Calipari willing to play ‘any team, any place, any time’

For the second year in a row, COVID threatens to derail college basketball season.

There have been a slew of cancellations and postponements in recent weeks, with a number of programs forced to pause all basketball-related activities.

With SEC play scheduled for this week, Florida and Ole Miss is already the first league game to be postponed due to COVID.

Kentucky head coach John Caliparic, which has already played games vs. Ohio State and Louisville has seen delays or cancellations, is proactive in scheduling make-up games.

“We’re really trying to get ahead of that,” Calipari said on Tuesday. “Let’s just say this. You’re three games behind, you’re not making them up. And if there are ten days, seven days where you know you’re not playing and you’re not going to make those games up, then she just has to replace them. These kids should play matches. If both teams are healthy, the umpires are healthy, play the ball game.”

While trying to find a suitable replacement for Louisville last week, Calipari said he called coaches in Gonzaga, Ohio State and Texas looking for a match. After playing a somewhat mellow non-conference schedule, Calipari says he is wide open and will plan aggressively.

“It could mean we add a house-and-home for next year. It could mean we have to play a game here or we have to travel. It could mean a neutral [site] play with Gonzaga in Chicago or Dallas or somewhere. But we have to play games,” said Calipari. “My career has been with every team, in every place and at every moment. I mean, that’s who I’ve been. If you miss two or three games in a row, there’s no room to make up for those games. So let’s play against who is ready to play. Like I said, I’m on the phone right now and I’m like, ‘Let’s keep this out of the door. Let’s think about it.’ So friends of mine in the business, we’ll just talk it through so we can play the games.”

In the meantime, Calipari says he and his staff are trying to reduce their team’s exposure to the virus while also considering the players’ mental health.

“It’s about reducing chances. When I go out I soften, but I try to keep a mask on whether someone else does or not. Keep a mask on. And I tell them, ‘You have to soften. You “Being together is fine, but you have to limit other opportunities where you interact with people,” Calipari said. “But the kids were great. If it’s important to me, it will be important to them. I always say that. If they know that something is really important to me, it will be important to them. And we’ve made this, for the last two years, like, look, ‘This and mental health and all the other stuff, we’ve been good.’ We haven’t forgotten about basketball, but we’ve tried to keep it up.”

But after his team took on the challenge of beating both North Carolina and Western Kentucky, both at short-term averages by 32 points, Calipari is looking for more.

“The best people playing out there. The challenge of not just playing a game that we have in North Carolina. Yeah, Ohio State didn’t work, but it’s North Carolina. Then Louisville didn’t work, but it was Western Kentucky that just beat Louisville. So there was that challenge that really got the juices going,” Calipari said. “It also brings us together because we need each other. Four league games are cancelled. Okay, let’s play at least three other games. Then maybe there’s still room to add a team or two from our league. Or maybe “If two teams in our league are healthy, then you play. Let’s play it like this. But I think we have to be agile and flexible because we don’t know where this is going.”

Number 18 Kentucky (9-2) opens SEC play Wednesday at Rupp Arena for a tip from 7:00 p.m. ET on the SEC network.

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