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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Q & A with John Calipari: 'We're going to get back'

Q & A with John Calipari: 'We're going to get back'
Past is past and Calipari makes strides to build on future
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, April 13, 2008

Less than 48 hours after the University of Memphis lost in the national championship game, coach John Calipari wasn't in hiding.

In fact, he was Downtown, sitting outside a coffee shop, interacting with well-wishers and professing his plan to move forward from the Tigers' 75-68 overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament final.

Though Memphis fans will likely be replaying the ending for years to come, as the Tigers lost a nine-point lead with 2:12 to go, Calipari said he was at peace with the outcome. He was also eager to address the criticism levied against him for not using timeouts at certain moments down the stretch and for freshman Derrick Rose's failure to foul before Mario Chalmers got off a tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left.

Despite the ending, Calipari has plenty to be happy about these days.

School officials are working on restructuring his contract, which will make him one of the highest-paid coaches in college basketball. Calipari's recruiting appeal is as strong as ever, with Memphis awaiting word in the next few weeks from a pair of top-20 players in Tyreke Evans and Devin Ebanks. And Calipari believes vehemently that he can get Memphis back to the Final Four in short order.

He sat down with The Commercial Appeal last week to discuss all of that and more:

CA: How difficult has it been to think about how close you came?

JC: I said to the staff, I was down when we got back, mainly because I was tired. But I wasn't doing this for me. When I said up on that podium it's not life or death for me, it isn't. It hurt like heck, and I wanted to know, is there anything I could have done different? Is there something I could have changed? Is there something I could have done that would have given us that one point we needed? You end up saying, you want to do this for the team, for the city, for them. It was more than for me, so I didn't ... like, this isn't the end of the world. I'm like, we're going to get back.

CA: But it's got to be tough the way it played out.

JC: I'm telling you, perfect storm. When you look at it in those terms, everything that had to go wrong for us to lose like we did. Joey (Dorsey) had to foul (Chalmers) instead of that guy try to shoot a ball and miss it. Then (Chalmers) had to make two free throws. Darrell Arthur had to make an unbelievable turnaround jumper on the baseline. Timeout. Antonio (Anderson) had to throw it away. Now they tell me the guy's foot was out of bounds and they have it on tape. Had to be a no-call. (Sherron Collins) had to steal it and make the three. Had to have our best two free-throw shooters at the line and miss.

There's one timeout that I thought about calling. After Chris Douglas-Roberts missed his first (with 16 seconds left), I looked and said, "Should I call a timeout to settle this kid down?" But what happened after that? Robert Dozier threw it out and (Rose) still made 1-of-2, so it made no difference. It milked off six seconds. The difference it may have been? I may not have been fouling versus fouling, but even the last play, we were not going to foul until halfcourt because there were too many seconds. We're not a good enough free-throw shooting team and we were rattled a little bit at that point to make it another possession game. You have to wait until six seconds and then foul when he crosses halfcourt.

How many practices did you see us work on that situation? We went for about a month, that's all I did -- up three, down three, miss the shot, how we tip it out, how we foul.

CA: Before Derrick Rose shot the free throws, Kansas called a timeout. Was Derrick clear on the strategy and what to do? Watching the tape, it's hard to tell how aggressively he was trying to foul.

JC: What (Rose's) point was, he was afraid they'd call an intentional foul. You know what? It's a good thing. He said, "I fouled him with my hip. I just didn't want to grab him because I thought they would give him the ball and the shots." You know what? The way things were going, they may have. So I don't blame him.

CA: Some have said you should have called timeout after Derrick's free throw to make sure everybody knew what they were doing. If you felt there was confusion, you would have called timeout?

JC: Yeah, but I just met with them. I met with them. My issue with calling a timeout was, (Kansas) has none left. You don't want to let them get organized. And even if I'm in a timeout, I'm saying the same thing I said when we were huddled there. You know how we do it. We call "Chest." It's a call. We're all in "Chest" now. The ball comes to halfcourt, we're fouling. We know how we foul. Why do we call it "Chest?" Because we want them to hit the chest.

Now, that's my choice. If the shot doesn't go in, I'm a genius and I did the right thing. He makes the shot, and all the sudden I should have called a timeout. That's what coaching is. I don't mind people having their opinion on it or second-guessing.

I went to the team after and knew what was going on. I was happy it was on me. Because if it was on me, it took it off free throws, the out-of-bounds play. It went away from all those things, and it zeroed in on a 50-50 play. Do you, don't you? Do you call timeout, don't you? Do you foul, don't you? That's why most of the coaches that called me and left messages or texts said, "I wouldn't have changed one thing." I did what I thought was right with the information I had. It wasn't as though I wasn't thinking. I was thinking.

CA: Did you think about calling a timeout after Chalmers' shot went in? There were still a couple seconds on the clock.

JC: When the ball went in, I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, he didn't foul.' Then I'm looking for Derrick to see if he's looping. If he's looping, I don't want to call a timeout because he's going to catch it at about top of the key and he'll get maybe not to the rim, but he'll get a good jumper off. Maybe an NBA three. So I'm looking and seeing (Anderson) and he throws it to Dozier. If I had that one to do over again, I would have called a timeout but then my play ... I would have run "Maryland," where we throw it directly to halfcourt and then up the middle to Chris or whoever. What if they'd have stolen it? People have a right to know, what were you thinking? What came into your decision? In overtime, I tried to go at Robert a little bit because Chris was tired. And I really rode Derrick too much. He was tired too.

That game, now, that's behind me. My meetings with my team are all about how we're going to get there next year. We want to be in that same game next year. I'm going out recruiting to try to close down some stuff, and I don't have any regrets, how I coached.

CA: So how do you feel moving forward?

JC: I'm good. Meeting with the team, hugging the guys, talking about how proud I was and asking them if they think they got better individually, meeting with the guys with decisions to make. Just talking about what a season we had. The guys, they're not like despondent. They're not. Chris may be a little more than others, but I hurt Chris in that game. I played him way too many minutes. When I put in Willie (Kemp) and Doneal (Mack), I was looking for something. When I didn't see it, I'm trying to ride it out and win it in regulation. Just get out of the game. I did not want to put it on those two. I wasn't going to do it to them. I didn't play them enough (earlier). So now you wind down the game and say, look, you better stick with who's here and ride it.

Even those guys, Jeff (Robinson) and Doneal, they want to play and I don't blame them. But my question to all of them is, what are you going to do to get better? We weren't big enough to win it in overtime without Joey. I told both Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier, gain 25 pounds. You've got five months to do it. That's five pounds a month. They've got to do it. I told Pierre, you lose five, five, eight, eight, 10, 10 (each month) and you'll be fine. I told him, I'm with you. Whatever I've got to do to help you. He would be a great addition. For all of them, how are you going to get better? What is your plan to get better this summer so when we come back with the added recruits we can go back to this game? That's our goal.

CA: Where do Derrick and Chris stand as far as entering the NBA Draft?

JC: Chris is a little bit ... I said, your two options are, if you're in the first round, you go. The other is, you're not in the first round, you come back and you're a first-team All-American two years in a row, player of the year in the country and you're a lottery pick. You've got no downside. I told Antonio the same thing. If I thought you could be a first-round pick, I'd be the first to tell you to go. After next year, with all the stuff you've done, you're going to be a professional and you're going to have a long career.

With Derrick, I said, "You're No. 1 or No. 2 in the draft. I think you're the No. 1 pick. If I was picking, there would be no question you'd be No. 1 because I know you, I coached you. I said, now, you just have to make a decision. Do you want to eat Gummi Bears and Twizzlers? You stay another year. ... My suggestion was, you need to go, but I'm not the one who has to go play. I'm suggesting it, but you've got to know you're mentally and physically ready. When I had (Marcus) Camby, the first time we talked about it he said he wasn't ready for that league and stayed another year. I told Derrick, you've got to do what's right for you and your family. You ask me right now, I'm telling you that you need to do this. But I'm not the one who has to play and neither is (his brother) Reggie or your mom. You've got to do it. And I said, everybody would support you if you decided to come back.

CA: What about recruiting. Are you going to get a bump from this exposure?

JC: We're in good shape. I got some interesting texts, which I couldn't return (due to NCAA rules), from some different recruits that were unbelievable. One brought tears to my eyes, just how bad they felt and how they felt about us and me and the program. We're in good shape. We've got good players coming back. We'll probably sign a total of four guys, maybe five, but probably four. We've got every position covered within.

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.

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