LEXINGTON, KY (WAVE) - Coming off of a 21-12 season that ended in a first round N.I.T. loss to Robert Morris, Kentucky has reloaded for 2013-14.
Cats head coach John Calipari is another year older and another year wiser.
"Let me go back and tell you the lessons learned in the season. One, we did not think that Marquis Teague was going to put his name in the draft and when he walked in and said, "Coach I'm putting my name in the draft." Really, have you talked to your parents? "Yes I have." So I call the parents, I said, are you sure you want to do this? "Coach he's doing it." Now, you're down to one point guard in the program who had transferred in and had never played, so your choice is let's go get us another point guard. The ones that were left were going to get caught in between the twins coming in, which means it wouldn't be fair, we can make do," Calipari said.
"Now we only have 8 kids on scholarship, so now you don't have the competition, but let me tell you the greatest lesson I learned. Yes competition brings out the best and you can sit guys who aren't up to it and they have to work their way back, that's a given, we all know that, but how about this one. A kid is not playing well and he's starting to break down his own confidence in his game, so you take him out. Normally you may sit him out for a game or play him 5 minutes, we got this, get yourself back, and you work yourself back and build your own self-confidence. Last year, you play bad, alright come out, oh man, go back in. We had no one to put in. So all of the sudden guys confidence was eroded because we didn't have enough guys. So it's not just for competition in the program, it's for players. They're not machines, they're not robots. I think that was the biggest lesson for me, which is why we have 12 on scholarship now."
As Calipari prepares for his fifth year in Lexington, he says he relates to the rabid U.K. fan base by looking back on his own upbringing. Growing up Pittsburgh, the Steelers were king.
"Oh yeah, I went to the Steelers Super Bowl in Detroit, and let me explain, they played Seattle, 75% of the fans in the building were Steeler fans, 25% were Seattle fans.," Calipari said. "In the city of Detroit, there may have been another 200,000 or 300,000 Steelers fans converged trying to see if they could get a ticket. When we walked out of the stadium, they wanted to buy your ticket stub. They were saying, "Let me give you $20 for a ticket stub." They're like Kentucky fans, they want to win, they look at everything, they watch videos, they watch the tapes, they question the coach, it's a lot like Kentucky."
One thing absent from the 2013-14 Cats schedule is a game in Louisville. Last year they did not play their traditional home game at Freedom Hall, but did play UofL at the KFC YUM! Center. Calipari says he would be willing to revisit that philosophy, if his team could play downtown.
"I would hope so, we had some games that we wanted to play there. The way the contract with the YUM! Center is set up, it makes it hard for us to go into the YUM! Center and play," Calipari said.
"I would say at this point because the other building (Freedom Hall), it's had it's better day. This program is at that point where everybody wants us in their tournament, everybody wants us in their buildings. Whether it's Chicago, New York, L.A., they're all calling us to bring our team. There is a level that we want to play. The YUM! Center, we'd play in it, but I'm not, again I say that, and then there's an uproar, he's trying to infringe on Louisville. They just won the National Title, how am I going to infringe on what they're doing. They've got a great program going, but Louisville is part of our state and obviously this is the Commonwealth's team and we'd love to play there but that contract and the way it's written and the way they put that thing together, makes it tough for us to get in there."
Devoting hours to the job and Big Blue Nation is hard on a coach and on a family. When Calipari does spend time at home, he enjoys some of the more popular shows on TV.
"Duck Dynasty we watch, they were around here, but Uncle Si wasn't around, so I said I'm not waiting. They said Willie was there, but no Uncle Si, I'm out. The other one is the Swamp Man is just to make me laugh. I made that statement, I was in Louisville for a dinner there and I said, what we're doing no one has ever done, and I just said, don't do it, like the Swamp Man talks. My wife and I like watching "Love it or List it" stuff like that on the home, that kind of stuff. Remodeling homes or saving a home, we'll watch some of that stuff."
His team has one of the largest media contingents, but Calipari says that is one thing that he does not pay attention to.
"I'm just not into, I'm not watching the local stuff. I'm not reading the newspaper. I'm not on the internet," he said. "I always come to, if you send me a letter and it's self addressed, I'll send you a note back, but if it's not, it never get to my desk. My secretary throws it out, if there's no address on it, it doesn't get read, good or bad. I'm not on the internet, well, wait a minute, how about your Twitter or Facebook, I just don't read what you say. I'm giving you stuff, letting you know how it is, but I'm not responding to anything that comes back. This is a unique place, if I'm worried about what's being written, what's being said, what's coming from the stands, you can't do the job here. If I'm worried about what all the fans are saying, I'm going to be sitting with them shortly. It's one thing "Coach Your Team," it's on my wall.
Big Blue Madness is set for Friday, October 18 at Rupp Arena.
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