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April 1, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Calipari. Questions, please.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CALIPARI: Well, there's two things that happened with this team. The veteran players, the guys that were on the team a year ago began to step up and take more responsibility for what was going on. The younger guys took a little step back, not much, but a little step back so they could step forward.
But the biggest thing is they started believing in each other. I kept telling them all along, I like this team, I believe in you guys, here's why, but you're going to have to battle and perform, you're going to have to play together down the stretch.
I kept telling them as the challenge escalates, the need for "team" elevates, and you have to be a team. They're starting to do that, or have started to do it and have been doing it for a few weeks.
Q. I'm going to ask you a different type of question. Do you feel that you're the 2000 Jerry Tarkanian?
COACH CALIPARI: I respect everything that Jerry did, his kids, how they played, all those things. But, no, I think I'm the 2011 John Calipari. I don't know what that means and I hate to talk in the third party. But I am who I am.
Q. When did you get a sense for when Jim had an issue with what you were doing in the northeast and how would you describe your relationship now?
COACH CALIPARI: We're fine. I mean, the northeast, you're so tight, you're right on top of each other, that it is a competitive environment. Our radio shows and television shows are in each other's state, in our cities. That's how it is there.
I did tell him last night, he gave the Fred MacMurray analogy that My Three Sons. I did tell him that I knew Fred MacMurray, Mr. Calhoun, and you are no Fred MacMurray. So I did tell him that.
Q. You talk all the time about it, being a players-first program. Could you talk a little about what that season, this run, has meant to you.
COACH CALIPARI: As a coach, I want to win every game. That's how we coach. I'm not the only guy. But more importantly I want to see players play well. I want them to have career years, which means from one year to the next they're better, from one month to the next, they're better as individual players.
My job as a coach is to get them all together on the same page and demand that they play together, demand that they defend together, demand they play with toughness, and not accept anything less than that.
But I've always coached that way. I mean, I have not changed from that, and I don't want this. This is about these young people. Hopefully I'm doing what I'm supposed to do to help them, give them a game plan and things they can play off of so they're comfortable playing, not try to give them too much so that they're thinking too much, and give them a level of confidence that they can go out there and do this. At the end of the day, it's about them.
I mean, 50 years from now there's not going to be any emotion to this. When people look at our careers as coaches 50 years from now, it's not only going to be won-loss record, it's how you've developed young people, what you've done in the communities that you've lived, my wife and I, or on the campuses you've worked on. What have you added, what have you done.
At the end of the day, I'm not worried about a whole lot of the other ancillary stuff.
Q. I believe you've at least compared the effectiveness of Danny winning the tournament. Can you expound on that.
COACH CALIPARI: Do you remember what they called that team? Danny and The Miracles. One, they were just so well-coached. When you watched them, they all did what they were supposed to do. They defended, they rebounded, they took care of the ball, played great in close games. Coach Brown coached that team. But Danny made everybody better. If he had to score, he scored. If he had to get a big block, he would. If he had to pass, he passed. That's what Kemba does.
Right now he's been scoring a lot of points. If he's not, he'll figure out what it takes his team to stay in the game. He has had the same kind of effect that Danny had in '88.
Q. Last week I asked you about Brandon Knight and his ability to make the big shot. Can you talk a little bit about his growth this year and if you consider him a freshman anymore. Could you also talk about facing Walker and trying to stop him.
COACH CALIPARI: The stuff with Brandon, I told him the other day, I said, I can't tell you how proud I am. I've been really hard on him. Probably for the first time in his career he was really challenged to improve. You're not good enough in this area, in area, this area. Maybe he never heard that before.
If he wasn't doing what I asked him to do, I was pretty tough on him. In no uncertain terms let him know, You're not playing that way here.
Again, he responded. He's a young man that goes in the gym. If you get on him on something, he'll go in at 11:00 at night and work on it. The next day in practice, he comes early, which he does, he's the last one out of gym, he'll work on those areas.
Again, to make big shots, it's not that you're not afraid to take the shot, it's that you're not afraid to miss the shot. Missing the shot is okay, the sun will come up tomorrow. That's how his mentality is because he works so hard.
Kemba, it's going to be a hard guard. I'm comparing him to Danny Manning, who was impossible to stop. I think the reason why everybody is picking Connecticut is because they're saying 'Kemba Walker.' Now when you hear all the talking heads, it's Connecticut. Maybe it's their hope, not their opinion, I don't know that. But I would say it's because of Kemba.
Q. What is it like to have a defensive stopper by DeAndre Liggins?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, he's more than just a defensive player. He's also an offensive driver, slasher, a young man now that if he's open, I'm telling him, If you're open, shoot the ball. If they're crowding you, drive it. If not, you let it go. He's more than that.
But you have a 6'6" player with long arms who can guard a point guard, a two-man, a three-man, and if I wanted him to, he could probably guard the four. Whoever is hurting you, he can go guard.
Q. Your father was kind enough to speak to a few reporters. Can you talk about what it means for you to have him here as you try to win a national championship?
COACH CALIPARI: My mother passed away November 28th. It's been really hard. They had been married 54 years. He hadn't left the house in a while. The SEC tournament he came to Atlanta. We had a great time. He came to Florida, came to Newark. He's here. Really, getting to spend some time with him, you know, letting him enjoy and take his mind off the grief that he's going through right now.
It's been a hard road. I've said, for us, I haven't even had time to step back away, which I will when the season's over. But the thing that I'm happy about for both of my parents, is my mother got to see me coach at Kentucky before she passed away. I told our president, I thank you for that.
For me to spend time with my dad, with his grandson also, they're on the bus together, they're staying in rooms side-by-side with a combining door where they can see each other. It's good stuff. It's really good stuff.
Q. You said all season that you would take talent over experience. Considering what this team has accomplished, is experience overrated?
COACH CALIPARI: No, no. Especially, Kemba, he's been in the Final Four already. They lost, but he played in that game and he was a significant player. He obviously has an advantage.
But I'll say it again: if you have talent that is experienced, you'll win all of your games. But if I had a choice between a talented team and an experienced team, I'm taking talent every time. That's just the way I feel. I can try to figure out how to get them to defend, how to play together, all those things. At the end, the upside of a talented team, that's our jobs as coaches, is to get those kids.
You know, coaching mediocrity, getting guys to play hard, and they're a good team. This thing we're trying to do, which is to be the best, I really believe you have to have the best players. You want to be the best, it ain't coaching 'em up. You can play that game if you choose to. It's having the best players and getting those players to play together.
I think that's a challenge we all have.
Q. You have a couple of one-and-done players, probably as many as anybody in the sport. Do you ever rethink that position? Are there ever times when you think, when the class walks away, five starters, maybe I ought to change directions?
COACH CALIPARI: I think, Man, I wish this was the '70s, I had these guys for three years, we wouldn't lose any games. That's what I say.
The second part of that is you really don't know if kids are going to be able to leave after a year. No one knows. I don't go in recruiting that way. I'm going to tell you, I don't like the one-and-done rule, never have, but my choice is to recruit players who aren't good enough. I'm not doing that. My other option is to recruit the best players we have, the best students we can recruit, and then coach 'em and get 'em to believe in themselves, get 'em to reach their dreams. If that is done after a year, then I'll deal with it.
It hasn't hurt us. We lost five first-round draft picks. We lost two players also on that team that started on the year before, Perry and Ramon, that's seven players, and we're still here. I think the argument is you can't coach this way or you can't recruit good players, I just don't buy.
Now, who knew that Eric Bledsoe, who I loved to death, was able to leave after a year. He didn't play in the McDonald's game year. He was behind Siva in all the stats and everything else. Who said that Daniel Orton, who didn't play his senior year in high school, 16 minutes for us, would be a first-round draft pick. We didn't know if DeMarcus would be quite ready.
Guess what, by the end of the year, they were ready, I encouraged them to go. Because if it were my son, that's what I would hope a coach would do.
So if we have guys on this team that I think when we look at this stuff, I'll encourage them to go. Do I want to coach? I would coach Brandon Knight for the next 15 years. I don't want Brandon Knight to leave. I want him here. But at the end of the day, these guys will have their decisions they have to make. If we've all done our jobs, they'll do what they think is right for themselves and their family.
Right now these guys are focused on one thing, and that's playing here.
Q. I'm being facetious, but how does it feel to coach in your first Final Four?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't deal with that. We've been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to. I'm so proud of what they've all accomplished. It's been fun. It's been a good experience. This is going to be a good experience.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH CALIPARI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll begin with the Kentucky student-athletes.
Q. DeAndre, can you talk about what it's like to be defensive stopper and can you tell us who you think your best defensive jobs were against this season?
DeANDRE LIGGINS: I think my best defensive job was on the three guys. One of my best I think was Scottie Hobson. I can't remember anybody else, but I just remember Scottie Hobson.
Q. What is it like coming into a game knowing you have to stop the other team's best player?
DeANDRE LIGGINS: The thing with me is taking on the challenge, being competitive, having confidence that I can stop the other guy.
Q. Josh, can you describe for me your Final Four experience so far.
JOSH HARRELLSON: You know, it's been amazing. We had a lot of fun. Had a little dinner thing we had to do last night. That was a great experience for us to come out there and interact with the other teams down here.
But we're looking forward to I guess playing basketball more than anything, another opportunity to come out and compete. We're still looking forward to the game Friday, and then hopefully we can continue still playing.
Q. DeAndre, I know you had talked about how this team is more unified than last year's team. Can you elaborate on that and describe why.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: Last year's team was close, too. But it was like me isolating myself a little bit. That's part of my personality. That's no offense to the players last year.
But we was brothers last year on the team, too. We was close a lot. That's how we won how many games we won. We reached the Elite 8. We was close.
This year it's the same way. We just happened to make it to the Final Four.
JOSH HARRELLSON: Just like DeAndre said, we were really close last year as a team, but I think the difference this year is we're a smaller team. There's only 10 of us that travel. Last year we had 13 guys. Three guys make a big difference. This year it's a lot smaller team and we're always around each other, always doing stuff, just trying to get closer every day we can.
DARIUS MILLER: Just like they said, I don't think this team is closer than last year's team. I think it's about the same. We feel like both teams was a family. I still talk to everybody from last year's team just as much as I do today. We just don't see 'em as much.
It's really a big family, all of us, really. It's like two different families for me because I was here both years.
Q. Can you compare last year to this year in terms of how difficult the transition has been for you to stay in place and deal with a whole different crew of freshmen, have a much more expanded role?
DARIUS MILLER: It wasn't really tough. I mean, both set of guys was good teammates. Coach Cal does a great job of recruiting good teammates as well as good talent. So, I mean, it wasn't extremely tough.
We spent a lot of time together from the beginning getting started in the summer. So, I mean, it wasn't really tough. It might have took us a while to gel or become, I guess you can say, trust each other as much as we should on the court. As far as personality goes, as far as us being close off the court, it wasn't tough at all.
JOSH HARRELLSON: Like Darius said, last year we all kind of clicked when we first met each other. I think the difference was, you know, we were all new to 'em and new to Coach Cal. This year us three guys and Jon Hood were around Coach Cal and around the offense and around the coaching staff. It was a little easier this year to help the freshmen group out. The freshmen group that came in were willing to learn and work. It made it easier on us older guys because they were willing to learn.
For me personally having to come out and play a significant role, because Enes Kanter got ruled ineligible, it just made me want to be there for my teammates when they needed me.
Q. The maturation of Brandon from the beginning of the season to now, he says he's become a more mature player, smarter player in terms of distributing the ball, how much of a key has that been? Have you noticed that?
JOSH HARRELLSON: Brandon has transformed his game to like night and day where he is now. He's so mature. He always finds the open person now. He doesn't look to score every time. He runs offense instead of breaking off and doing his own thing now. He gets us into offensive sets. He guards now. He does everything a great point guard needs to do. He always finds the open man for a big shot.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: The thing with Brandon is he always in the gym working on his game. Coach Cal, point guards all were struggling at the beginning of the year. As the season progressed, his point guards get better. That's what Brandon is doing right now.
DARIUS MILLER: Like he said, he's grown a lot. He's really matured. He's more of a leader on the court. At times you can see him telling guys if they messed up where they need to be. That's something that we all felt like we needed.
I think once that happened, all of us started to step up in the leadership role. Now at different times different people are leading. That kind of helped us out.
As far as his play offensively, he does a great job. He has all year. Defensively he's really grown in that area, too.
Q. Calipari talked about midway through the season you all three stepped it up. Was he talking about scoring, leadership, off-court?
JOSH HARRELLSON: I think it's all of the above. We struggled early in SEC play, all three of us. There were some games when we would all score points, but we weren't consistent like we have been the last month and a half. When we lost to Ole Miss at Ole Miss, we had a players meeting. From there, us three guys have stepped our game up. Our confidence is sky high. We've been carrying the freshmen instead of the freshmen having to carry us. It's made it easier for the younger guys to come out and play basketball instead of them having pressure and doing everything when we can come out and help.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: We rely on the freshmen a lot to score points, make the big plays. But after the Ole Miss game, we had a meeting. We just talked about what we need to do to correct ourselves. Since then, we've been great.
DARIUS MILLER: Just like these two guys said, after that game when we didn't do anything, we kind of talked about it, that we had to step us for us to be a more successful team. That was a rough patch for us.
Once we got going, it seemed like the team clicked and we became successful.
Q. Josh, can you tell us a little bit about what the dynamics between you and Coach Gillispie were, what the dynamics are between you and Coach Calipari, and how you feel about the coaching change?
JOSH HARRELLSON: Coach Gillispie, he was a very smart coach. He knew basketball. I don't think he had the best way of teaching it. He wasn't a great encourager. He liked to break players down, then build them back up.
But at Kentucky I guess, you know, he got better recruits than he did at Texas A&M. So it was harder to break down players that he was recruiting to build 'em back up.
I'm very thankful for what he did. He made us all mentally tough. He made all three of us be able to do things we've never been able to do before. It's probably why we're here today because of how mentally he made us.
Coach Cal is the opposite of Coach G. He's an encourager. He tries to build you up from day one. He never really gets down on you too much. If he does, he'll apologize, say sorry for that. He always wants to keep you positive.
But I still keep in contact with Coach G. I'm happy he got another job. I think he'll do great things.
Q. Josh, I was talking with Coach Wacker and Owens about your freshmen year, your first couple days of practice. Can you tell me what you remember about that and the transformation since then?
JOSH HARRELLSON: I was the worst player in America. I probably shouldn't even have been playing basketball. They kept me because I was probably 6'4", 240 pounds, so I had size to me my freshman year. I couldn't make a layup. I remember working so hard on my left-hand layup, I couldn't make a right-hand layup. It was rough.
I kept working every day. I'd stay after practice a couple hours every day with Coach Wacker. He made me better. By the end of the season, I was playing JV, and then sophomore year, junior and senior year I played varsity. I kept working and I'm here now.
Q. Darius, being from the state, what is your view of what Kentucky basketball means to the state of Kentucky? Have you thought about what it means for you having played for this team to get them back to the Final Four and mean for you as a Kentucky native?
DARIUS MILLER: It means a lot to me. I'm from Kentucky. I know what it means to the state. I grew up in an area where they had a lot of Kentucky fans. Kentucky doesn't really have a pro team, so they look to us and Louisville as like their pro teams. They take a lot of pride in basketball in Kentucky, in my opinion.
For us to make it, like I said, me being a part of it, is amazing for me. It's something I've dreamed about since I was little. I'm glad to be here.
Q. Darius, been in touch with Shelvin this week and have you talked about the chances of meeting up in the championship game?
DARIUS MILLER: Yeah. I went over to his room a couple nights ago, spent a little time with him. We have a really close relationship. I grew up playing basketball with him. So, I mean, I talk to him pretty much every day.
Q. What is it like to be in Coach Cal's system where if you have the ball in your hand at the end, you have a green light to shoot?
DeANDRE LIGGINS: Coach Cal is a freedom coach. If you go up to Coach Cal and say, Run this play for me, the thing is, he'll run the play, but you just got to execute and day it well. You got to have the confidence that you're going to make that play.
That's what make him a good coach.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports