position. So it wasn't really a tough transition.
Q. For any of you guys, start with John and DeMarcus: Do you all know any of the West Virginia players? Have you played against them? And what do you know about their games as individuals?
DeMARCUS COUSINS: I know Devin Ebanks. I played against him once. He gave us like 40. That's the only player I know.
JOHN WALL: All I know is Kevin Jones. I met him at Reebok U Camp when I first started coming on the scene. He's a great player.
Q. This is for Darius: Having grown up in the state of Kentucky, what to you does this program mean and having this program be as successful as it is, what do you think it means to people in the state of Kentucky?
DARIUS MILLER: I think it means a lot to the people of the state of Kentucky, because we're one of the main teams in Kentucky. They don't really have a pro team or anything, so they look up to us and Louisville as the main two schools, I think. For us to have success, I think it means a lot to them and the community that we are in.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else? OK, gentlemen. We'll let you go to the breakout sessions.
Q. You're obviously familiar with the New York area. Just can you talk a little bit about the group of kids that West Virginia has, all from and around New York City, Newark, in and around. Is there a certain mentality that these kids -- I'm sure you recruited around there for years, toughness, mentality, whatever it translates?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I think it's as much mental toughness as it is just toughness physically. You think about what Pitt has done over the years. They did it with those New York players. Barry Rohrssen went in there and recruited a bunch of them for Pitt. Now you see West Virginia doing the same. They are just hard-nosed kids. They know if you want something, you have to go after it. It's not going to be given to you, and that you have to work. They're not afraid. They've been in environments that prepare them.
Q. In your other two stints getting to the Final Four, U-MASS and Memphis, that was towards the later part of your time there with all your guys. How hard is it to do what you and Huggs are doing where you have to blend previous coaches' and players, playing a different system and you're both on the doorstep of the Final Four trying to mesh all that together?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It's hard. But you know, what we've been able to do is six new players, six returning players, of that really gotten along and respected each other. I think what we did the first day is we showed a movie "Remember The Titans." We went through the whole movie about what happened. And it was about learning to trust, learning to respect, learning to like, and then learning to love. And if you get to the point of loving, you're not going to lose many games. This team has come together that way. And we've only been together seven months. So there's still a lot of things that we don't know how we'll react. All of these players are in their first NCAA Tournament. Their first. This is it. This is not like this is their fourth or third. This is their first. But they like each other, which has been a big part of why we've been able to do what we've done.
Q. What about style of play? The previous guys played the way you wanted to play?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, most of the guys want to play this way, so that's not hard. But there's a responsibility when you let them go a little bit, when you open -- take the reins off, so to speak. There's a responsibility of being unselfish, of making plays you can make, of making tough plays, making plays in a tight game, like last night, what happened to us. You can't just come down and turn it over. We're giving you some freedom.
But this team, Patrick and -- I can go right down the line. I think all of them have benefit. I watched a tape of last night's game. Daniel Orton was really good. I didn't realize. You're watching the game. You're not watching the tape. You see him back blocking shots, defensively, making baskets. He was really good. He's another one that didn't come to play in the dribble drive. We're not playing -- we're probably run and dribble drive about 30% of the time. But still 30% of the time we've got that court open and playing to slash in there and do some things.
Q. If I could scratch a little bit more at your friendship with Huggs, can you talk about the first time you met him and how the friendship was formed? And have you spoken to him since you both have qualified for this?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he played at West Virginia with Joe Fryz, who was my high school teammate. So when I was watching Joe Fryz, that's the first time I saw. I was a sophomore when Joe was a senior in high school. Bobby is much older than me, by the way. And I saw Bob then play there. And then they came there to Pittsburgh to play Pittsburgh and Duquesne and those teams. And I saw him play. He was an OK player, by the way. He was a good player. But then when he got the Walsh job, I was working the Five Star Camp in Honesdale and went over and said hello to him. I said, "I know you don't know me. I watch you," this, that and from that point we kind of stayed in touch. Again, we're not -- you go through a season, you're not on the phone once a week with guys. But I check in and I'll text or he'll hit me with something. His path to where he is is amazing.
The good news for both of us, we both have been fired. There's nothing you can say to us that we haven't heard, written about us. We've been fired, both of us. But he starts at Walsh College and he worked from there. To Akron. And what he did at Akron. Then he goes to Cincinnati and does what he does there. Then he goes to Kansas State and restarts it. And Frank (Martin) by the way is going did an unbelievable job there. The base was set by Bobby. Now what he's doing at West Virginia, having this program, amazing stuff.
Q. Kind of a general question: You look at all the sports that are out there and how they determine their champion, can you envision anything more difficult than what you guys are in having to win six sudden-death games in a row?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It's not only that, it's how they put those brackets together. Like West Virginia is one of the best teams left. Maybe the best team left. And we're playing them. It's not in the finals. It's not in the Final Four. So that's tough. But it's also tough because if a team plays another team best-of-five, the best team is going to win 98% of the time that series. When you're playing one-and-done, one team comes in sluggish, one team doesn't shoot it, one player on that other team goes nuts for 40, you're done. Your season is over. Now he couldn't do that three straight games, but he can do it once. That's what makes this difficult. That and the fact that everybody wants to see upsets. So you have a lot of karma going against you, if you're the team that's trying to win.
Q. You were talking about the team chemistry and all these guys being new. How important was Patrick Patterson's role in buying into what he was getting into entering this season and befriending and accepting these guys coming in?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: You know, I can't express enough to all of you how happy I am and impressed and proud of Patrick, because we didn't spend a whole lot of time -- I didn't convince him to come back. We had two conversations that weren't five minutes. I told him I would do whatever he wanted me to do to help him get information. If he needed my help, call me. Call me and he said, "I want to come back. One, I'm going to graduate in three years. Two I've never played in an NCAA Tournament and I want to do that. Three, I need to play how you coach. I need to get out on the floor and play. And I need that before I try to make that move." And I said, "Those are three really good reasons why."
But he could have come back and said, this is my team and I'm shooting all the balls, I decided to come back -- well, guess what he does, he scores less points, gets less rebounds, and his stock has gone through the roof. Randy Wittman came in our locker room after and we just talked. He said, he helped himself immensely coming back. Now he can guard a two, a three a four in a pinch. He could even guard an NBA five if he had to. He now can play different positions. He can shoot a three. That's what you want. You also want players to know if you give up a little bit, it ends up helping you anyway.
And the ego in all of us, and the families and the people around them, which is you need to score 25 points a game. Every team has a leading scorer. If you're 0-28, guess what, you have a leading scorer. It's not about that. And the other thing that you learn is as the tide rises, if I help this team as the tide rises, all the boats rise. It's happened on this team. For Daniel Orton to be put in a position at the end of the year, our sixth man, he's going to have options to do what he wants to do. It's incredible. That's because our team has done so well. Again, I told you, I watched him yesterday. He was really good again yesterday.
Q. Coach, you and Coach Huggins both have a track record of turning around programs quickly, if not instantly.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you dog years or regular years? It took me eight years at Massachusetts and it took me nine at Memphis. Unless it's dog years, that's a lot of time. New Jersey it took me two-and-a-half to get fired. So that happens usually quicker.
This is unusual, and I'm going to tell you why it's unusual. One, there were players still available in April that usually were not going to be available. Now what's happened in recruiting now, because kids are leaving early, there's lot of kids waiting, wouldn't you say? They want to see who is leaving off another team -- that's how it is now. But when I went to Massachusetts, it took us three solid years to get it right. When I went to Memphis, it took us four. And they were putting "for sale" signs in my front yard in the fourth year. I don't know if you think that's fast. To me -- and I have the "for sale" signs in my garage. So when they tell me and say I was the greatest thing and I walk on water, I see those "for sale" signs as I pull my car in my garage.
Now to answer your question.
Q. Then if we just reflect on this year, this year's team, what percentage would you place on turning this team around so quickly from recruiting and just getting them to buy into your system so quickly? What's the secret of doing that?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: There's two things: It's that they liked each other and they respected each other. The greatest thing that happened to us, we have two starters on last year's team that are eighth and ninth or ninth and tenth men - Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson. Perry Stevenson made a statement that, "I would rather be a reserve on this team than a starter on an NIT team." Think about that. He's a senior. He's a senior.
The second thing was they had to buy into defense and rebounding. You watched us yesterday. They talk about us offensively. The dribble drive, this guy, that guy. At the end of the day we're a terrific defensive team. That takes disciplines. That takes teamwork. That takes a daily growth. I mean, every day you have to bring it. And these kids do. So I think it was buying into how we had to play as a team, sacrificing a little bit of each guy for the good of the team.
But the biggest thing is we have talent. We have a talented team. And so, you know -- but they're freshman. Four freshman in our top six. Three sophomores and Patrick Patterson. That's our top eight. The three sophomores, one didn't play college basketball a year ago. And the other two played four or five minutes a game. We're a very inexperienced team.
Q. Coach, Bob Huggins' dad told a story one time about how when he went through the Pittsburgh ordeal, you were the first coach that came and visited him in the hospital. I was wondering if you could recollect on that day. And also as a follow-up, do you think there is any intentions of the NCAA to kind of put you and Huggs in the same bracket?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: No, they would never do that. No.
I would tell you that when I went to visit him when I heard about it, he's a young man. And I raced out there and I can't remember where I was, but I went in and I saw the paddle burns. I just told him, you know, "You're getting that second life here." It was scary, to be honest with you. They told me he was going to be fine. It was a scare. It teaches to us take better care of ourselves and all those things. I went out and just let him know that you know what, "I'm here for you."
I saw his mom and dad were there. His wife was there. It was just a scary thing. It was really scary. We all think Bob being that big -- he's a big guy. All of a sudden this happens. I was like, it kind of blew me away. I was glad my nephew was there for him, but...
Q. John, just going back to some of the New York area guys. Butler, in particular, can you talk a little about him?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Ooh, is he good.
Q. Six game-winning shots, that kind of not afraid to --
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I'm watching tape of him make threes, make runners, posting him up, setting screens where he knocks the guy down and then comes off a screen and makes a three. I'm watching him handle the ball as a point guard. I'm watching him defend, stay in front of people, block shots. I'm like, whoa.
He is really, really good.
Q. Just two questions about their defense: Their ability to vary a little bit and the timing of jumping from man-to-man and zone. How important is that? And Devin Ebanks, the length and the ability to guard different players on the floor.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, again, what Bob has done, he's looked at his team and says, how do we have to play to win? They're always going to rebound, they're always going to be physical. They're going to be bump and grind. There's going to be a lot of body to body. Now he's thrown in a 1-3-1. I imagine we'll see a triangle or two or something like that. And he's thrown out it looks like a 3-2. I'm not sure his kids know what it is, because I certainly watched it and didn't know what the heck it was, a 3-2 or 2-3. Maybe it's the old amoeba. I don't know. They threw another defense out there that I saw. And they're long.
The greatest thing he's done, back when Denny Crum who just won national titles at Louisville, if you remember what he had was players all the same size. They would switch everything. They would just switch. So now it takes you out of every offense you really want to run and what you're trying to do. And I think Bobby has done the same thing. He's taken out a piece from Denny Crum and says you know what, they're all the same size. We'll switch up and we'll do different things.
Q. In bringing Rod Strickland to Memphis the first time, what did you see in him? And what kind of help has he been to both John and Eric?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He's a 17-year vet who is in the top ten in assists in the history of the NBA. And his feel for the game and when he watches tape, when he comes to me and says, "here's what I'm seeing," when he tells the players different plays and different ways of playing pick-and-rolls and different things, these kids listen. It's been a great experience for me, because I lean on him a lot. I want to know what do you think, what are you seeing? And he has a great feel.
And again, I think the guys that I have on my staff are all going to be head coaches. I think Orlando is ready now. And I think Robes (Robic) has been a head coach and will have another opportunity if he chooses. And I think Rod is going to have that chance. So he's got the respect of the kids and he doesn't do it in a yelling way. When he speaks, it's like they're listening to everything he's saying.
Q. When you think of Bobby's teams, what comes to mind? And also, what is it about him that makes him a good coach in your mind?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Let me just say they're going to play great defense, they're going to rebound and it's going to be bump and grind. Historically that's how it's been. The Washington game was a very physical hand-to-hand kind of game. And that's typically how his teams play. And then he plays to the offense of whoever he has. When he had Nick Van Exel and those guys, he played different than he plays now. He's going to play however he can to win. What makes him what he is is he will adapt to his team. I saw him he first went to West Virginia playing a lot of Beilein, John Beilein stuff. He said, I'm not going to change. They have had great success and we'll use some of his stuff. And he did. I also think he raises the bar and he drags the kids to a point where they're not sure they can go. And he just keeps taking them. And he doesn't settle for anything less than that. Here's where I think you can go and we're going to get there.
Q. How surprised are you with John Wall's leadership? And how much did you know when you recruited him of maybe some issues he had temper-wise when he was younger? But how much has he impressed you with his leadership and maturity this year?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: The biggest thing that I didn't see from John when he was in high school or AAU, I've never seen him make a game-winning shot. When they asked me to compare my guards, I said those other guys when it was on the line would make plays. And they always did. That's why our teams did well. Well, he started it off right away, Miami of Ohio, and it just hasn't change. Every time we needed a run, he's made plays. He's had great maturity. His leads. What I keep telling him is, "You don't is to live up to any of this hype, just lead our team. Lead our team." If you're watching in our huddles, he does a lot of talking. He'll wait for me to stop, and then if he has something to say, he'll say it. Or he'll ask me. And then he'll talk to his teammates. He's shown great leadership for a young person who is 19 years old. And I'm proud of him.
In that middle where people were coming at him. Didn't know how to respond. Trying to live up to the hype. When you are trying to live up to the hype, you're going to be unhappy all the time. It's like chasing a windmill. You're losing that battle. Just play. That's all I kept telling him. "Just play and lead our team. Everything else will fall into place." That's what he's been doing. Throughout this NCAA Tournament these three games he's done a great job of leading his team.
Q. Coach, how often have you all faced 1-3-1 defenses this year? When you watch West Virginia what differentiates it from other ones you may have seen?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: We've faced just every kind of zone you can throw at us. 3-2, 2-3, 1-3-1, Box and One, Triangle and 2. Pack it in, they're not going to make shots. You are just hoping we miss. We've seen it all.
The difference with the 1-3-1 that West Virginia plays is they're very long. They're longer. What we're trying to do in any zone we play is we're trying to get that ball inside. We're trying to get it in there, throw it inside. But it's a little harder against them because their wings are so big, you can't just catch it on a wing and throw it in. They're big. And they do a great job in it.
He's used it and spotted it in different places. But I would imagine this game he's -- I just heard Digger say, how you beat Kentucky. I wish Digger had a team. But he talked about how you beat Kentucky. He said, you go 2-3 and you go 1-3-1 and you change it up and -- I can't remember. I was on a treadmill when he was saying it. But teams have done it. They're very good. This is going to be a hard game. There's no one walking in here. It's going to be a hard game. You're going to have two teams that are playing for something that's important for both states, playing for something that's bigger than themselves, which means there's some anxiety that goes along with that. Especially my young guys. And you're going to talk about teams that both play pretty good defense. Offensively, I think we're pretty good, too. I think they're good. Two number No. 1 seeds is what it is.
Two No. 1 seeds playing in this region.
Q. You mentioned what it meant to both states. We heard John pretty eloquently talk about West Virginia. You're less than a year in in Kentucky, but in your mind what does this program mean and what this team might accomplish mean to the state of Kentucky?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I would say maybe I'm wrong, but what has happened this year has made people happy. And they want us to win this game and every other game. But I think they respect what's happened in the program. They like the style of play. They like the kids have gotten better. The players, that our team has gotten better and they've seen growth. And I think they're happy about it. They would like us to win this game. But I think they're still saying this is what we want in our program. We want significance. We want to be talked about in recruiting. We want to be in the mix. And yeah, we want to win national titles. But we want to be in the mix. That's what I've been told most of the places I go. I guess that's until you lose.
Q. John, everybody on your level has a recruited great freshman and had a freshman impact. What's it been like to have two guys? You have to treat them, they're almost a tandem but they're still separate. What's it like to have two freshmen like that on one team?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Jimmy, I've aged. It's funny, DeMarcus is like a son. John Wall walked in my office and just hugged me and then leave. Or he'll text me and say "keep coaching me." In that regard, it's why you do what we do. DeMarcus sees my wife and calls her mom. Calls my daughters his sisters. Looks at my son, they play videos together. They do this together. Sometimes I say, "You're both 13 years old."
The challenge of it is to get them to reach beyond where they've ever reached in their lives. They're in the best shape conditioning-wise they've ever been in. They are playing for the team more than they've ever played for a team. Usually it's been about them. Yet they got to respect each other. Because if one gets it going, that can't affect the other. And it hasn't. Then you throw into the mix Eric Bledsoe, who has gone crazy some games. And is also going to have his opportunity. Then you have Daniel Orton. So you have four of them. How about Daniel and DeMarcus? Because Daniel is really good. That's been the challenge, to try to say Daniel, even though you're not playing as much as you would have played, it's helping you more. But that's, "you're just saying that." I mean, he's been great about it. But the challenge has been -- we've been at this now six months. To keep them going forward has been -- it's been a challenge. It's been fun, but it's been a challenge.
Q. What have you seen in John Mazzulla? And does he sort of epitomize that West Virginia grittiness and toughness you are talking about?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I'm going to date some of you. You will have no idea who I'm talking about. He reminds me of Billy Kilmer. Some of you know what I'm saying. I don't mean body-wise and all that. I'm saying he just wins. If he has to throw it left-handed or right-handed, and the ball wobbles a little bit, but they catch it and march up the field, he reminds me of Billy Kilmer. I don't care what it looks like, he's going to win. He'll do something. And it seems as though to me he has a way that their team respects him and really wants him out there. They want him out there, because they don't want to do the stuff that he does.
And he started for them. Here's a kid, he probably should have had shoulder surgery, and decides I'm going to wait for his team. And guess what, it played out. They needed him to wait. So good for him. Everybody that talks to me about him says he's a great kid. Terrific player, playing a little bit beat up.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else for Coach? Coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Thanks.
End of FastScripts