NEWARK--- Kentucky head coach John Calipari and several Wildcats players spoke with reporters prior to their Elite Eight game Sunday afternoon with North Carolina in the Prudential Center.
The winner draws UConn in next weekend's Final Four in Houston.
KENTUCKY HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI
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First we are sitting here, DeAndre (Liggins) should be up here. I don't even know who I will start this next game, so I guess these are five starters from last game. Obviously DeAndre has been as big a player for what's happened for our team, but he will be in the locker room for anybody to talk to.
Josh, do you remember any particular problems that Tyler Zeller and John Henson created for you in the first game in Chapel Hill? And if so, did you learn anything that you feel could be effective in this rematch?
JOSH HARRELLSON: Yeah, they create a lot of problems for me. You know, Tyler Zeller, he scored a lot on me. He got me in foul trouble. So hopefully I am going to just try to stay out of foul trouble, play big and play like I did last night. Just play strong and just try to outwork him.
For Coach Calipari: Can you speak about the level of trust and communication a coach needs to have in his point guard in general, and then how you have achieved so much to that end with Brandon in such a short amount of time relatively?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the trust has to be two ways, you know. I really have to trust their mentality, which is team first, and they have to trust that I'm going to put them in a good position for our team and them as an individual player.
And then there's just a lot of coaching, a lot of talking. I mean, of these players right now, if I said, who have I been the hardest on this year, raise your hand. They would all raise their hand (laughter). And I would tell you, and if they said that I am not hard on one, they probably would say Brandon, and I'd think I am harder on him than these other guys.
But you have to be fair with them. And you have respect one another. Respect their work, what they're trying to do, and then you just do a whole lot of coaching to try to get them to where you are trying to get them to go. Trust is two ways, you have to trust them and they have to trust you.
Brandon, can you give me an idea of how often Coach fills your mind with thoughts of Derrick (Rose) and Tyreke (Evans) and John Wall and what those conversations might entail, and whether you think you have to reach a certain standard to satisfy a guy who's coached a lot of good players?
BRANDON KNIGHT: He doesn't talk much about those guys. Once in a while he might mention something they did to help themselves, but he really talks about all of his past players, how they listened to him, how they got better just to show each and every one of us that if we listen, if we buy into the team aspect and buy in our roles, that we can win games, win a lot of games together.
This question is for Coach Calipari, and if I could adjust it for you, Brandon: Coach, what kind of mentality does Brandon have? Is he a gamer, I guess, looking at when he struggles in a game, he still has the confidence to hit that shot? And I guess for Brandon after Coach answers, is that something, is that a quality that you have always had? Or have you built or grown into it having that confidence even when you are struggling to know that you can make that shot?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: First of all, he is one of the most conscientious, hard-working players that I have been around. Will be in the gym at 11:00 at night. Will be in the training room icing his knees or his legs at 6:00 in the morning. Academically, got mad, a 91, what class did you get a test, a 91?
BRANDON KNIGHT: Sociology.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Still got an A but he is mad. Conscientious. So he feels that he will make that shot. And more importantly, why I put the ball in his hands, he is not afraid to miss it. If you really want to be that guy, you have no fear if I miss this shot, I miss it. I am not afraid to miss this shot. Life will not end. And so I feel comfortable putting it in his hands because I know of his work ethic. I know how much time he spends, so do his teammates. They know the time he spends.
KNIGHT: It is kind of something that has been kind of built up with hard work. Just building confidence, being in the gym a lot. Like Coach said, I have a problem missing the shots, but once you work a ton and you are put in that situation a lot it kind of builds up. Early in this season I had a chance to win the game against Florida; I missed it. I had a chance to win the game against Arkansas and I missed it. So it is just something that you kind of you live and die with. Sometimes.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Alabama, too. (Laughter.)
John, can you compare the challenges North Carolina presents tomorrow with the challenges they presented when you played them in the regular season?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Roy's just done a fabulous job. I mean, they're flying up and down that court. They're throwing that thing ahead. Their bigs are flying. Marshall is finding everything. Barnes is way better. McDonald now is now making open shots and threes. Strickland is getting to the rim like he is. Knox is better, Henson is better, Zeller is scoring 28 a game and 12 rebounds in the Tournament. Think about that. They are playing great basketball and it's going to be a very difficult game for us. It will be a hard game.
For Terrence and Brandon and Doron: Jared Sullinger announced he will come back next year for his sophomore year. I wonder what you guys think of that. Is that good for college basketball to have the top freshmen say they will come back? And does that influence you at all to maybe all want to come back next year or depend on how this year ends?
TERRENCE JONES: Really I am just having fun in this. I don't know about what he said. That's his decision and that's a good decision since he felt he could take his team farther. And it's just a decision he made.
KNIGHT: Right now, you know, I know all of us are student-athletes. We are focused on being student-athletes first. So we are just -- I am enjoying the time that I'm having here, and you know loving the college experience.
DORON LAMB: I am just having fun playing with these teammates and playing with Coach. I just want to have fun. I'll be back next year, so I can't be worried about leaving.
For Brandon and Terrence: What do you guys remember about the last couple of minutes against North Carolina, the execution, sort of just the sense of -- that was a really tight game obviously, you struggled with it early. And compared to last night, are you more relaxed in those situations now? Why do you think you are just more effective those situations than were you the first time?
KNIGHT: If I can remember correctly, we didn't execute that great towards the end of the game with North Carolina, and that was early in the season. I think with a lot of repetition, with being placed in that situation a lot of times through SEC play, we got a lot better at it. And I feel that right now we're a better executing team when it comes down to ending games.
For John and Darius: You guys have won your last nine games against teams that have played in some sort of postseason tournament, allowed 61 points a game. What has been the key of that defense change? And how effective do you have to be against a Carolina team that is very reliant on tempo?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: One of the things that's happened, and I told them before yesterday's game, I've always believed in this team. I liked this team from the beginning. And there was a time where I believed in guys more than they believed in themselves. And there was a time that I believed more about this team, in this team more than they believed in themselves. What happened the last nine games, they are starting to believe in themselves, and they are starting to believe in each other. Now you are seeing a swarming team that is covering for each other. We had 11 blocks. Are you kidding me? We had 11 blocks. Well, that's coming from the weak side. It was perimeter players blocking shots.
And again, we're doing what we have to defensively. Sometimes we're doubling down, sometimes we are scrambling from the guard, sometimes we are rotating. And sometimes we are switching. But I just believe they're buying into defense first. Can we, you know, guard North Carolina? I'm telling you, North Carolina is going to be hard. That may be a game we're trying to outscore them and they are trying to outscore us. Again, they haven't seen any tape. I have watched a little bit of tape to this point, and we still haven't totally decided on how we're playing some of the stuff, but they are good.
Josh, you mentioned you wanted to play big and strong. Exactly what does that entail? And how might that apply against North Carolina with Zeller and Henson?
HARRELLSON: Zeller is a seven-footer so I have to just try to play big. Like keep my hands high without fouling. Keep him away from the basket. Make it hard catches. Don't let him get easy looks. So I am just going to try to contain him the best I can. I know he's a great player, and that's going to be a hard match-up. But with a team effort, I think we'll be all right.
John, how can North Carolina's length impact any game? And how much is that a factor?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well one, they can throw it inside and still get shots off. Zeller can really shoot the hook, the right jump hook that he shoots. It also affects some of our dribble-drive because you are driving into big guys. And last game they got a bunch of their transition came on us taking tough shots and they blocked them. Terrence had a tough night. I think were you 3-for-18? No?
TERRENCE JONES: 17.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: 17. And they had trouble getting those shots off, and that led to breakouts. So we have to figure out what we're going to do. But I will say it again, we're playing this time of the year, they are an outstanding club. We're playing as well as we played all year. I wish the game were today. Let's throw it up and start.
Brandon, in the first game Larry Drew guarded you, he was in the game for 30 minutes, mostly on you. He is no longer with UNC. Is that a plus for you?
KNIGHT: I am not sure if that is a plus or a minus. I am not sure who will be guarding me. But I don't really think it matters. My job is just to run the team and see what happens from there.
For Coach, obviously when you guys met Carolina they had a different point guard. From what you have been able to see, can you speak to how Kendall Marshall has changed, if at all, the way that Carolina's offense runs? And whether he presents a different sort of challenge?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I haven't watched a bunch of their games. The tapes that I've seen, they get the ball up the court in a hurry and he'll throw it ahead. He'll snake his way to the rim if you space out. On his drives, he can find people next to the goal. He can find three-point shooters. So he makes the game easy for his teammates. That's what he does. I didn't watch Larry enough to tell you if he was doing the same, he probably was. And I don't know that situation at all. But I saw Marshall in the summers and liked him. I thought man, this kid is really good. He is a really good player, a really good playmaker.
Coach, would you comment on Josh's development from your first year at Kentucky. And then Josh, would you respond to what Coach says about your development.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Josh went from the jokester, the prankster in practice to a guy that comes early and trains for 30 minutes before we start. And then works his butt off and encourages his team to work, versus pull back the practice. He has totally changed his body. He totally changed his approach to practice. He's totally changed his skill level. And what's happened is you see a different result. You see a player that's had as big an impact on college basketball as anybody right now. He has. And he has done it. It is not what I have done. It is not me coaching him up. He's changed. He did it.
And what I am saying to our other players, only way you get a different result in the way you are playing, it's not me playing you different, me giving you more shots, make you different, it is you changing your habits, changing your mentality, changing your skill level that will change the result of how you're playing, and that's work. And there is nothing I can do for you. I can put you on the stage, but I am not out there acting, you have to do it.
HARRELLSON: It is like Coach said. I just tried to change the approach. I changed my confidence level, changed my skill set. Like he said, changed my body. A totally different player. And I never thought that I would be the player that I am today. You know, it is a lot of hard work and a lot of determination to push through what I have been through, and I am just thankful. I thank God every day for what He has done for me and the places that He has put me in.
And I am just so thankful for where I am and my teammates that were there to help me out in the running process and the conditioning I had to do, they helped me through it. They have been supportive since day one. And they had more confidence in me than I had in myself. And finally I am playing like I am capable of playing these last three weeks and hopefully can continue.
I just want to talk about the history of these two programs. The fact that you have 105 wins for Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, you have 104. Can you talk about that and the match-up and the size of this.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Most of us up here weren't there for many of those. (Laughter.) This is kind of like we got to 2,000 first and I think we were there for nine of them of the 2,000. So this, at this point, yes, the name's on the front, Kentucky-North Carolina, wow. The history of both of these programs, wow. But I don't think they are worried about that and I am certainly not. I know they are going against terrific players and I am going against a Hall of Famer. That's what I know. And I know the challenge of this.
But I am going to say this, I believe in my team. I really like my team. No disrespect for any other team in the country, I'm take my team. And so I don't think these guys are worried about, you know, whether it was Ohio State or North Carolina or Duke or Kansas, whoever it is. I mean, it's not past history. These guys only remember two or three years max.
For John and Josh: Could you talk about how this team has become a tougher team mentally and physically? And John, do you think they now totally understand what you were telling them early in the season that they weren't as tough as you wanted?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we had to go to the punching bags. We had to go to toughness drills. What else did I do? We did all kinds of stuff. We put on boxing gloves, heavy bag. We had guys hurt their wrist hitting a heavy bag with a glove on. But what toughened us up is going on the road and losing and it meant something to these players. They didn't want to lose. Part of what happened is me trying to figure out this team. They're looking at me saying, you have got to give us a little bit more. It is a one-point game with 30 seconds to go, help us. And so as much as we needed to make a shot or make a play, it was me coming up with schemes and things that would make them more comfortable on the floor.
And to be honest, we've been together six months. You have got freshmen who are playing with three vets who weren't, quote, the guys a year ago. It is a new team. So I was trying to figure these guys out. And I will be honest with you, there are even times now where I am saying, is there a better way to do this, for them, to make it easier for them. I think losing those games, I think we lost six games on the road by 11 points. And, you know, people were writing us off. You know, they may not even make the NCAA Tournament. I thought what are you talking about? I have a heck of a team.
HARRELLSON: Like what Coach said, we weren't tougher in the season, we let a lot of games slip away from us in the late-game situation. And we kind of turned that around. Won a couple of games at home and then went on the road to finish our road regular season off with a win at Tennessee. And from there we have just been playing the best basketball all of us can play. We all stepped our games up tremendously as I remember in the season and we are a terrific ballclub. And a lot of people were doubting us and I think we are proving a lot of people wrong.
You guys were in this position last year with a different group of guys. What lessons can you take from that in terms of getting freshman ready to play a game of that magnitude besides not just missing the first 20 three-pointers.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: And the last 12 of the game before, which meant 32 straight threes, which has never happened in this tournament before.
You know, the experience that I have of coaching in this specific game, I talked to them about what this practice will be like and what it means to the game tomorrow. And how with the quick turn there's not a whole lot of things we can be doing here, except we have to zero in and really be focused and have sharp attention, so that we get something done in a short order. Don't want to use their legs out there, but we have to get stuff done.
As far as last year's team, it was totally different. Last year's team was not an execution team. We would bowl you over, we would outrun you. Get it up the court and get a basket and if we missed it, we'd tip it in or someone would kick to another guy and they'd drive it and try to dunk it. This is a different team. Yet obviously just as effective, but just different.
So we are in a great frame of mind. Last year's team was, too. But I think this team has a little different bounce to it. But we're again playing against an unbelievably talented, well-coached opponent with great size, great guard skills, that shoots the ball. I mean, they just don't have a whole lot of weaknesses.
John, when you look at this team this year, looking back on it now, what was the biggest challenge you faced? Was it the same challenge you thought it would be when the year started?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: You know, I had to look back. I am just kind of looking forward here. But if you ask me what it was, it would be how quickly can we get these freshman ready to compete on the level that we are going to compete on. To get them to understand when we go on the road, kind of like when we went to North Carolina and the atmosphere was electric in that building, it was crazy. How quickly can we get them to understand?
Can we get these veterans to understand it's their team? We cannot count on these freshmen. If they play well, great. This is your team. We went on the road one game and our veterans scored no points in the second half. We can't win. From that point on, from that game on, our veterans have been unbelievable. So those three guys have carried us. And the freshman have played well, and at times played really well. But when they haven't played well, we're still good enough to win because of our veterans. That's kind of what we had to get to. And it took time.
John, you guys have been very good about not turning the ball over. What do you attribute that to? And how important is that against Carolina, keeping them out of going up and down?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, one, our point guard, you know, doesn't turn it over that much. Well, sometimes he does. (Laughter.) But he is not turning it over that much, and he has control of the game. So it starts right there.
And then the other side of it is, we have a lot of skilled guys. I mean, you're talking from Darius to DeAndre to Deron and Terrence. And Josh, we are throwing Josh the ball a lot now and he's making passes. He's starting our offense. So we have a lot of skilled guys. And, you know, we are one of those teams where it's low turnovers.
Now, North Carolina on the other hand, is going to run gaps, will try to deny passes, will get up in you to get you out of control, drive you into their big people, make a wing pass hard. You are not going to come down and just pass it around, they will not let you.
You have to work to get it open. Because what you said is they want to steal and go, that's how they play. So we have to be as strong as we have ever been. We have to work to get free. We're going to have to bust through and play through bumps because they do bump you on drives and post-ups, you are going to have to play through it, and get that ball to the rim.
John, what is the process and how hard is it, especially with a young team, to convince them that defense is the most important, defense can be fun? And how much did DeAndre Liggins play in making that an easier task?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Obviously he's the passion behind our defense, but somebody told me yesterday those last couple of stops, every guy on our team was down in the stance clapping. Terrence Jones you can see him getting down saying, we will make a stop here. They are taking pride in it. They know it works. It will make us win. One of the things we say is "defense first." That's what we are about, defense first. Because of our skill level, shooting ability, the offense will take care of itself. Defense first, rebound the ball, swarm and help each other.
But it takes time. You know why? It is harder to get in there and be physical and stay in a stance and bounce the whole time throughout a whole possession. And especially for freshmen. Freshmen when their man doesn't have the ball normally just stop. The minute he passes it, I'm done. And to get these guys to the point now where they're playing off the ball and bouncing, it's, you know, a tribute to them.
What has to happen for a veteran group of players to take control of a team, in particular Josh and DeAndre?
HARRELLSON: I just lead by example. Just play hard on your opponent, show the other guys just to come out and compete and play hard. You know, DeAndre is the best at that. He comes out and locks down every great player, and you know, hold him to minimal touches, minimal points. He's great at that. And when he does that, it boosts our team and it boosts the confidence of everybody out there. And just being able to play with him, you know, it is a great honor for all of us because he is such a great defender and he adds a different element to our team.
DARIUS MILLER: Like he said, DeAndre does a great job of leading by example. He picks up the intensity and plays extremely physical and it seems to rub off on all of us. Josh is the same thing as well. So when you see them playing like that and see how they contribute to the team, how much better it makes them, it kind of rubs off on all of them.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll have the student-athletes head to the breakout room and we'll continue to take questions for John Calipari.
The last 30 games, the last 30 seconds last night were played in 30 seconds, no time-outs. Can you talk about your philosophy and not calling a time-out in that situation.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, if I don't like what I'm seeing, I'll call a time-out. Now, the play before there was 46 seconds and 11 seconds on the shot clock. And I did not like what it looked like and I called a time-out. Very rarely do I do that because we practice 120 practices, and during that time we spend a lot of time on late-game situations and here's what we're going to do. So instead of calling a time-out, giving the other coach a chance to make it hard on us to get it in, try to steal the inbound, changing his defense, putting a different player on the player that I'm trying to go to, all those things that I can't predict what he's going to do, you do it right on the run.
You call your play, do you it in practice, you do it, that's just me. 11 seconds to go, I didn't like it. Terrence had it 25 feet from the goal, not anything good was going to come out of that. I called a time-out. We took it on the side-out and got it to hand-off to DeAndre, drove left and made a good basket. That last play, there was no way I was calling a time-out. I knew what we were going to do. My team knew what we were going to do, how we were going to play it, and they weren't going to change us up or talk about how they were going to play pick-and-roll, they were going to have to figure it out on the run.
Coming back the other way I know people question why didn't Thad call a time-out? They got a great look. Now the only thing you could say would be, well, if he called a time-out with three seconds to go he could have got it to Lighty. Do you honestly think we would have let Lighty catch the ball? I mean, he got a great look from one of his juniors, who's one of his best three-point shooters, and the kid missed it, and I am very happy he missed it, but he missed it.
I mean -- now let me say how this profession is. If that shot goes in, Thad is a genius, and it doesn't, why didn't he? Our guy made the shot, so Cal, boy, what a smart move. If he didn't, all the people in Kentucky, the 25,000 coaches that come to our game, would have said, he should have called a time-out. That's coaching. If you win you did it right, if you lose you did it wrong.
John, back to Brandon a little bit. I just wanted to ask you, he seems like a pretty thoughtful kid. Did you have to guard against him putting too much pressure on himself? I Know in the past Tyreke had what crisis of confidence right there, did you worry about that at all with Brandon?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: No, we just had to get him to really zone in on running the team. That was the whole challenge, just you have got to run this team. You have got to get people involved. You have got to know how to get everybody touches. And yet, he has to score for this team to be good. So, you know, the other point guards, it was always something different. You know, having a player do different things. With him it was just run this team. We'll get you shots, you're going to get your plays.
And then the other part of it was defense. In high school he never really had to be here, you have to stop somebody. Now he is learning to play pick-and-rolls. He's learning how to play when is he screened, learning to rotate down and help his teammates. He is doing a much better job of talking on defense and really verbalizing overall. When he came in that was probably the thing because I watched him play a bunch in high school, he never spoke. Well, you can't be that way as a point guard.
You have to be in huddles talking, you have to be on the court talking, you have to talk. And he is doing a much better job of that.
Cal, you talked today and you talked a lot about the time it took to find out what this team was. Has it ever taken you that long? And could you talk about the process, what you went through to figure that out?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: This is probably as long, I mean our -- my last team at Memphis when I had Tyreke at two-guard and we were 6-3 and ready to fall off the face of the Earth and I put him at point guard and we won 33 straight games. And you're like, who was the dummy that had him at two-guard? That was me. But this just took more of about how does the team play? Not personnel, where do I play him.
And how do we get into offense? How do we create space? Where do we put Josh where he is most comfortable? How do we play Terrence? What to we do with Deron and DeAndre -- how do we play where everybody is playing to their strengths and that's taking time. That is not their fault, that is on us. On me personally. A lot of the close games we lost, we had a one-point lead with 30 seconds to go and the ball. Or we're down one with the ball 40 seconds to go. We have the last shot.
And you know the Florida game, I mean I could have called a time-out there. And we went into it, he got a good look but he missed. But we're still, even now, I mean, like this game, stuff will be different this game because Henson and Zeller and they create different problems. So what you're going to do defensively and offensively will change a little bit this game.
John, you referred earlier to Roy as a Hall of Famer, and yet amazingly he is probably the second most famous coach in his own state.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Who is the most famous?
The guy who has 900 wins.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, I forgot about him.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: And I think Roy would argue that by the way.
Would you argue that? What is the perception of Roy in the coaching profession? He will be coaching for the seventh possible Final Four tomorrow. People, when you follow a school like this, might take it for granted. How hard of an accomplishment is that?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he's as good as it gets. On top of being an unbelievable coach who gets players better, whose programs at the end of the season are much better than they are at the beginning of the season, who has a way he likes his teams to play -- fast, wide open, running big men, trapping at times, you know, showing hard on pick-and-rolls, doing things to mess up the game to make it faster. And he accomplishes that and he does it with good players.
But aside from that, he is a good guy. He is a good man. I mean, I have enjoyed being around him. A heck of a golfer too, by the way. He hurt his shoulder and I know it made him mad because he had to stay off the golf course a little bit, but he is a good guy aside from being a heck of a coach.
Defense doesn't get as much attention out in the public realm or whatever. Do you think DeAndre understands how much he's appreciated for what he does on the team?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I think what's happened for him, the way he plays with the passion, with the intensity, how hard he plays, how hard he works, that is a skill. That's a skill. Not every player could do it or every player would do it. Not every player can do that. Every coach at every level is looking for players like him.
Now what he has added to his game is, if you leave me open, I'm making shots. You are seeing a skill level, him bouncing that ball, you're saying wait, we have a 6'5", 6'6" guy that can really handle it, shoot and guard a 1, 2 or 3? Wait a minute. I think the game before he had nine rebounds against West Virginia or something. He obviously is helping our team, but he is creating his own niche which will help him reach his dreams, too.
Coach, you mentioned some of the key things that -- well, briefly some of the key things that are important in coaching in a game like this, you bring in with experience, can you tell us some of those things, go into a little detail on how you will prep your team on such a quick turnaround?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: The one thing is we will not change anything on how we prepare for a team. Our players will not watch tape of North Carolina until the pregame meal. They will not get a scouting report. There will be a meeting in my room tonight which will last about 15, 20 minutes. We'll have an hour on the basketball court where I will go through some of their stuff. I want them worrying about us. Let's play our best. If that's not good enough, it's been a heck of a year. And that's how I prepare them for every game they play. The board that they will see prior to the game is exactly like the board when we played -- I can't remember who would he played this year early in the year, but when we played Mississippi Valley State early in the year, the board is exactly the same in our approach. You want them to understand that.
I also want them to think in terms of just think of it as practice. We are out there in practice. Go play. You know, I want them to see me excited, and I am. I wish we were playing it today. Let's play. Not because I think it's an easy opponent, because I am excited about our team being here. So those are the kind of things. I don't want them to make this bigger than it is.
A couple of things about John Wall, A, have you heard from him during this run? And B, what sort of, if any, lasting impact could a guy like that make in just one season?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first of all, he'll text me four to five days a week. And at the end of every text he says "I love you, Coach." The impact he had was I got to spend a year with a wonderful young man who is a terrific talent, who grew as a person, grew as a player, benefitted by the experience of Kentucky for one year, and we benefitted by him being there. Would I have rather coached him for four years? Oh, man would that have been fun. If this was the '70s I would have had him for four years. But it is not the '70s. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He should have put his name in the draft. If the kid doesn't get hurt, if he's in L.A., he'd probably be rookie of the year.
So it was an experience for me. It's like Jim Boeheim who had Carmelo for a year. If he had to do it over again, I think he would say I'd like Carmelo for that year as they won the national title. So I'd rather -- I don't like the rule one-and-done, I don't like it at all. Yet it's a rule that we have to live with right now.
And the option is recruiting players who aren't good enough.
Or you recruit talented players who may grow into professionals after a year. Eric Bledsoe, no one knew that Eric Bledsoe would be a pro after a year. No one knew. Daniel Orton, didn't play his senior year in high school. No one knew after one year of playing 16 minutes a game at the University of Kentucky that he could be drafted 29th in the draft. Even DeMarcus Cousins, we didn't know if he would be ready to move on and do the things he's doing. But you know what, for those kids they were able to.
And for John, and he grew now. He grew as a player, and he still has a lot of growing to do. I talked to Sam Cassell probably once every two weeks about him, and talking about how he can help him get better. But he'll text me. But they all do that. Derrick will text or Tyreke or DeMarcus or Marcus Camby texted me after this last game, "love you, Coach." I have been so blessed with the kids.
My best players have been wonderful people. My best players. And for a coach to be able to go through a career, and I could tell you just about every one of my best players has been the nicest -- the kids I have here.
And so I don't know, did I kind of answer your question or just keep talking ?
Coach, I don't know how much you have seen of Dexter Strickland?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I saw him in high school.
What makes him such a good defender? Is it different going up against a guy with a dribble-drive that's always going to have the ball in his hands opposed to limiting catching from the wing players?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: The one thing that the advantage that the dribble-drive has is when a guy comes up and plays you, you can drive left or right. There no man going to be standing. If you are driving in an area, he'll move out of that area. He will either cut hard or slide under the goal. So it is an advantage. When they deny wings, that opens up lanes for lay-ups. The issue becomes the big guys are standing under there. For Dexter, he is long, he is athletic, he is tough, he's quick, he gets a wide stance and he holds his ground. I watched him in high school a bunch. He's a terrific player and he is a great young man on top of that.
Roy Williams came close a few times before he won the whole thing. You've come close several times. Do you think that there's still the view out there that the coach has to win it all to, you know, validate his career or whatever?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Maybe, but I don't -- it's not in my mind, but maybe. There are coaches that I have unbelievable respect for who have not been in situations like I'm in now with Kentucky, who have taken programs to an Elite 8 that shouldn't have been in an Elite 8, that have gone to a Final Four. That, how could he get that program to a Final Four? That I think in the realm of what we do you look at and say that's like a national title for that coach.
And so, you know, I look at coaches there, that the respect I have for what they do, and mainly how they treat their players. I love it when a coach is tough on his kids and everybody thinks he's really hard, and then you get around him and he and his players are hugging each other and they say "I love you, Coach." And I mean that's what this is about. And if that guy hasn't won a national title at the end of the year, maybe he says not at a school that gives him that opportunity to win a national title.
So, you know, I am at Kentucky. Obviously our goal is always to try to win and be at that level and win that national title. But you know what? At the end of the day our kids are getting better. Guys like Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, what's happening for them, I don't know if I have ever been prouder or will be prouder, or even these freshmen what they have been able to do on this stage. And you put that "Kentucky" on the front it changes things. It makes it a little bit harder, a little more pressure-packed. Buildings are a little fuller.
The kids are playing harder, jumping higher, making more shots than they normally make and you better be ready to ball. Coming to Kentucky is a man's decision. You can't be a boy here. This stuff is on. And this game tomorrow should be two teams flying up and down the court going at each other. And it should be a lot of fun.
John, along those same lines, awhile ago you mentioned 25,000 coaches, amateur coaches come to your game. This year early in the season Roy really got upset, they lost by 20 points to Georgia Tech. He got worked over on his radio show and sort of blew up and told the fans keep their opinions to themselves. Is it tough to not do that at Kentucky or North Carolina?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: You know what, I would tell you, I would say 99.8% of the fans at North Carolina love what Roy's doing. And those 2% are calling his radio show (laughing). I say 2%, .2% are calling his radio show. And the same thing happens for all of us coaches.
It's funny, whatever you do as a coach, if you win it was right, if you lose it was wrong. If you can't get by that, you can't be in this profession. The second part of it is, if you are worrying about all the people in the seats are saying about you, you're going to be up there with them shortly. So I can see Roy, who takes great pride in the university, and I think it was more, we don't do that here.
This is the University of North Carolina. We don't do that to our players. That's not our history. We don't win every game. We struggle some, but we are behind these kids. Without knowing it, that's probably what he was saying, just knowing him. And so I don't think it was him saying, don't yell at me, he is saying leave these kids alone. I think if I am not mistaken they were on Mr. Barnes early a little bit. The kid is as good as there is in the country right now, and Roy knew that. We are all in that mode.
Now with bloggers, you know, I mean, this is -- I don't -- I don't have a computer, I do the Twitter stuff, but a guy does it with me and does it. And my blog I do it, but it is voicing it. I don't get into a computer, so I wouldn't know what a guy is blogging, saying, I don't have -- I am supposed to be one of those -- he's a Twitter guy, I don't even have a computer, so I don't even know. But if you looked at it I would probably go nuts. There are probably people in Kentucky right now wanting me out. So that's the profession we're in. I think it's just getting a little crazy. So Roy got a little angry, huh?