LOUISVILLE — Transcript of Kentucky quotes at Wednesday’s NCAA press conferences at the KFC Yum Center:
Q. Tyler, did you guys watch Hampton last night? What are your impressions?
TYLER ULIS: We actually have not watched them yet.
Q. Do you guys feel a little more at ease getting to open the tournament 90 minutes from your home gym?
DAKARI JOHNSON: It’s kind of pretty nice to play at home. Easy travel for our fans, and we have a big fan base here. So it’s kind of cool, I guess.
MARCUS LEE: Our fans follow us pretty much everywhere we go. So they make it kind of home for wherever we go.
DEVIN BOOKER: Just what the last two said. It’s going to be an advantage for us with all the Big Blue Nation in here.
TYLER ULIS: What they all said. With us being so close to fans, it will be like a home game.
Q. Guys, what about the fact that you have played on this floor, got a good win against Louisville, a quality opponent. Is there any look back to that game as you get ready for these? I know it’s a different team, but just the fact you feel good about getting a win on this floor.
DAKARI JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of good. We’re kind of used to the arena and kind of used to the floor already. We had a shoot-around here and a game here already, so it makes it more comfortable.
MARCUS LEE: Yeah, like Dakari said, it gives you a more comfortable feeling and makes you ready to play.
DEVIN BOOKER: What the last two said. We’ve all played in this gym, so we’re used to it already. That, combined with our fan base, it’s basically a home game
TYLER ULIS: Like they all said, we’ve played here before. Just happy to be here again, and with our fans here, it’s just going to be a great game for us.
Q. Marcus, Dakari, do you guys talk to the younger players about playing in an NCAA Tournament and how it’s different from the regular season or even SEC tournament? For the other two, what are you guys expecting from your first NCAA Tournament?
DAKARI JOHNSON: We really haven’t talked to them about it. The young guys, they do a good job in coming up in big games anyway. I’m sure they’ll be prepared for it.
MARCUS LEE: Like Dakari said, they’re very battle tested in everything they’ve done, and they seem like they’re ready in practice. I feel comfortable in our freshmen.
DEVIN BOOKER: They’ve done a little bit of talking to us, but Coach Cal (Calipari) stressed that to us and how important these big games are. I feel like we’ve been in a couple of big games already and that we’ll be ready for these.
TYLER ULIS: Like (Devin) Booker said, Coach Cal stressed it to us, how big these games are. We’ll be ready for it. We’ve had a lot of big games over the season. So we just can’t wait.
Q. Marcus, Cal talks a lot about staying in the moment right now. When you come to this stage, what does that mean to you, and how are you enjoying it or how are you embracing it?
MARCUS LEE: It’s not that hard to stay in the moment with this team. As you see, we enjoy each other very much in everything we do, going through shoot-arounds or in practice. So with this team, it makes it very easy.
Q. For Marcus and Dakari, I know obviously size is a big advantage, and it’s something people talk about with you guys all season. Has there been any times where you’ve gone up against smaller forwards, smaller guys, and they’ve done something that’s actually challenged you or been difficult for you to handle?
DAKARI JOHNSON: Yeah, sometimes we kind of use our size to our advantage, but at the same time, we’re playing guys who can stretch out to the three-point line a little bit or attack us from the perimeter, but we do a good job practicing and preparing for those type of guys. Coach does a good job just preparing us for those types of situations.
MARCUS LEE: Like Dakari said, that we prepare and try to work on it very well. You’ll see flashes of it by Dakari moving his feet really well, and us as bigs doing really well guarding smaller guards and bigs.
Q. This is for Tyler and Devin. Can you kind of talk about from when you arrived at UK and having the experience of playing the entire season and how opponents get really amped up to play you and then kind of comment on how — do you think that will go to another level now that you’re in the NCAA Tournament?
DEVIN BOOKER: When we first arrived here, we were just trying to find like our niche on the team and how we’d fit in. The older guys helped us out with that, and they just told us how the college game is going to be. I think the Bahamas trip that we took was a big
advantage for us because, before the season actually started, we got to know each other and how we played and everything like that. So we know at Kentucky we’re going to have a target on our back, and that’s the reason that we came here is to be on this big stage.
So we’ve just been listening to the older guys, and throughout the season, we’ve kind of like found our niche, and now we’re all fitting together really well.
TYLER ULIS: Like he said, when we first got here, we were trying to find our road, just fit in with the team, do what Coach wanted us to do, and see how he wanted us to play. But now we’ve gone through the season and teams have attacked us, and we’re confident with each other and we know how to play with each other.
Like he said, there’s a target on our backs. We love the big stage. That’s why we’re here. We just have to come out and play through it.
Q. Last year, Wichita State was undefeated, and then you guys beat them. Is that kind of a reminder for you, coming in here undefeated, that the NCAA Tournament is one game?
DAKARI JOHNSON: Yeah, it doesn’t really matter about the record anymore. Every team is at 0-0. We’ve just got to come in and just play our hardest and just treat every game like, basically, as if every game is our last.
MARCUS LEE: We’ve been doing a real good job of seeing every game in front of us as our last game throughout this year. So going into this, we’re kind of ready for all that.
Q. Same question I posed to the players. Do you feel any more relaxed getting to open the tournament 90 minutes from your home court?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s all the same. This is a different deal. Everybody is in the same boat. Everybody is 0-0. We were in the final game last year. We had 10 losses. It doesn’t matter how many losses you have. Everybody is 0-0. I told the team, whatever happens, they made history.
Whatever happens. I didn’t tell them, if you lose tomorrow, you make history again. So every game you play, it’s a one-game tournament. Not best of five, best of seven. It’s why all I talk about is us being at our best. If that’s not good enough, I’ll deal with it.
Q. You talked before last season about wanting to have a team go 40-0 at some point in your career.
COACH CALIPARI: I said that ten years ago when I was stupid. And I did say it, and I said it because I had two teams get to the cusp of that, and I said it would be neat, and it would be neat because everybody says you can’t do it, which when I was younger, I would say,
if you tell me I can’t do it, I could do it. Now that I’m older and I’m just kind of moving along, you just take a different approach. This is about these kids. It’s not about platooning. It’s not about — it’s about what they’ve allowed to happen. This is what all this is about. You have a talented group of kids that have sacrificed for each other, have been selfless. This is what college athletics is about. We had 13 of 16 players have a B average.
That’s what college is about. And these kids have done it, and I’m proud of them. I tell them all the time, I respect them. It’s a little different now. There could be people getting them on the phone in the locker room right now. Back in the day, we had to call somebody’s house and hoped they picked up the phone. There wasn’t even call waiting back then. Now, the clutter that they have to deal with is incredible, and for them to push all of that aside and stay together and be a team and sacrifice — I say to everybody, if your son was a top five player and I played him 22 minutes a game and he got nine shots, how would you feel? You’d be all right. That’s happening. So, again, these young people are allowing this to happen, and they’re finding out they all can eat.
No one has hurt themselves. I mean, I’m so proud of Andrew and Aaron because you just see their game, and now all of a sudden, you’re seeing these 6’6″ guards who are skilled and strong and fast. They’re just getting better and better. You’re looking at Karl getting better and better. You’re looking at Willie. You’re looking at Trey. You’re looking at Dakari. You’re looking at the other young kids. I mean, Marcus Lee is getting better. That’s what this is about. It’s what they have done and what they’ve allowed for us to do as coaches.
Q. When UNLV got beat, when they were undefeated, the next year in the Final Four, the Fab Five said they were not only playing for themselves, they were playing for Vegas because they represented deprived people on the inner city team. Do you feel at all that your team represents anything besides trying to play basketball the right way?
COACH CALIPARI: It represents these young people. I have one job, and that’s to do the best job I can for each of these kids. Here’s what’s changed, and I know this is going to aggravate everybody out there. You have kids that leave early from different schools that, if they leave to start a business, they can get a loan from that school, and that school saves their position back on campus if they want to come back. But if you have these athletes doing it, and people think there’s something nasty about it. Second thing is, back in the day, an NBA contract was worth $125,000. Now, a kid goes in the top five pick, he’s going to make $25 million. His next contract, if he gets a big deal, will be another 80. He made $100 million. There is things at stake for these kids and their families. I accept that.
My job is to help them be the best version of themselves. Now, they have gotten the point that, if they don’t do this together, they’re hurting each other, and they know that. I want every one of these kids to achieve. This that’s going on, it’s been a great story of every one of these kids giving up something to someone else on the team, all of them feeding off of
one another, all of them having each other’s back.
They don’t have to play great every night, and they don’t, but someone seems to do something to help us win. So you’re not under the pressure of I’ve got to be great tonight. No, you don’t. Prepare to be great, but you’re not a machine. You’re not a computer. Be the best you can be. Sometimes you’ve got to be on your B game or your C game. Just be really good at your C game tonight. You’re not on your A game, but Devin is or Tyler is. So don’t worry about it. That’s what this has been about. That’s, in my mind, the narrative in the story.
Q. Larry Brown is here coaching this weekend. I just wanted to get some of your thoughts on how he helped influence you and get you here where you are now. Also, when he was in here today, he said that your team could make the playoffs in the NBA Eastern Conference. What do you think about that?
COACH CALIPARI: Are they in the same region with us? I don’t think they are. First of all, the biggest thing I learned from Larry Brown, aside from basketball and how he teaches and coaches, he’s as good as they get. He said, if you care about the kids, you’ll always
have a job. I was 23 years old maybe, 22 years old. I can’t remember, it was so long ago, but I do remember that. If you care about these kids and you really care, you’ll always have a job.
You walk away, and you look at him with all that he had accomplished, and his thing
was about players playing right and getting better, playing together, teaching them to be a great team. But what he’s done at SMU — I coached against that program. I mean, it’s amazing. He just keeps going.
Q. You said that all of these guys have sacrificed for one another, and earlier you talked about the noise that these guys have to block out. As you advance further into the tournament, it’s just going to get louder. Are you confident that they can keep that mindset? And if so, what gives you that confidence?
COACH CALIPARI: I just don’t — I think they see what’s happening for each other, and I think they’ll stay the course, but believe me, I’ll be feeling the pulse every day. I stopped them today when we practiced. Don’t be changing now. Don’t. No, no, no, no, no. You stay
on the path you’re on. Don’t let someone tell you now is the time to go crazy. Don’t do that. Just be the best version of you right now, and that’s good enough. I’m just on it every day.
They get tired of hearing it. We turn our phones off at dinner, and let’s be together. We
try to touch throughout practice, touch each other, be connected to each other. This has been a ball for me. And, again, it’s because they’ve allowed it. Everybody’s saying, it’s got to be the toughest job of getting these kids to play with their egos. They talk about their egos.
These kids are just great kids, and I’m coaching them hard. I’m probably harder on Karl than anybody on this team because I see how good he could be. But we’re young. I would imagine we’re the youngest team in the field. I don’t think there’s anybody younger than our team.
Q. Talk about the development of Trey Lyles’ game. What he brings to this group.
COACH CALIPARI: In my opinion, he’s like the X factor. If we play him at three, he’s a tough cover for the other team. We’ll throw him in the post and do other stuff. If
your three man is 6’4″, he’s 6’10”. It’s great he’s being trained as a three because he has to guard guards. But I think he’s like the X factor for us. I think you see our guard play, and guys are getting better, more confident, feeling more comfortable with the version of
themselves that they’re playing with. Our bigs seem to be getting better and more confident. Trey was sick. He was out three weeks. So he’s a little bit behind, but
he’s catching up fast.
Q. Coach, your team had a couple of close calls in the regular season. Do those experiences help prepare you for this tournament?
COACH CALIPARI: Oh, yeah. I was in those huddles, and the players will tell you, I was saying, we need this. We need this. Karl did something at LSU, and we were up ten, and he made a bonehead play, and they got back in the game, and then they went up, and I was saying, I hope we lose. You need to learn. You don’t do that stuff. This isn’t high school. I hope we lose. A couple guys on the bench were saying, we don’t hope we lose. But we’ve been down ten. We’ve been to overtime, double overtime. We’ve been down nine and have to come back. They play to win. They’re not playing not to lose. But I’m going to say this. This tournament — the good news for us, it’s on everybody.
Normally, it seems to be just on us. Now everybody’s season is about to end one way or another. So everybody now, you could be up 15, and all of a sudden, you jam up a little bit like, uh-oh, what happens now? It’s not like, hey, our season will keep going. Let’s try to win this game. No, it isn’t that way. This is a different deal for all of us. But, again, I’m just coming back and talking to my team about one thing. Let’s be at our best. Let’s be a great defensive team. Let’s be an efficient offensive team. Let’s try to get some easy baskets. Let’s play for each other. Let’s have a high assist, low turnover.
Let’s have six fouls a half. We don’t want to foul. We play not to foul. Don’t foul. There are teams that will go out and let’s foul 32 times in the half. We don’t want to foul. We want to go in with 6 so we don’t shoot one and ones. Let’s not get beat at the foul line. It’s not that we do it every time. We foul, but we’re trying not to. It’s an interesting group again, because you’re not forced to play great every night.
I’ve had teams where I played six guys. What happens, what if three of them are just not playing well? You’d probably lose unless that team really stinks that you’re playing against. So this one, we just kind of keep shuffling until we find what’s the combination that works.
Q. Coach, I’ve always wondered, you talk about guys that can deal with all the noise around Kentucky basketball, and you talk about guys like this team especially that plays as a team and sacrifices. When you go out and recruit, what things do you pinpoint? What things do you see in a kid that you know that he can play for Kentucky and you?
COACH CALIPARI: The kids that I recruited know what I’m saying. It’s no secret. I think other coaches know when I walk in and say, this isn’t for everybody. You’re everybody’s Super Bowl. If you do something stupid, they do a 30 for 30 movie on it. This ain’t for
everybody. If you’re here to run around and drink and smoke and go nutty, you don’t come here. You come here to get better. If you want to be the face of the organization, you want to shoot all the balls, you want the whole offense to go through you, you don’t come here.
You come here because you want to get better. You want to take your game from point A to point B to point C. I will coach you. I was in the NBA. I wasn’t afraid of those guys. Now, I did get fired, but I was in the NBA. I mean, I’m not afraid to coach you and tell you when you’re wrong. It’s funny, they all say, we like it because he keeps it real until I keep it real with them personally, and then they don’t like it. But any time you’re trying to get stars together to do something, it all starts with what you do right away in the recruiting process or as you bring them together.
If you tell everybody they’re all shooting 30 times and they’re going to play — there’s no trust. The only way you create trust is right away say, this is how it is, and that’s what we try to do. We recruit character. You can’t do what we’re doing if one guy doesn’t care about anybody. Character to me is you care about other people. You have a caring heart. You’re not about just yourself. That’s character to me. Having a kind heart, where you’re trying random acts of kindness to other people. Those players play well for us because they know I’m fine with so and so’s playing well. That doesn’t bother me. The guy without the character, it’s all ego, and it’s also ego with everyone around him. How many shots, how many minutes. Instead of being the conduit to where they’re going, you become the barrier. You’re holding my kid back. I’d just rather not coach those guys.
Q. You like the Cavs or Hawks best in the Eastern Conference?
COACH CALIPARI: Boxers or briefs? I coached Al Horford for the Dominican team, and I’ve gone down and watched them play. Boy, they’re playing well. I think what David’s doing now to get that team in Cleveland together is going to be crazy. It’s nutty. They’re coming together, and they’re playing off of one another. I haven’t watched that much of the NBA because I’ve been so wrapped up in this, but I’ll watch scores and see highlights. It should be fun.
Q. Do you talk to LeBron at all?
COACH CALIPARI: We text back and forth.