John Calipari has been pretty stubborn in not letting his University of Kentucky teams play much zone defense. Calipari has been a man-to-man, man throughout his college coaching career.
Knowing that this team has not been the best guarding, and often gets beat in transition, has made Calipari at least show some zone defense.
Here were a few thoughts from Calipari on Friday in Lexington as UK heads into a big rematch with LSU on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
On how he feels about zone at this point in the season:
"It’s funny, people that want us to play zone it’s kind of like coaching a kid and being positive 80 percent of the time and he only remembers that you get on him. So the zone people out there see every stop and don’t realize that Mississippi was getting back in the game because they made four straight baskets in a row vs. the (zone). But, I’m getting better at teaching it; I’m getting better at understanding it. I was just with a player – former player of mine from UMass – and he said, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing zone.’ He said, ‘we never worked against zone. I don’t know how we scored against zone because we couldn’t even put a zone in.’ I told them stand around and put your arms up. And if someone goes by you, kind of switch.
"So, you know, this is a good – I’ll tell you who is the best zone player I’ve seen is Aaron (Harrison). He’s
like, I’m calling him ‘The Cat’ now. The team is laughing – I show them on the tape, man,
he’s like a cat. And he goes out with his arm but then you watch his brother and he’s not a cat. And
I said, you won’t believe this, Andrew, your arm is as long as his arm. You can do the same so, you
know, we – I’ll tell you who else is good in a zone is Jarrod, is good in zone.
"It’s helped us. I’m not arguing the point but I do know this, Tony Barbee (Auburn coach) said this to me, ‘you’re good in zone, coach but when you switch everything, it’s a one-on-one game. There is nothing else we can do.’ When you play zone, you know they’re always going to be able to get off a 3 at any point, now if they’re making them, you lose. Well, what if it’s a deep – it could be a deep 3 that they’re making but when
you’re playing man and switching it means they’re taking a contested shot.
"But it’s a good changeup, it’s a good defense for us, it’s been good and we’ve worked on it every day which, you know, it’s not something I’ve done in the past but we’re working at it and trying to give these guys
the best opportunity they can to win.”
On if using this much zone is a bit apocalyptic for Calipari:
“No, I would love to be a zone coach. I’m telling you – tell me why? How much do you really have to
prepare for it? Not against zone. How many things can you really do against zone? Screen the ball,
high-low, three-out, four-out. There is not a whole lot you do against zone and everybody does the same thing. Five or six things you can do. You can’t put a sixth guy out, you can’t put guys standing – I mean there are five or six things. I would love to be a guy that could do that, that’s just not me. But, we’re using it, it’s
been effective, if there was a game where I thought we’d have to play the whole game, play zone to
win the game I’d do it.”