LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — John Calipari is in full teaching mode going into Kentucky’s season opener Friday night.
Calipari wants the fifth-ranked Wildcats to become a “random” team on the court, but the Kentucky coach said the Wildcats haven’t reached the point of imposing their will on other teams without supervision. Kentucky plays Utah Valley State Friday night in the first of three games in a five-day span.
“It looks like we're going to have to have some really, not over-structure, but good structure that they know, if there's nothing there, this is what we're doing,” he said. “We probably are going to have to play in segments like for four or five segments, four or five minute segments we're playing a certain way and, okay, now let's go to this and see what's — and then finish with what works good. … we're not where we were, but we're not where we want to be. And I told them, I'm not worried about where we are right now, I just want to see that we're getting better.”
Calipari also has been stressing conditioning, which improved during Kentucky’s exhibition wins over Thomas More, Morehead State and Centre College. In the team’s blue-white scrimmage early last month, several players were fatigued and cramped up.
“(I’m) trying to get their heart rates up and get them not to surrender,” he said. “You're fatigued, don't surrender. You're fatigued, don't let go of the rope. You're fatigued, talk more. You're fatigued, be there for each other, cover each other. That's our biggest issue.”
Centre College coach Greg Mason came away impressed with the Wildcats following his team’s lopsided loss last week and stressed patience for Kentucky, which will likely start four freshmen this season.
“They’re getting better,” Mason said. “Big Blue Nation needs to stay patient with them. Coach Cal’s the best in the country on bringing the team together. A lot of youth, and that’s what they are. Kevin Knox is really good. Nick Richards was really good tonight. (Hamidou) Diallo, I think he’s got a gear that we didn’t see tonight. A lot of special players. One thing our guys talked about was how good of guys they were on the floor, and lot of times we don’t talk about that. No talking, they just played, good sportsmanship.”
Kentucky sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones said the Wildcats are starting to come together and have developed more chemistry during the past three weeks.
“I think we are starting to talk a lot more,” he said. “In the first game, and even the blue and white scrimmage, it was really quiet out there. Now, everybody is talking to each other and we are trying to communicate. That has been a big emphasis. I think we are getting in better shape. We have been running a lot and everyone has been getting stronger and more conditioned. I think those are our two big things. There are a lot of things we need to do like take care of the ball better and rebound as a team. We are getting better though so it’s good.”
During the three preseason games, Kentucky shot 57.1 percent from the floor, 41.3 percent behind the arc and 72.5 percent from the free-throw line. Kevin Knox led the team in scoring (19.3 points per game), Wenyen Gabriel averaged 8.3 rebounds per game and Quade Green made seven 3-pointers on 11 attempts and was 8-for-9 from the foul line.
“We definitely got what we needed out of the preseason,” said Freshman Nick Richards, who made all six of his shots from the field and scored 17 points in the rout of Centre College. “It shows where we are right now. We’re nowhere close to where we want to be. Hopefully by midseason or hopefully it clicks overnight with what type of team we should be.”
The process begins Friday night.
Gametracker: Utah Valley State at Kentucky, Friday, 7 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.