Q&A: Calipari talks up his Tigers and the NBA's lure
By Tim Gardner, USA TODAY
Still unbeaten on the season, the Memphis Tigers head into the teeth of their C-USA schedule with thoughts of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — and possibly an undefeated regular season. But don't tell that to coach John Calipari. The Tigers' coach doesn't think about running the table, but he did find the time to talk with USA TODAY's Tim Gardner before a recent practice about his high-flying squad, one-and-done players and the lure of the NBA.
What are your thoughts on your team's season so far?
It's been a learning experience. It's amazing when you add one or two new guys to a veteran crew, it's still a different team. We're so different from what we were a year ago, yet we still have five starters and three backups back. Can you imagine? But we're so different than we were a year ago it's not funny. That's the thing about when you add guys that are different.
You bring a guy like Derrick Rose in who very likely could be a 'one-and-done' player. Is that something you think about before you recruit him? Or is it just trying to bring in the best talent?
Well you don't ever bring a player to your team that doesn't help build your program. And whether it's for one, two, three or four years, you want to make sure he's a program builder and not a guy that's coming in for one stop and 'I'm going to do my thing and leave me alone.' I would never recruit a guy like that.
I've had two one-year guys — Dajuan Wagner and Shawne Williams — and both of them helped build this program. And I imagine Derrick Rose will be a one-year guy — possibly. He's one of those special kids that may not want to leave. He's one of those unique guys.
Every day Derrick Rose comes to practice and brings it. Every single day. Every single meeting. Every single training. He goes to class. He takes care of business. He's responsible. So it's easy for them (his teammates) to know that 'Hey, this kid's the real deal. He does what he's supposed to. I respect that.'
The second thing is, Derrick deflects all this attention to them. And they know that and they really like him. I mean he's not here for him. He's here for us.
You have a very deep roster with nine guys averaging more than 10 minutes. How do you keep your guys satisfied?
About two weeks ago after the Georgetown and Arizona games, minutes were cut based on performance and based on the game. In other words, against Georgetown, our starting five were so good in the second half defensively whereas the subs I made in the first half broke down defensively. And so in the second half I ran with those starters — which I very rarely do and haven't done many times since 1995-96 with UMass when I didn't have a deep bench.
So after the Arizona game, I said I have to fight for time for the other guys, but I told the team, 'You guys have to perform better.' So what I started doing was working on the individual work myself with those guys — and they were the guys coming off the bench. What I found out is that it built my confidence in them and had me understanding that these guys are pretty good.
And it built their confidence in themselves. And after a week of doing it with those guys, the other seven players came to me and said they wanted to work with me, too. So now I'm doing individual work two hours a day with all the players. So it's been a great experience for me. One, I'm enjoying the heck out of it. I am tired at night because I'm doing individuals for two hours, doing two hours of practice, watching tape and recruiting. Now my day becomes fairly full and I'm in bed by 8 o'clock. But I'm really enjoying it and I think they're benefiting from it.
And here's the other thing when you ask how I do it. It's not how I do it, it's how the team does it. I have guys on the bench — Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose and even Robert Dozier — that late in the game will tell me to leave the other guys in. There'll be eight or nine minutes left in the game and they're telling me 'unless they need a blow, let 'em play.'
For a college coach, what is the ultimate lure of making the jump to the NBA? Having done it yourself, what would your advice be?
What is used to be — and what it may be still for some guys — is money.
Now, however, some college coaches are making more than the coaches at the bottom (of the NBA pay scale).
But I think for most guys, it would be financially. I tell guys when they call me about this stuff, 'First of all, you have to understand that you will probably be fired in three to four years. Don't think you won't. You will. It's not if, it's when. You will be fired. Not because you're a college coach. Larry Brown was fired, so that means you can be fired.'
The second thing is, when you do get fired and if you want to come back to college, will you get a better job than the one you have now. If you can't get a better job than the one you have, then you better think hard and long about what you're doing. If you have your dream job, it won't be there when you come back, I promise you.
Then the other thing is, one coach said to me 'I think I can get that team to 42 wins' (after 32 the year before) I wondered if they were making trades that I didn't know about. His thing was that his coaching and his relationship with the players would get them 10 more wins. But you're out of your mind if you think that. If you think you're going to go in and be the father figure and 'we're going to do better because of who I am,' you're crazy. The pros have agents, marketing people and their families. It's a totally different deal.
But let me just say: if you can get into a great organization that has great leadership and has players that want to win, it is unbelievable because they take you on a ride. And then your job is to go in there and put together a great game plan so the players know you know what you're talking about and then it's all basketball. There's no recruiting, there's no radio and television, there's no alumni functions. There's none of that. You're coaching basketball.
But if you make decisions based on money, they're usually wrong. Back then I said it had something to do with money and people were stunned. Now it's not about the money. To go through what I went through in New Jersey, they couldn't pay me enough to go through that again.
If you could change one rule in college basketball, what would it be?
No summer recruiting. For it to be over. So that we're done with it. We're allowed to spend three hours a week in the summer doing individuals in groups of four while they're in summer school. That's individual time with them. That's why you should stay on campus. You would get to know your own family. You would get to build a player's confidence and his self-esteem. You would help build that all summer. And we wouldn't spend time going to AAU games so that guys can run tournaments to get paid and all that stuff. And recruiting would go back to the high schools. That's what I would change.
Here's the flip side: All those mid-major to low-major schools that say they needed to save money. With no summer recruiting, you (bigger schools) can't steal a kid. In that scenario, you should be able to outwork all the other schools. You go see them, watch them practice, spend time at the high school and you get a kid that you wouldn't normally get. Which is the way it used to be. Now it's not that way.
In that system, the carrot for coaches is that you'd be able to work with players that are on campus during summer school time, say for two hours a week or four hours a week. When you get in a gym and can rebound for one of your players, you can get to know them more and help them develop what you're trying to get them to work on.
Do you think a team can go undefeated this season?
I think it will be hard for Kansas and North Carolina to go undefeated with the tough conference schedules they'll face. I'm not even talking about us. I'm not even thinking in those terms about us. We fully expect to be challenged by teams.
Are we coaching every game to win? Yes, we are. To say we can go through all these road games we have to play where we're the biggest game on their schedule, we're their only sellout and the highest ranked team to come into their building where the students spend all day talking about it and we're not going to have a letdown — it's not going to happen. And we still have Tennessee and Gonzaga to play.
But no one has played the non-conference schedule we will have played. We have the best non-conference schedule in the country, I think by far.