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Everything John Calipari Said in Latest Radio Interview

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Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

Following the worst season in program history in 2020-21, and arguable the worst loss in program history this past March, it is important for John Calipari to communicate with the fans and connect.

On Monday, Calipari looks to be doing that as he made his second radio appearance in just two weeks on ESPN 680 with Mike Pratt and Dan Issel.

Let’s break down the interview and see what Cal had to say.

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Transfers and NIL

This is the first full offseason of the NIL and the transfer portal together, and it has been quite interesting.

With little NCAA or conference regulation, many schools are practically using the “pay for play” approach, but Calipari is staying away from those situations despite being a supporter of the transfer portal.

“What I like about it is if you lie as a coach, you lie to a player, he can leave right away. If a player is not quite good enough, he can leave and play right away. I like that. The problem is, the name, image, and likeness should not be a part of it, and its become a part of it. If anybody is talking to me about name, image, and likeness as part of the transfer, I’m not really interested,” Calipari said.

So what is it that Calipari believes lures players to Kentucky? “You come here because of the culture to be developed, the environment, the fans, trying to compete for national titles, having other really good players to play with, that’s why you come here… Not ‘how much is the NIL?’”

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While I understand Cal’s standpoint, NIL is going to be of key importance for any top transfer, and it cannot be seemingly dismissed going forward.

Cal also went on to speak about the recent transfers, (Dontaie Allen, Bryce Hopkins, & Keion Brooks Jr.), while not meaning any disrespect, he did provide an intriguing fact.

“I think we have had 7 or 8 players transfer from us, not one has been drafted. Now they’ve gotten more minutes, more highlights, and all that stuff, but none of them have been drafted,” said Calipari.

Damion Collins

Despite coming in as a five-star, top-20 prospect, Damion Collins was not seen to be a one-and-done, and Calipari noted that he, Collins, and his parents have been on the same page with his development from the beginning.

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While talking about Collins, Calipari went on to talk about players that pushed through adversity and eventually broke out at Kentucky, such as Immanuel Quickley, PJ Washington, and Nick Richards. After mentioning those players, Calipari went on to name Collins as one that could make a similar jump.

“Can you imagine Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins on the floor together? You got a beast and a shot blocker,” Calipari said. If Collins makes the expected improvement, Collins and Tshiebwe will be a very versatile frontcourt duo.

Jai Lucas and Staff Outlook

When it was announced last Friday that Jai Lucas would be leaving Kentucky for Duke, it is safe to say most people were not happy as it feeds the narrative that Duke is superior to Kentucky at the moment.

While Cal may be frustrated with the move as well, things happen, but he doesn’t appear to have any animosity towards Lucas, saying, “I did not fire Jai, I did not force him out. I wish him well. This is what he thinks is best for his program (possibly meant family).”

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While Lucas was very beneficial to the program in his time at Kentucky, he is replaceable. Following his departure, there have yet to be any names mentioned as replacements, but Calipari did go on to talk about what he is looking for in an assistant coach.

“My biggest thing is, add value. An assistant coach, Have you worked with NBA players? Who have you developed? What have you done in the places you’ve been? Give me what you do and give me numbers,” Calipari said.

In addition to an assistant coach, Calipari talked about his desire to hire a “mind coach” as part of the program to help players and staff cope with the pressure on and off the court and improve mental health.

Recruiting

Over the next few months, Kentucky should see the effect of losing Jai Lucas and the effect of his replacement when it comes to recruiting. Yet, there is some good recruiting news just on the horizon, “We have another guy committed. He is going to announce here shortly,” said Calipari.

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The commitment is expected to be Adou Thiero, a 6’5 rising guard in the class of 2022, who has set a commitment date this Sunday. This commitment would be the finishing touch to the 2022 class, unless Leonard Miller, who has currently put his name into the NBA Draft, decides he would rather go to college.

As for the 2023 class, Calipari said, “we’re ahead of the game”. However, when you look at the list of commitments, there is just one name, Reed Sheppard. This is not “ahead of the game” when compared to Duke who already has five top-30 commits.

While Kentucky is in good position for several recruits in next year’s class, they must close the deal.

Reenergizing Big Blue Madness

It is no secret that Big Blue Madness is no longer the event it once was, with Calipari calling it “unacceptable” that madness isn’t where it needs to be.

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Big Blue Madness, the annual introduction of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, is often used as a recruiting tool to showcase the best part of Kentucky, the Big Blue Nation. However, with the repetitiveness of and lack of innovation surrounding the event, fan attendance has decreased and the environment is no longer the showstopper it used to be for recruits.

“It’s gotta get back to where it was,” said Calipari. So what direction does the program need to go with the event? “Here’s where we gotta go with madness. We gotta have madness that everybody is talking about for a month after it ends.”

I look for this fall’s Big Blue Madness to be overhauled with changes to entice the fans, and ultimately take a step in the right direction to return to the event to what it used to be.

Need for Facility Upgrades

Recently the Philadelphia Phillies were in Lexington taking a look at UK’s athletic facilities. Being impressed with the baseball, football, and soccer facilities, they had high expectations for the basketball facilities. However, they were let down.

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Despite a $300+ million dollar renovation to Rupp Arena, and renovations to the Joe Craft Center locker room suite in 2017, Kentucky is in need of facility upgrades.

To start, the Wildcat Coal Lodge is one of the more outdated men’s basketball dormitories in the country when compared to the top programs. Opened in 2012, the lodge features an average hotel-esque type room with worse amenities than the University’s newer dorms, which are open to all students.

Compare it to Kansas’ McCarthy hall which was built nearly six years ago, and has an overall more luxurious feel while also featuring a third-floor patio, theater room, and an indoor basketball half-court visible from the main lobby and the second-floor lounge.

Now, back to the Joe Craft Center. While the locker room suite was renovated back in 2017, a large part of the facility is still outdated and hasn’t been touched since opening in 2007. Much of the facility still has a mid-2000’s feel, with old Kentucky branding and older architecture/design, which can be seen in this fan’s video tour from 2021.

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“It is unacceptable that our facilities, when people look at men’s basketball facilities, on this campus, they don’t go crazy like ‘Wow’. Then when the NBA comes in, I don’t have to hear ‘wow, there are a lot of facilities, better than yours’. No, this is Kentucky,” Calipari said.

Fanbase

Upon taking the job at Kentucky, John Calipari said he was told by former coaches, “Coach, there’s a part of this group, a small percentage, that are never happy with anything. Don’t deal with them, just know you have the best fanbase in the country.”

Unfortunately, that’s true, and that same small percentage can paint the rest of the fanbase in a negative light. With that said, the majority of the fanbase, while still supportive, is frustrated as well.

Not just at the fact that Kentucky followed the worst season in program history with the biggest upset in program history, but at the way, Calipari has gone about things recently. Such as the “I haven’t seen him” comments made about injured players or the “basketball benny” comments he directs toward the fanbase.

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As Calipari said, Kentucky is the best fanbase in the country but that comes with the tax of having high expectations. Under Cal’s direction, Kentucky has been in the hunt for a national title in most seasons, and the same is expected this year, but he seemingly has to deliver a deep run in March.

Roster Outlook

What will Kentucky’s roster look like next season? “What it will be is 9 or 10 guys on scholarship, it might get to 11,” said Calipari.

Currently sitting at 9 scholarship players, Calipari has the returning National Player of the Year, four McDonald’s All-Americans, SEC assist leader/Bob Cousy Finalist, former Big Ten 3-point percentage leader, a freak athlete at the four, and a 20 ppg All-Missouri Valley wing. That is a top-five roster.

However, based on his quote Calipari expects to add at least one and maybe two more players to the talented group.

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As for the additions, one of those players is expected to be the beforementioned Adou Thiero, a 6’5 rising guard in the class of 2022, who has set a commitment date for May 8th. The other could possibly come after players announce their final NBA decisions.

Calipari expressed that he really likes this roster, and echoed that by saying, “With Damion, Lance, Oscar, our guards, Chris, Cason, CJ, Antonio, and then Sahvir. I mean come on. I’m like saying let’s go, let’s play the games.”


Based on the results of the last two seasons, and the seemingly negative trajectory the program is on, it is important for Calipari to open up more and attempt to connect to the fans just as he has been doing this offseason.

Check out the full interview below.

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Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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