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John Calipari knows again that UK defense has to get better

Immanuel Quickley (Vicky Graff Photo)


As soon as John Calipari started talking about this year’s team, he emphasized the defensive ability he felt his teams guards would have to put pressure on opponents to make it hard to start any offense.

That obviously starts with sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans, the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season. He had fours steals in Sunday’s exhibition win over Georgetown College.

“Defense starts on the ball, and if you can’t keep the ball in front of you, they are running downhill, they are shooting layups and they are getting your bigs in foul trouble, and when he (Hagans) wasn’t in, that’s what happened,” Calipari said.

“We work every day on one thing: Stay in front of people on the drive you and can’t do it by turning. You have to lunge in. But these kids, it’s not their habits yet, and that’s our job is to create habits for these young people, and you know, we weren’t able to do it.”

Calipari has worried about team’s toughness, something that probably worries him even more about Georgetown outrebounded his team Sunday night.

“Georgetown was physical and outrebounded us, and most of it was just scrappiness. You had to go in and they were going to throw a body on you. They are not just letting you go get balls, and they played well,” Calipari said. “Jake Ohmer played well, shot the ball well, and Ashton kind of, you know, got after him a little bit, but you know, Georgetown did a good thing.

“We started the game so good defensively, made some shots, but we held them to 15 points with two minutes to go, and then all of a sudden it’s a 10-3 run by them. Then you have to go back to the tape and say, ‘Who was in the game?’ You can’t be in the game at that time. So now, all of a sudden it’s a closer game and they get it to 17, but we just got a long way to go.”

If junior center Nick Richards, who went down with an ankle injury, happens to be out for an extended period, Calpari said other players “have to buy in” to the defense even more.

“You can’t be thinking just offense. You’ve got to focus on our team, but it takes — for all that you’ve seen, I remember sitting here last year, we played IUP and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re up nine at half, luckily and I’m like, wait a minute, how in the world are we going to win any games?’ So just about every year, I’m in the same mode,” Calipari said.

“How are we going to do this; where are we going to get buckets. We posted the ball and couldn’t make those two footers. Come on, now. Where are we — Immanuel (Quickley) has gotten so much better. He’s showing it. But we’ve got guys that just got to develop better habits. That’s the biggest thing.


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  1. Cal may now be worried about team’s toughness but he has been recruiting “lack of” for last few years as he focuses on star ratings and length. We need guys with attitude and “chip on shoulder”, but he chases 5*’s and many of them do not have it and have trouble living up to their star ratings.

    1. I def disagree with the amount of stars beside a recruits name, tells you his level of toughness.. Especially that those with more stars, specifically pointing out those with 5-stars even have less!! They would rarely be elevated to a 5-star recruit if they didn’t attain the characteristic of that of toughness.. Sure, we all can name several that had that ranking, that toughness was a fault. But not that be a small percentage compared to the ones that does have it. Main reason, these kids are mostly playing from a fairly young age of what is considered the best of the best, in their area, to eventually nationally!! Hard to distinguish yourself as 1 of those very small group that usually falls somewhere around just 25 kids, to get that coveted 5th star.. If you show unwillingness to battle, to react positively to adversity, ur prob not gonna get that ranking. You do get the kids, that are ranked on their upside, bc at 6’9″ and up, show skillset offensively that allows them to play away from the basket. They often rank, with overall thought once they add strength to the body, and continue to polish their wide skillset for size, they have shot being special. But you can’t get every kid right. Still, that said, they are more success cases of players that became a success, with good professional career, than percentage that are not ranked as high. Especially over last 15-20yrs, when rankings become more of a big thing, in which has turned into a huge industry in itself..

      As far as Cal’s teams at UK.. I can only think of 2, out of the 10, that all around toughness, as a team, in regards to what they were as a finished product, which is only fair when building a new team, new identity every yr. Maybe a 3rd that was borderline. Also, many ppl equate toughness with that of ur bigs only.. But they are many teams, that ur backcourt may be the most gritty, tough nosed, competitive group on the squad. Toughness, doesn’t necessarily mean, brut sized bigs, that can bang and mix it up!! Lol Toughness, is as much, and I think more importantly needed with mentality. Meaning in face of adversity, you don’t fold. You dig down deep, and overcome. Actually I’d rather if had choice, have tough minded, fiery, competitive backcourt with so/so frontcourt, than this really tough group of frontcourt guys, with a so/so group of backcourt players.. As far as the Cal era.. Then it’s fairly
      obvious, that the 2012-13, NIT squad.. There was lack of toughness, especially in the lead guard position.. Maybe in the paint after Nerlens went out. That teams issue was really more talent, than anything. A poor recruiting class, and I mean NATIONWIDE! We still had top class that yr.. Ur talking a class that Rodney Purvis was considered the top PG, by many.. Then maybe the Ulis, Murray led team. As we only had Lee & Poythress as our main frontcourt options, and a underwhelming Skal.. I thought Alex was very inconsistent in the competitive area as well, over his career, and Skal was fragile physically & mentally. Lee, just was what he was.. Didn’t offer any true skillset offensively. Only came off lobs, putbacks, biggest part of time.. Only other team debatable was Knox team. But I’d argue, that team developed and won the SEC tourney title, fought bk to win at WV, don’t happen being soft, really was set to over achieve, after bracket fell apart, but poor FT shooting, and decisions down the stretch cost us, not an inability to fight, be tough.. Actually most Calipari’s teams are usually dominate on the boards, tough in the halfcourt on D, holding teams to well below their avg in pts, fg %.. Shoot pretty good margin more ft’s. Which means aggressivness at attacking the paint.. Sure you can name games that didn’t happen.. That’s easy, they play ton of games, especially over 10 seasons, but the overwhelming stats proves that number wise, his teams don’t reflect that of weak, mentally, physically, and competitive wise either!! All major characteristics of toughness as far as stats go..

      As far as his recruiting. If you think Cal & staff base who they want, upon researching where the likes of Jerry Meyer’s, Paul Biancardi’s, others from all these recruiting services have guys ranked, then I think that’s laughable!! Lol Fact they usually have 5-Stars is bc he recruits the best of the best talent that he and his staff evaluates on a yr in and out basis, and it’s pretty easy that they evaluate the absolute best of best targets, and it’s pretty big probability that they are gonna be 5-star guys, bc they are obviously creme of that class crop, and anyone with basketball knowledge whose honestly rating kids on their obvious natural talent, overall skillset, potential if they reach their predicted ceiling of those evaluating them, then they are gonna be a 5star or borderline top 50, high end 4-star. Are they gonna be guys from every class that surprises everyone, turns out to be a top player?? Of course they are. But it’s a much smaller percentage than that of top ranked guys. And any case trying to be made that 5-star guys are not as tough bc they are pampered, is an extremely funny JOKE!! They may get that treatment on the recruiting trail, from recruiters trying to obtain their services, or being put upon a pedestal in a small town once they get that national recognition. But to think these kids haven’t killed themselves spending countless hrs in the gym, wt. room, home when noboy is looking to get to where they are at is hilarious!! Only that type wrk ethic will lead a kid there, besides a small few that are blessed with incredible size, length, and naturally talented with skillset, that is above avg 4 their size perhaps. That be easiest way to get that ranking, and maybe do so without really being tough, putting in crazy wrk to get there. But out of those type kids, still biggest majority has killed themselves to get there.. So, to think, Cal, needs to actually look at rankings, then purposely go look at lower rated kids, bc they are inherently going to be tougher, is just incredibly hilarious, and higher probability of someone that picks anything they can get a hold of to use as a negative against Cal. Which is a daily mission, bc they are Cal haters. I’m a very unbiased guy. I have things I disagree with Cal on. I wouldn’t assume they will ever be a Coach, I agree 110%.. You mean to tell me, you’d rather not land Cade Cuningham? Get decommitments from Boston, Clarke?? Go replace them with tough nosed, but not NEARLY as talented 3-stars?? LOL!! I’ll tk the creme of the crop.

      1. Thanks for such an insightful and detailed comment. You make a lot of terrific points and love your passion for UK basketball

      2. Amen & Amen !!!
        GO BIG BLUE…RAH RAH !!!

  2. I thought this article is about getting better defensively.

    The other night against Georgetown, the UK defense was reasonably strong for the first outing of the year against any opponent. Anytime an opponent scores 53 points on 75 possessions, they were playing against a defense that makes scoring difficult. That is what I saw Sunday.

    Should the defense improve from what we saw, absolutely it should, and I have every expectation that it will.

  3. Preach on EastKyBlue0022!!! You got it right.

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