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Booker: ‘I still have love for Missouri’

Freshman Devin Booker made it clear. Kentucky’s game at Missouri Thursday night is not just another game.
His father, Melvin Booker, played for Missouri in the early 1990s. He was the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and All-American in 1994. He was among 20 players named to the Mizzou All-Century Team.
“He still have love for Missouri,” Booker said of his father.
When asked if his father will wear blue at the game, Booker said, “I guess we’ll see.” The UK player said he asked his father the same question.
Missouri recruited the younger Booker since he was a seventh grader. Booker, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., was recruiting by Michigan since the eighth grade.
“I still have love for Missouri,” Booker said. “. . . They still have a place in my heart also.”
Kentucky, which began its recruiting effort when Booker was entering his senior year of high school, seemed the better destination. It took much father-son conversations to arrive at that conclusion.
“We talked together for days on days,” UK player said.
When asked if he felt sympathy for Missouri, which put in so much recruiting effort only to see an 11th-hour entry by Kentucky lead to Booker’s commitment, Calipari said. “Well, I’ve been on that side.”
Calipari meant his first head coaching job at UMass, and later his tenure at Memphis.
“I hate to tell you, no one felt sorry for me,” he said.

Cal: UK should not become bored with winning

After a more-difficult-than-expected victory over the Boston Celtics last weekend, the high-flying Golden State Warriors spoke of how a team can become almost bored with winning.
Might the same apply to Kentucky, which takes a 19-0 record to Missouri on Thursday night?
“I’ve never heard of that,” freshman Devin Booker said Monday. “I don’t think we’d get bored of winning. I don’t think any of us want to lose.”
As the Warriors explained it, a team does not necessarily want to lose. the routine of winning game after game can numb whatever areas of the mind might that ignite competitive instincts.
“We have the challenge of not getting bored with winning,” Steph Curry said after the 114-111 victory over Boston. “It sounds weird, but you have to stick with the program and know that every night is not going to be pretty. We have to bring the energy ourselves.”
UK Coach John Calipari has been saying much the same thing as Kentucky won game after game. Eight times the Cats have inflicted the opposing coach’s most lopsided defeat since he arrived at his respective school. That includes the 86-37 romp on Jan. 13 against Missouri, whose first-year coach is Kim Anderson.
Calipari sounded wary.
“The last game helps them a lot more than it helps us,” he said. “. . . I’m just focused on us getting better. That’s all it is.”
Calipari defined the standard Kentucky tries to meet as “Just energy. Our whole thing is if we play with energy, we have a chance.”
When asked about an undefeated record of 40-0 as a motivational tool, Calipari said, “It’s not what I want. It’s what they want.”

Mizzou coach lauds UK’s ‘phenomenal’ defense

Missouri Coach Kim Anderson apparently hasn’t forgotten his team’s 86-37 loss at Kentucky two weeks ago. On the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Monday, he lauded UK’s defense.
He twice used the word “phenomenal” when asked about the defense.
UK has given up an average of 50.8 points a game. “That’s phenomenal,” Anderson said.
UK has limited opponents to 32.2-percent shooting accuracy, well better than the record in the shot clock era (35 percent by Stanford in 1999-2000).
Kentucky’s defense “has been phenomenal,” Anderson said.
When a reporter seemed to suggest that UK’s perimeter defenders aren’t as appreciated as the big men, Anderson chuckled.
“I think the whole team is pretty good,” he said. “Perimeter. Front line. Whatever you want to call them.”
Of the blowout loss in Rupp Arena, Anderson said Missouri got into “scramble mode” too often.
As has been suggested in SEC teleconferences earlier this season, Missouri decided to treat a loss to UK as an aberration, not a game from which to draw conclusions about your team.
“We, obviously, addressed it,” Anderson said of reviewing the loss at Kentucky. “But we didn’t prolong our discussion on it.”

Cal suggests ways for Booker, college basketball to improve

On Monday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested ways that freshman guard Devin Booker and college basketball can improve.
During the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference, Calipari was asked how Booker can improve. Booker was named SEC freshman of the week for a third straight week, and for the fourth time in the past six weeks.
“I want to see him attack the basket better,” Calipari said. “I don’t want him to just be a catch-and-shoot player.”
Calipari likened Booker to teammate Aaron Harrison. Each should look for driving opportunities as well as jump shots. “Don’t settle,” the UK coach said.
Not for the first time, Calipari acknowledged his surprise at how well Booker has defended.
The UK coach said that during the recruiting process, he saw Booker play in a game featuring 40-year-olds, including his father, Melvin Booker. The younger Booker could not defend in that game, Calipari said in jest.
As for college basketball improving, Calipari said he’d like to see college teams play exhibition games. “Like the NBA,” he said.
Those games could be on weekends in the pre-season, he said.
Not for the first time, Calipari suggested that the NCAA permit teams to play exhibitions in foreign countries more often that the current limit of once every four years.
He cited the telecasts of UK’s games in the Bahamas before this season. “College basketball should own August,” Calipari said.
As for the much-discussed proposal to reduce the shot clock from 35 seconds to, say, 30 seconds, Calipari seemed to shrug. “In most cases, we’re going to shoot it within 20 seconds,” he said.

UK returns to scene of last season’s most memorable game

With a game at South Carolina on Saturday, Kentucky returns to the scene of last season’s most memorable game.
Of course, Aaron Harrison’s three straight game-winning shots in the 2014 NCAA Tournament were historic. Yes, the NCAA Tournament victory over unbeaten Wichita State was that rare competition in which both teams play at a championship level.
But for pure drama, a visit to the theater of the absurd and a heart-warming fairy-tale-come-true ending, Knetucky’s 72-67 loss at South Carolina last season cannot be topped.
The loss to a South Carolina team going nowhere was the nadir of Kentucky’s season. UK appeared headed in the same direction as Coach John Calipari got ejected.
Afterward, guard Aaron Harrison spoke of a “great story” that the Cats would write.
“He didn’t say it would be a great story,” Calipari said Thursday. “What he said was we can do what we want. We can write our own story.”
Actually, Harrison said UK would write a great story. At least that’s how it was reported. “It’s frustrating to lose,” he said in the post-game news conference. “But we know what we can do. It is going to be a great story.”
That puzzled reporters who attended the news conference. A month later, Harrison’s words seemed prophetic as UK advanced to the Final Four.
When asked Thursday about his brother’s words, Andrew Harrison said he was not surprised. “Because I know he has the ultimate belief in himself. That’s how you have to be.”
Until Aaron Harrison made his stunning proclamation, the night’s most surprising development was Calipari’s ejection. He had been nearly manic on the sideline. Coincidentally or not, the Cats rallied with the calmer John Robic in charge.
Andrew Harrison insisted the change at the bench made no difference.
“No,” he said. “We just decided we had to play hard. It had nothing to do with the coaching change or anything like that.”
A moment later, a question about Calipari’s ejection caused Andrew Harrison to quip, “I would have tossed him, too.
“He was frustrated like the rest of us. You have to understand.”
During the NCAA Tournament, then UK guard James Young explained the team’s turnaround to Calipari’s new-found ability to “chill.”
When asked about that, Calipari said, “I just got him to ‘un-chill'” as a key to the revival. “As soon as he ‘un-chilled,’ we got really good.”
Calipari seemed to acknowledge his sideline demeanor changed. But, he insisted the change had nothing to do with discovering it was better to use a lighter touch with the players.
“I had lost an edge for this reason,” he said. “I hadn’t been able to figure out what was the issue. When I figured out what the issue was, what the two or three things I had to do as a coach, then I was comfortable.”
This season’s team, though 17-0 and ranked No. 1 every week so far, also has unanswered questions.
“I’m still not sure, offensively, how we need to play with this group,” Calipari said.
Maybe for a second straight season, a game at South Carolina will help Calipari and UK find answers.

Cal wants Towns to be nation’s best big man by end of season

After Kentucky beat Vanderbilt Tuesday night, Coach John Calipari set a high (the highest?) standard for Karl-Anthony Towns to meet.
“By the end of the season, I want Karl to be the best big man in the country,” Calipari said. “That he plays the pick-and-roll as good as any big man. See, if you can’t play pick-and-roll, you understand that the next level it’s you’ve got an issue.
“I want him to be someone that when you watch him, he’s unbelievable in pick-and-roll. That if you don’t double-team him in the post, he’ll score.”
Calipari acknowledged that Towns is a freshman, and thus has much room for growth.
“Physically, he’s not mature enough in those legs,” Calipari said. “It’s hard for him to stay down and fight. He wants to do it with his upper body.”
Towns, who had four points, four rebounds and a career-high seven blocks, accepted Calipari’s goal of being the best big man in the country by season’s end.
Although he’s played well and inspired talk of being among the first picks in this year’s NBA Draft, Towns said, “You hold yourself to the Kentucky standard. . . . This ain’t high school no more.”

Cal: Fear of free-throw shooting kept Lee out of final minutes vs. Vandy

Kentucky Coach John Calipari saluted Marcus Lee’s contributions to a 65-57 victory over Vanderbilt Tuesday.
“He was terrific,” Calipari said. Lee scored seven points, the most he’d scored since getting eight against North Carolina more than a month ago.
Lee also grabbed six rebounds, which equaled the most he’d had in a game since getting eight against Kansas more than two months ago.
But with Kentucky in a taunt game against Vandy, Lee watched the final minutes from the bench.
“What I was afraid of at the end of the game is that they were going to foul him,” Calipari said. “I didn’t want to put him on the foul line. I said, ‘Look, your free-throw shooting is 100 times better. But I don’t want to put you in this position. I’m not going to do that to you.’
“And that’s why I didn’t put him in at the end.”
Lee, who had made only four of 15 free throws this season going into the game, made one of two against Vandy.

Cal: Dakari ‘wasn’t ready to play’

Dakari Johnson, one of Kentucky’s many big men, had a fitful game against Vanderbilt Tuesday night.
He scored 10 points, but it took nine shots (he made three). Like Gulliver on Lilliput, he often found himself all tied up by smaller opponents.
“He wasn’t ready to play,” UK Coach John Calipari said after his team’s 65-57 victory. “He wasn’t in the frame of mind you have to be to play. The energy wasn’t there.”
Only last week, Johnson talked about he had to be more decisive and quick on his moves to beat collapsing defenses. But it didn’t happen against Vandy.
“They had three blocks, and they were all Dakari’s shots,” Calipari said of Vandy’s defense. “He’s still turning into the defense and shooting the ball in front of the guy. … If you’re going to your left, you’ve got to shoot it here (left-handed). If you’re going to your right, you’ve got to shoot it here. You can’t turn and that’s what he keeps doing.”
On the plus side, Johnson made four of six free throws, Calipari noted.

Willis: I’ve ‘fallen out’ with the game of basketball

In a strikingly candid conversation with reporters Monday, Kentucky reserve Derek Willis acknowledged that not playing much so far this season has dulled his love of basketball.
“I’ve just kind of fallen out with the game,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve just got to get back into it. Get more motivated, I guess.”
UK’s roster, which includes eight healthy McDonald’s All-Americans plus Willie Cauley-Stein, had meant little playing time for Willis. He had not played in eight of Kentucky’s previous 17 games. His five minutes of action at Alabama on Saturday marked the most he’d played in a month.
When asked to explain what he meant by having “fallen out” with basketball, Willis said, “It’s just kind of weird. Like, you’ve gone your whole life playing. You’re really just not playing as much. So, I don’t know. It’s kind of fallen out from the game, and (you) just don’t know what to do, really. Just kind of looking for answers.”
Willis said he sought advice from UK Coach John Calipari, his father, friends, his girlfriend.
He heard the same advice again and again.
“Really just getting the same thing: Just get in the gym more. Just be around the game more.”
Willis said he’s already one of the first players in the gym for practice. So what will he do spending even more time in the gym?
“Basketball stuff,” he said. “Shooting. Running. Getting my body right. Start to focus more on practice.”
UK assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari at a Monday news conference, acknowledged the difficult position Willis is in.
“It’s hard being that guy when you’re the 11th and 12th guy,” Robic said. “(Calipari) tells him: Be ready. You never know when it’ll be your turn.”
Willis made no secret of how difficult it is.
“I didn’t think I was contributing to the team,” he said. “I was just, like, ‘This really sucks.’
“But you can’t just, like, blame other people. It’s really immature, really childish. I’m just starting to look at things I can do.”
Dominique Hawkins, who hadn’t played in three straight games and four of the previous five, made his third career start last Tuesday against Missouri.
Willis played well during UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas in August. But he noted that two regulars — Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles — did not play in those games.
When asked if he thought he’d ever get a chance to play regularly for Kentucky, Willis said, “Yeah. I’ll get a chance. I just have to turn it on. I know I can play. Everyone else knows I can play. I’ve got to turn it on and kick it into gear. And I have not done that yet.”

Cal: Defense by Booker, Ulis ‘reason we’re winning’

Kentucky Coach John Calipari credited the defense played by freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis as a key.
“We can all talk shooting,” Calipari said on a SEC coaches’ teleconference Monday. “But the reason we’re winning is because when you put (Booker) in and Tyler, that energy defensively is what really takes us to another level.”
Calipari noted the effectiveness of UK’s play at Alabama last weekend when Booker and Ulis joined Andrew Harrison in a three-on-the-perimeter lineup with Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein.
“It gives us one more ball handler and one more free-throw shooter,” Calipari said. “That we can really grind it out.”
Calipari did not commit to playing a three-guard lineup consistently going forward. He noted the many buttons he can push to work any game situation: Go big, go small, exploit a particular matchup.
“What I say to them is I don’t need all 10 of you to play well,” the UK coach said. “I need five of you, and I’ll ride those five.
“So if you want to play, play well. And playing well with us is come with energy.”