Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
I had a chance to catch up with Memphis head coach John Calipari on the phone today and we covered several topics, including Seton Hall, Tyreke Evans and Xavier Henry.
[For more on Seton Hall, check out Fooch’s interview with Pirates head coach Bobby Gonzalez filmed in a leafy suburb]
**Memphis beat Seton Hall in the Puerto Rico Tip-off, but Pirates guard Jeremy Hazell went off for a career-high 32 points.
“He can really shoot the ball,” Calipari said of Hazell, who was named Big East Player of the Week after leading Seton Hall to a 2-1 record in Puerto Rico. “I think what they have are, they’ve got quick guards. With [Robert “Stix”] Mitchell back and the two big kids [John Garcia and Mike Davis], they’re not going to come at you with 9 and 10 guys. But the guys that they have are quick and active and have pride and have a swagger about them. I like their team. I just think we were a little fast and without Mitchell they were one guy short.”
**And where does Jeremy Hazell rank among the top shooters in the nation?“You’re talking about me watching him on some tape and then the game we watched him,” Calipari said. “All I can tell you is the game he played us, every time he pulled up, I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ It’s good that when you’re coaching and when you’re watching games as a fan, that when a kid shoots, you think it’s going in. We’re trying to get that here at Memphis. We’ve had it at times but we don’t have it now. So when anybody shoots it, you want to say, ‘That’s down.’ We’re calling, ‘Please make it.’ With [Hazell], you just think the ball’s in. What he does to your defense is he changes how you have to play. You gotta go on him, you gotta open up lanes for other guys based on you know he can make shots.”
**And turning to Memphis, how has Tyreke Evans lived up to your expectations?“He’ll be fine,” Calipari said. “Derrick Rose played very similar at the beginning of last year, and I think that kid’s doing OK. So I would tell you the same with Tyreke. There are things he’s gotta do differently. But he wants to be coached. He listens. It killed him to play that way down there [in Puerto Rico]. I did him a little bit of a disservice and I did it to Derrick, too. I kind of threw him to the wolves to kind of see what exactly they were because I never coached him before. You tell a kid to go in and score the ball, and then you find out, well, we gotta help him more, we gotta put him in different positions. I protected Wesley Witherspoon. Put him in and out a little bit, didn’t leave him out there too long at all, but all of a sudden everybody’s talking about Wesley being the guy. With Tyreke, I kind of threw him to the wolves trying to figure out what he was.
“Derrick didn’t miss any practices. This kid [Evans] missed 10 days [with a sprained ankle] and then just started playing again. So we didn’t get to coach him.
“He’ll be alright. He’s got a ways to go. He’s got to improve his shooting. He’s got to be a more consistent shooter. He can’t be shooting fadeaways. He can’t hold the ball on offense and try to bounce it five times. He’ll listen, he’s not the issue we have right now.”
**Are you concerned about the missed free throws down the stretch of the Xavier game?“The toughness, the mental toughness that we’ve always had, we’ve got to rebuild that,” Calipari said. “In the last four years, we didn’t lose close games. If it was close like that, we won the game.
“It’s not the free throw shooting, it’s the mental toughness. You’re shooting 90 percent, why am I worried about the free throw? What I’m worried about is, the game’s on the line and now you gotta make a free throw. That’s all mental toughness.”
**Can you talk about your upcoming schedule, which includes games with Georgetown, Syracuse and Cincinnati of the Big East in December?
“We still have Gonzaga, we still have Tennessee, we play all comers, and we’ll play them on the road,” Calipari said. “So it makes us tougher. Now, the bottom line though is you’ve gotta win some of those games. You can’t lose them all.
“Right now Xavier was one and we’re 0-1. Now you got Georgetown, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Gonzaga, you can’t lose them all. You’ve got to win some of those games. And they’re all hard games, every one of them.”
**Does a schedule like that help you attract top level recruits?
“That and the fact of how we play. All these kids want to play this dribble-drive offense. That’s how they want to play. The problem is how you fast have to play it, how in shape you have to be and how skilled. You can’t be an unskilled player and play this way. So if you’re an unskilled player, it shows.”
**Can you talk about your latest recruit, shooting guard Xavier Henry of Putnam (Ok.) City?“Xavier is like a 6-7 man-child. But he’s really skilled. He can really shoot. You cannot leave him open,” Calipari said. “He’ll make every open shot. And if he misses it, everybody goes, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And so is Darnell Dodson, who is going to be a sophomore for us next year. He’s exactly the same way. So now all of a sudden you’ve two guys like [Hazell] out on the floor along with guys who can drive the ball. You can’t just sag in.”
**Memphis now has four players coming in next year, Henry, Dodson, Nolan Dennis and Will Coleman. How many more will you bring in?
“We’ll probably sign one or two more, probably two more,” Calipari said.
**Calipari is not allowed to comment specifically on unsigned players but Memphis is recruiting St. Anthony wing Dominic Cheek, who recently took his official visit to the campus. Cheek is considering Kansas, Memphis, Villanova, Rutgers and Pitt. Can Memphis use another wing player?
“There are four perimeter spots on this offense, so you play one of the four,” Calipari said. “If he plays one, you play another. One is up the floor, one is trailing. That’s how it is. That’s why we can recruit who we can recruit because they’re all playing the same position. You can have a bunch of 6-7 guys. As long as they shoot and one of them can play point, who cares? You can go 6-7, 6-7, 6-7, 6-7 and a 6-10. It’s perfect.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.