Q&A: Sporting News catches up with John Calipari
Posted: October 31, 2008
John Calipari's teams have won at least 21 games in his eight seasons at Memphis and reached the postseason -- NCAA or NIT -- every year. Last season, his Tigers set a NCAA record for victories when they went 38-2 and lost to Kansas in overtime in the NCAA Tournament final.
Gone is Derrick Rose, who was taken No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft this summer. Also gone are draft picks Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey. Still, the Tigers are sitting at No. 10 in the Sporting News' preseason rankings. Calipari discussed the upcoming season with Sporting News' Ken Bradley.
Q: Derrick Rose was the top pick in the NBA Draft. Obviously, it's hard to replace him, but you have others to replace, too.
A: We also had Chris Douglas-(Roberts) who played like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. We had Joey Dorsey who played basketball like Lawrence Taylor played football. So we've lost 50 percent of rebounding, 50 percent of scoring, 60 percent of our starting lineup. We've lost experience, athleticism -- we lost a lot.
Q: What about the players you have returning?
A: The guys that we have coming back, two of them are great leaders -- Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier. Shawn Taggart, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack all got experience. Those five and we brought in a group of good players to add to those guys. We'll play the same, you know the dribble-drive motion, but we'll have to start it different. Because you can't start the way we did through Derrick or Chris because they're not here. Willie doesn't have the same kind of game. Tyreke (Evans) is different, more physical than Chris, but different. So we just have to figure it out.
Q: Your teams get recognized for their offense, but you've said your defense was key to last year's success?
A: The other thing is, without Joey, one of the things people don't realize -- the coaches do -- we were a great defensive team. Our offense made us different, but we only shot 46 percent from the floor, 34 from the three and 61 from the line. We played fast and attacked the goal and shot a lot of free throws; we just didn't make a lot. It was our defense that set us apart. Now the question is: Do we press more? Do we trap more? We're longer, do we think about some zone? We have so many questions to answer.
Q: Do you feel you've gotten to the point that Memphis simply reloads?
A: I hope so. We will see. I don't think we'll be quite as good, but I have one comment about that. Let's just hope the rest of the country isn't as good either. As long as everyone else comes down a little bit, we'll be fine. I think North Carolina may have stepped up a little bit, but the rest of the country has come back a little bit, we all have. So now, as you regroup, who's going to get their team playing their best in March?
Q: You've had good talent before and turned out OK, right?
A: You know the one thing that's happened? We lost the same kind of numbers in 2006. We lost to the NBA Rodney Carney, we lost Shawne Williams -- 16th and 17th picks -- and then we lost Darius Washington. That was over 50 percent of our offense, 50 percent of our rebounding, 60 percent of us. We came back the next year and were just as good, went to the Elite 8. When guys are in the habit of success it leads to other guys wanting to come and that's what's happened to us.
Q: Does that make it easier to recruit the top players and get them?
A: Here's what's happening. There's two sides to this. The families -- the mothers, the fathers -- want to know about the academic situation here. Well, we've graduated 16 of our last 19 seniors. Our four seniors, Antonio, Robert Dozier, Shawn Taggart (a senior with junior eligibility) and Chance McGrady will all graduate in four years. So they want to know that. They also want to know do you bring kids back. We brought seven back, who some of them have played for me, some of them did not who left early to come back and graduate. One of them is Penny Hardaway. He graduated. So they want to know that.
Q: Does it take a certain type of player to fit your system?
A: Part of it is they see it looks good, but it's really, really hard to play because you've got to be in the best shape of your life, you gotta be willing to run as fast as you can, sprint on every possession. You got to be willing to defend. If you can't guard, it's hard to run this because you don't get enough breakouts and you end up being on defense too much. It's hard to play this way. I had a couple of the freshmen in (recently) and I said, "How hard is this?" and they said, "Oh my gosh." It's hard and if you're looking for something easy, this isn't the place to go.