John Calipari has made it clear that he has no intention of leaving Kentucky to join his longtime friend, Leon Rose, with the Knicks. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions on what is going on in New York.
Calipari, speaking on a conference call to announce he will be donating groceries for 400 families every week during the coronavirus crisis through The Calipari Foundation, weighed in on his own team and on recruiting. He also had thoughts on Rose’s ability to turn the Knicks around and stood up for one of his former players, Kevin Knox.
“He’s a gatherer,” Calipari said of Rose, whom he has known for years as an agent (Calipari is represented by the Creative Artists Agency that Rose served as co-head of the basketball division). “And I believe that’s what the Knicks need right now, a gatherer who can bring things together and make it a culture that players want to be in because they know this is about all of us.
“It’s a rough place to be. New York is not easy. It’s kind of like Philadelphia — it’s all good if you’re winning. If you’re losing, hard places to be as an athlete. But if you win, if you compete for championships, if you win a championship, there’s no better place to do it than in New York. And I think he’s going to bring those people together and you’re going to see.”
While just who will join Rose in New York — in the front office and as coach as well as on the roster — remains an unknown, Calipari stressed that one player that the previous regime seemed to lose faith in could help. Calipari had Knox for one season at Kentucky and pointed out at the time that Knox was only 18 years old when he was drafted. It might take time, he had said, but Knox would emerge as a solid NBA player.
"He was so young,” Calipari said. “Some guys are even younger than their chronological age, which is young. And guess what? He's one of those. He was the youngest player in that draft. And he was learning about himself. And I come back to: You've got to conquer yourself before you can conquer anybody else. Being in that league, I've never heard him complain one time. How about that? That he's accepting, 'I'm responsible for me. I am what my stats say I am. I'm responsible. And I've got a ways to go.'
“No one is going to work harder. He's one of the great kids of all time, from a great family. It's going to take time. What you don't want to do, and teams have done this in that league, they give up on a young, young player too soon. And now all of a sudden, the guy comes back and they look and the whole thing in New York will be, 'Well, what if we had him? We gave him away. We should have held on longer. Why did we do that?’ ”
Knox started 57 games as a rookie but saw his role and his minutes diminish this season. Marcus Morris started and took the bulk of minutes at small forward, and after he was traded, the Knicks slipped Reggie Bullock or Moe Harkless into the starting lineup ahead of Knox.
"Young guys take longer to develop, especially when they're big,” Calipari said. “And guys with his size and his skill, the game is going to him. In other words, if you're long, if you're lanky, if you're a basketball player, if you can shoot it — shooting has become a premium in the NBA. If you can't shoot it, it's hard to become a significant guy or the No. 1 or No. 2 guy. You've got to be No. 3, 4 or 5 if you can't shoot. That's easy because in the NBA, over time, what happens is, guys shoot the ball better. They shoot it better. And I would expect, most guys I've seen in the NBA, they improve their shooting.”