John Calipari: 'My teams play with fire, or you won't play'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Saturday February 01, 2014

John Calipari was pounding the podium at his press conference, that’s how excited he was after Kentucky won at Missouri on Saturday.

The win comes after a bad loss to LSU earlier in the week.

As one of the youngest teams in the country (again), the Wildcats deal with growing pains, but Calipari saw the energy on Saturday, taking him back to his early days as a coach.

“The team I want them to be is the one that played today,” he said. “I told them, ‘If I have to coach like I was 35 years old again, I will.’ Which, I was very much more aggressive, hands-on. Like, grabbing. I was hands-on. I’m now (54), so I’m not as aggressive as I used to be.

But I told them, ‘My teams play with fire. They play with emotion. They play with enthusiasm. And you will, or I won’t play you.’ That’s all I told them."

He smacked the podium with his hand at the end of that statement. Asked about the difference between the loss in the win, Calipari said it wasn’t even about emphasizing the fundamentals. It was all, simply, about playing hard.

“There are things that you can’t emphasize with these guys,” he said. “All we talked about was passion, intensity. I didn’t care about that other stuff. Passing the ball will be sloppy, but play. But again, I loved the fight. I loved the emotion they played with, the enthusiasm they played with.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to