John Calipari is 190-38 in six seasons as the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. His 2015-16 Cats tipoff this season ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25. Those first six seasons have produced four Final Four trips, the 2012 National Championship and 18 first round NBA Draft picks. John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015) all were selected No. 1 overall. In September, Calipari was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Kentucky tips off the season on November 13 at 7 p.m. against Albany.Â
This is your seventh season at Kentucky. Does it seem like 50?
Itâ€™s dog years here, 49 right now.
You have a National Championship, an undefeated regular season, what else can you do here?
What drives me is how many players can we continue to help. By focusing on them, they focus on each other and winning. Cal doesnâ€™t care about championships â€“ he just wants to put players in the NBA. Well, if youâ€™re a parent of one of those kids, youâ€™re really happy that thatâ€™s what it is, but it isnâ€™t. We win more games than anybody. Weâ€™ve been to more Final Fours than anybody. And, Iâ€™ll say it here, we should have won three national titles â€“ we won one though. So I do care about winning, and I do want to win but not at the expense of young people. My goal before I retire, and, again, I said Iâ€™d do this until like 60 for like five more years, but Iâ€™ll go longer than that now because everyone else is coaching into their 70s. But anyway, before Iâ€™m done, I want half, 12, half of the All-Star Game to have played for me. Right now itâ€™s four, and theyâ€™re all young. Derrick Rose, DaMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Anthony Davis. I think those four will continue to be in there for awhile. If that happens, I go to an All-Star Game, half of the players played for me. Every basket is one of my guys. Thatâ€™s my goal. If that happens, how many games are we going to win? How many championships do you have a chance to win?
The pressure is always present here. Is there a different kind of pressure that goes along with being undefeated as long as you were last season?
Whatever I say, people say he meant it toward this or he meant it toward this. Heâ€™s trying to wing this guy, wing that guy. Iâ€™m not. Iâ€™m just telling you, 38-0 to start a year in our lifetime ainâ€™t happening again. Iâ€™d like to say unless maybe it happens here, but I doubt it will ever happen again. 38-0, with that schedule, with every game someoneâ€™s Super Bowl. Every game we played, I canâ€™t remember a team playing bad. Now we may have played real well and banged somebody, but the reality of it is every team played well against us and we got to that. It did add up, but I had been on three or four or five different teams that had 27-0 to start a year, 22-0. I had been there, so I could deal with it myself better and thought I was dealing with it with them, but I think it piled up. I think if we had lost a game, it probably would have helped us. 38-0, 50 years from now, people are going to say, that team went 38-0.
What was your first impression of Skal Labissiere?
I said Marcus Camby. I know that kid grew from 6-foot-2 to where he is now, and at the time it was about 6-foot-9. Thatâ€™sÂ the first thing I asked. I said, was he a kid who used to be a guard? They said yeah, he used to be a guard. I said, I can tell, I watched him play. Good kid though, good kid.
Did Jamal Murray surprise you this summer?
I called Kenny [Payne] and said, â€œOh my gosh!â€ I watched him practice at the Pan Am Games for two days, and I was like, we didnâ€™t realize what this kid is. This kid is the real deal.
Is Charles Matthews potentially as good as any of these guys?
Anthony Davis called me during the Hall of Fame Enshrinement and said, â€œCal, this kid is really good.â€ I said, â€œIs that because you are from Chicago?â€ He said, â€œNo this kid is going to be really good.â€
You have said that Tyler Ulis could be in the NBA next year.Why do you believe that?
Unless we donâ€™t do well, unless he doesnâ€™t prove that he can really lead. Most of his stuff will be leadership driven. If they look at 5-foot-9 and 120, you better be an unbelievable leader. Theyâ€™ll want to see that and heâ€™s going to have a chance to prove it, and heâ€™s going to have a chance to prove it with talented players who are inexperienced. They need his leadership.
What do you expect out of Marcus Lee?
He is right now more confident than Iâ€™ve ever seen him. His skills have improved; his body has improved. Now heâ€™s got to go on the court and perform. He has taken everything to another level. These kids are all on a different path. Weâ€™ve had a bunch of kids come in in a year. Weâ€™ve had some kids leave who shouldnâ€™t have left. They should have stayed a little longer, but they chose to leave. You have Alex â€“ got hurt and is forced to stay another year. Now you have Marcus. Heâ€™s going to do fine. Iâ€™m just anxious to start coaching him and putting him in those environments and watching him play. VT