ARLINGTON, Tex. – Here’s the Q&A from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and Kentucky coach John Calapari from Thursday’s press conference in prelude of the Final Four.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we’re obviously, as a team and as a program, excited to be here. The kids seem to be in a great frame of mind. I want them to really enjoy this experience, but I also want them to be focused on what we have at hand, which is playing an outstanding Wisconsin team.
So this is the start of it all today at practice.
COACH RYAN: Well, I’ll echo Cal’s words. This is our first time being to this stage of the tournament. One of the players actually made a comment as we were driving in, So this is the road to the Final Four.
So I think our guys are loose enough, they understand it’s another two???game tournament, hopefully, and we’re just proud to represent the University of the State of Wisconsin and very happy to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the coaches.
Q. For both of you, there’s so much attention these days paid on what’s next for college players and going forward, are we losing sight of what a great college player is all about, just valuing a kid for what’s doing in the moment while he’s in college, or just maybe being only a great college player?
COACH RYAN: Well, here’s all I got to say to Cal is when somebody asks me about one and done, all I remember is when my mom would give me a pork chop or a piece of meatloaf and I would ask for another piece and she would say, No, one and done.
So when you say about college athletes and what’s made of this and what’s made of afterwards and how many years and all that, there’s a lot to be discussed. We’re both on the Board of Directors with the NABC and we have talked about this quite a bit. I’m sure there’s something coming down the road that’s going to alter that. But all we know is we just want our players to get the most out of the experience and I think we both are coaching guys that understand what that’s all about, so I think we’ll be okay.
COACH CALIPARI: First of all, does a player have to be here four years to be a terrific college player? The last four years our grade point average has been a 3.0. Our APR is as high as anybody in the country. They’re college students, they’re just not college students for four years, in most cases, but in some they are.
We don’t talk about it and I imagine you don’t either, we don’t talk about NBA. We’re worried about winning college games and being a great college team. Losing yourself in the team, doing less which ends up being more, losing yourself in the game.
So I don’t think the kids are thinking all those things. The issue one and done has now become a bad connotation. So we’re going to break out something new this week to get you guys off this one and done so that we can think about in another term, which is trying to help these kids do what they’re trying to do as college students, as where they want their careers to go.
Q. Cal, you got a real young team; Bo, you got a veteran team. Everybody’s new to this. So how do you guys manage this week, the surroundings, to try and keep the distractions to a minimum?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we know our guys are going to get in front of 75,000, look around and think, Oh, my, it’s going to be that way. Then we’ll both try to settle down our teams and try to get them to focus on basketball, lose themselves in the game and just play a basketball game. But if you think these 18??? and 19??? and 20???year???old kids are going to be not cognizant of what’s going on around them, they will be.
So our whole thing right now is stay in the moment. Don’t worry about Saturday, let’s worry about today. Try not to overload them with stuff and go from there.
COACH RYAN: There’s no question, our teams are who they are, we’re not changing from last week, from last month. Hopefully everybody’s playing better and that’s how we ended up here.
But I always promised my Platteville guys staying true in those National Championships that we had, we played in front of maybe 5,000. So I don’t know what it’s like being in front of 75. But you’re right, once the ball is thrown up, you still have to manage in those first timeouts. No matter whether it’s Division???I or Division III, you got to manage emotions and energy and try to channel it the right way and get everybody concentrating on what it is we do and don’t try to be somebody that we’re not.
So again, we try to encourage our players to take in the ambiance and the surroundings, and but when it comes time to play, then just be who you are.
COACH CALIPARI: Let me just follow???up just real quickly. Bo just mentioned it, the national titles he’s won, that’s why we all respect him. It’s hard to win and be the No. 1 team at any level. What he’s been able to do everywhere he’s been is that, championship level basketball. That’s why we coaches, we look and just say, This guy, every year he’s doing the same thing and getting his teams to the highest level and this is all the same, whatever level.
Q. For you Cal, there’s a lot of ways to get here. You can get here with seniors, you can get here with freshmen, you can get here with offense, you can get here with defense, you can get here with a coach that’s been around and a coach that’s brand new. Can you talk about the way your team got here and can you talk a bit again about playing with so many freshmen, which you’ve talked about a lot.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we got here through an absolute mine field and happened to not step on a mine. I don’t even know what to call it what we just went through.
Now my whole mission is to make sure we’re not satisfied. That this team is still striving, and like we’re talking about, I think all our teams are still getting better. It’s crazy, but when I look at the teams, they are.
I think we got here by coming together. By absolutely accepting that if we don’t do this together, we’re all going down. They started leaning on each other a little bit more and counting on each other a little bit more.
The other thing is you had a couple fearless guys out there. Shooting does matter in the NCAA tournament. One year we went 0???20 from the three???point line, well you can’t win that game. So you got to make shots, too.
I think that happened, we started shooting the ball a little bit better.
Q. Coach Calipari, talk about Dakari Johnson’ progression and development this year. Was there kind of a moment or a game when the light went on for him? Also what’s his ceiling going forward?
COACH CALIPARI: He’s really a wonderful kid. He’s the youngest player on the team ?????? well, James Young is I think. He and James Young are the youngest two players. But he has gotten in better shape. He has really focused his game on a few things. He’s a big body. He’s seven???foot tall and he’s got long arms and big hands and he’s just getting more confident and more confident.
And the ceiling is obviously a seven???footer who can run and has got skills, he’s obviously a high ceiling.
Q. Coach Ryan, talk about what it means to get to this point in this stage of your career. Coach Cal, if you could weigh in what it’s like seeing a coach like Coach Ryan finally get to this point?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m not worried about Coach Ryan, I’m worried about my team (Laughter).
COACH RYAN: Well, seriously, I look out there at our profession and think about all those coaches that haven’t had a chance to coach in the Final Four, who are as bright and as sharp and as tough and as good a mentor as anybody you would ever want to see who might not ever have a chance to do this.
Tom Davis, Gene Keady, all the other guys that have really been great teachers, had good teams. I’m the same person I was three weeks ago, a month ago. So for me, it’s not like maybe what you think it is to me because of how I got into the profession as a teacher first in junior high school and then they gave me a coaching job.
So I didn’t do it the way most of the guys that are coaching now did. I just happened to do it a different way. There’s no right way or wrong way. For me, I get so excited about seeing the student get an A on the test as much as the same as seeing a player get better and perform well and come together and have a unit come together as a team.
So for me, I want you to put it on the players, have it be about them. I’m very happy to be here and roam the sidelines. I’ve studied John on the sidelines, so I know what moves to make, what.
COACH CALIPARI: You’re more aggressive than me, I watched that too now (Laughter).
COACH RYAN: So you got an Italian and an Irishman up here. We figured you went from four coaches at one time to two coaches at one time because you could you be couldn’t get the mic away from either one of us. I think they did four coaches before didn’t they? I don’t know.
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t have any idea.
COACH RYAN: But they throw you and I together. So for me it’s fun, it’s great, it’s nice to see the players do that. How Cal feels about an old guy sitting next to him, you have to ask him.
COACH CALIPARI: I used to be the young guy. Now I’m the old guy. The one thing I would tell you, we coaches do not look at this the way you all look at this. We just don’t. Bo just said it, do you know how many coaches are out there that maybe are not at the school that would help them get there or there are coaches who took teams to an Elite8, that’s like winning a national title at the school they were at.
So I don’t think we evaluate any coach based on Final Fours or who made it, national titles. We just know who can coach, who is a good guy, who gets their teams better, who cares about kids. We know those guys. If they made it to a Final Four, great. If they didn’t, that didn’t change my opinion of them.
Q. For Coach Bo, you’ve gotten to this point to the Final Four. You all talked about your legacy being, quote, unquote, completed with being at a Final Four. How would a National Championship starting now complete your legacy? How would you evaluate that?
COACH RYAN: I think there would be a lot more cheese sold across the country, and some other products that I probably shouldn’t mention (Laughter), what the state of Wisconsin is known for.
Look, the alumni, the size of our school and how many people are out there that have attended University of Wisconsin, the people in our state, and I’ve been out of Pennsylvania for a long time now. I lived more of my life in Wisconsin rather than Pennsylvania, so for Wisconsin, for the school, for everybody involved, and more importantly, for the young men that have run the hill, lifted in the weight room, put their sweat on that floor every day, that’s who you root for. You got to root for the student???athlete.
Then to have our guys trying to catch up when we were getting back, your guys the same thing, you got to catch up with all the work that you missed and all the time they put in in a very short period of time, it would be so exciting if we were to be the last team standing. I would just stand back and look at those guys and just smile inside and outside.
Q. Congratulations to both of you on tremendous seasons. Coach Calipari, I want to ask you on the teleconference the other day you talked about now you’re just coaching basketball. Whereas maybe a month ago you were coaching other things, body language, sharing, that type of thing. How much of this season has been you putting on your psychiatrist’s hat and having to coach those other things to get to the point where you are right now.
COACH CALIPARI: How did you know I was seeing a psychiatrist (Laughter)?
COACH RYAN: What did they charge?
COACH CALIPARI: Aaron said it best, he doesn’t have to coach effort and intensity and focus, he’s coaching basketball now. It took us four months. It took us four months. So now they got it. They’re young, it takes time. You cannot skip steps. We all want to skip steps. We all want freshmen to be sophomores and juniors. They’re not. You have people say, Well, they’re no longer freshmen. They’re still freshman. They still are freshmen. It just takes time. There were people saying, Well, Cal’s not having any fun. I was having a ball with this team.
Now, I had to be really aggressive. I had to raise the standard and say this is what’s not acceptable. I never bulged. But I always believed in the team and I always believed in individual players.
So it is what it is. It just takes time for the kids. I’m proud of them. I know what’s going to happen at the beginning of this game. I can tell you if you want to I’ll write it down and you can open it up after. They’re young. Seven freshmen are playing.
Q. Coach Ryan, can you just reflect on all those years you spent in Platteville, and did you have offers to leave? Even with your success, was it tough to be able to move up from there finally and what was it about the Wisconsin area that you liked so much?
COACH RYAN: Well, that would take a real long answer, so I’m going to cut right to the chase and simply say that at Platteville, I carried the paint brushes and the paint as an assistant at Wisconsin. I got a chance to now use my own strokes as a head coach in 1984. I was given that opportunity by George Chryst, the AD, who had been a football assistant at Wisconsin. Got a chance to take over a program and get a chance to build it in a community that was totally different than anything I had been used to. It was a rural area and just had a great time raising a family and coaching and teaching. I also taught classes. I really enjoyed it.
There were other opportunities that came up, not really quite what I wanted, not in an area maybe that I wanted to move to and just enjoyed Wisconsin so much, having been an assistant for eight years. Then at Platteville, and then Nancy Zimpher, who is the president of and Bud Haidet, the A D at UWM, convinced me that there was a vision they had at UWM. The campus and being right on the lake and right there, have you ever been there? UWM? It’s really a neat place.
So I decided, we had just won in double overtime, I figured the other guys were catching up on us, so it was time to go. Because Tony Shaver, who is William & Mary now, they probably should have had us in ’99.
Anyhow, go to Milwaukee, get a chance to be there a couple years and then Patrick Richter called. It was the shortest conversation of all time. Bo, Yeah, who is this?
This is Pat.
He goes, Are you ready?
I said, You know I’m ready. And that was it. We drove to Madison the next day, got some things done, and got a chance to coach at university of Wisconsin. Not too many people get a chance to go back to a school where they had been an assistant and we didn’t get to the NCAA tournament. So I was very fortunate. And that was the short version, Cal (Laughter).
Q. For Coach Cal, why do you think your program can be, let’s say, a magnet for criticism sometimes?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s Kentucky.
Q. Did you get the sense that when the team was struggling that people enjoyed that?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s Kentucky. It’s what you buy into. If you want to coach at Kentucky or play at Kentucky, You got some guys with agendas, you got some guys that, you know, it’s that program. It’s part of it.
Q. Would you mind talking about Larry Brown’s influence on you as a coach.
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, Coach Brown, I worked for him at the University of Kansas. It was funny because you end up dressing like him, walking like him. Now I’m having to have my hips replaced like him. Talking like him.
I just learned so much from him. Biggest thing is if you care about the kids and you truly care, you’ll always have a job. That was like the main thing that he would talk about. Aside from the basketball.
Then I got fired as the New Jersey Nets coach and he called me and said, Hey, why don’t you come down with me?
And I thought, Scout.
No, I want you on the bench with me.
And I thought, What? And at the time he was trying to throw me a life raft. So he’s been special to me, he’s a mentor, a friend, and obviously now we’re all seeing he hasn’t lost it as a coach. His team obviously is proving that they were better than the committee gave them credit for. And I’m happy for him.
Q. Cal, Julius, said yesterday that he was in middle school and in study hall when he found out the Final Four in 2014 would be here and he’s had that on his radar since then. Is something like that good for a guy like him, the way he’s motivated, or do you worry that this is too big of a thing for him playing?
COACH CALIPARI: Do you hear what you’re asking me? So I got like 18???year???olds. They’re all out there and we played Louisville and we couldn’t even shoot because we couldn’t extend our arms. It’s going to be a tough deal for all of them.
So our whole thing is just stay focused on us and Julius has been fine. He’s played better and better as the year’s gone on. Basically he’s doing less, which looks like more. But it’s hard to convince young people that way. It’s hard to convince any of our players that if you are doing less, you’re going to look better.
For him, I’m really proud of him. He’s a great kid. Again, this has been hard. These young kids, to be challenged and coached, to be critical of their game at times where they have never had anybody critique their game in any kind of a negative way, that’s a challenge too. That’s taken time for them to understand.
He’s trying it make me better. You want me to lie to you, I’ll lie to you. If you want me to tell you the truth, then they all say, Tell me the truth. When you tell the truth, it’s like, What was the lie? Am I right?
COACH RYAN: I always ask them, always tell me if I’ve ever liked to you. Have I ever lied to you? Have I ever lied to you? They always say no.
COACH CALIPARI: But, please, this time, coach, lie to me (Laughter).