LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The hype is on.
The Kentucky men’s basketball team provided a glimpse into what to expect this season during a four-game exhibition tour in the Bahamas. The Wildcats won all four games and they weren’t even close, leaving Big Blue Nation yearning for more.
Posting four blowouts against older, experienced teams based overseas is an impressive feat, especially for a Kentucky team that maneuvered their way through 10 practices sessions before hopping on a plane bound for Paradise Island. They found fun in the sun and even more excitement on the basketball court.
Before the trip, Kentucky coach John Calipari cautioned against any lofty expectations and said the Wildcats could very well lose three games. To his credit, Calipari didn’t know what to expect since Kentucky spent more time on team schemes than individual instructions, but as the Kentucky coach discovered, the Wildcats are full of basketball IQ and would rather spend time in the gym than hanging out with friends and playing video games.
Although Kentucky’s performances added another level of expectation to the equation a little less than two months before Big Blue Madness, Calipari remains calm and collected.
“I told the guys, I’m not intoxicated by this,” he said. “I just told them, I’m not.”
Calipari admits he does have some “dogs” on his team that won’t back down but knows the path to Minneapolis won’t be an easy task once the season begins in November. Regardless of how well the Wildcats played in the Bahamas, Calipari will be expecting more from the Wildcats, especially behind the scenes.
“At the end of the day, we should be a monster defensive team, we should be a great rebounding team, we should be a team that can fly up and down the court and take pressure on you, both sides of the ball,” he said. “And we should be a team that shares because we’ve got a lot of guys that are skilled enough to play that way. It seems to me we’ve got some dogs. We’ve got a couple dogs and I like to have a couple dogs on the team that will not back away.”
Now that Calipari has a handle on what type of offensive team the Wildcats can be this season, he will shift his attention to the defensive end of the court.
“I haven’t done anything defensively, and I told them, when we get back, my focus is going to be making us the best defensive team because it starts with your point guards,” he said. “And these guys can guard the ball. That’s the biggest thing.”
If Kentucky catches on to defense as quick as it did the team’s offense, it could mean more big things are lurking on the horizon and Calipari knows it.
“I’m happy, and I’m happy with the guys,” he said. “I really like this team. They like each other, and I’ll say it again, when you’re comfortable in your own skin because you’re not trying to trick somebody, you’re not trying cut into anyone, you’re not the last guy in the gym, if you’re that guy, you want to drag people down to your level. Play games, mind games, but when everybody’s putting in the time and work and you’re comfortable in your own skin, you drag each other. Be happy with me, so I’ll be happy with you.”
As Calipari found out during the six-day excursion, his team is so devoted to basketball that it’s hard to keep them out of the gym. When he arrived at his office at the Joe Craft Center Monday night, he didn’t hear a single basketball bouncing in the gym he became worried. But then, he realized his team took a break to see their families before returning for the fall semester.
No need to worry, coach. It won’t be long before those basketballs will be bouncing again. Until then, Calipari and the rest of Big Blue Nation can remember the good times in paradise and look forward to the future.
After all, it’s only August.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.