With Kentucky’s big victory on Saturday over the Kansas Jayhawks in the rearview mirror, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, along with guards Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley, met with the media today to update
The topics of discussion? Putting forth some final thoughts on the team’s win along with a preview of Kentucky’s matchup tomorrow night at Vanderbilt.
Let’s take a look at the ten takeaways from today’s media availability:
Kenny Payne believes in trap games… just not at Kentucky
Kentucky assistant coach Tony Barbee talked about avoiding trap games prior to the mid-week Mississippi State game last Monday, and today, Payne followed up on it.
Following the Kansas victory and a trip to Gainesville set for this weekend, Payne wanted everyone to know that this is Vanderbilt team absolutely has the ability to defeat the Cats tomorrow night.
“I would like to say I do buy into the notion, but not at the University of Kentucky and not under John Calipari,” he said. “Our players, they don’t have the mindset. We don’t allow them. Cal doesn’t allow them to relax. That’s one of the great things about what we do. Once a win is over, once a big win is over, it’s over. We’re on to the next.
“With this program, there are no trap games. We’re going into a hostile environment where a team is very desperate, that is capable of beating us,” he said.
Payne doesn’t like the “white kid that can shoot” narrative associated with Tyler Herro
Easily the funniest part of today’s press conference was Jerry Tipton’s interaction with the Kentucky assistant coach about Herro.
Tipton asked about the Kentucky shooting guard’s progress throughout the season, with Payne responding that true “basketball people” would know how much Herro is thriving right now, even if shots don’t always fall.
“I think that what is happening for Tyler Herro, right in front of our eyes, is non-basketball people are looking at him saying he’s missing shots,” he said. “Basketball people are looking at Tyler saying, ‘Man, his energy. Man, he can pass. Man, he’s defending. He does a little bit of everything. He can drive to the basket.’ So, there’s this people being so concerned with shooting that they’re forgetting and not noticing exactly what he’s bringing to the table.”
Payne mentioned that forward Keldon Johnson calls Herro a ‘dog’ and he feels that description fits him perfectly.
But what does that mean exactly?
“In my dictionary, it means an alpha,” he said. “That I will fight you for everything you get. I’m not just a white kid that can shoot. I can play.”
… neither does Herro
Herro has always been the first person to tell you he’s more than a shooter. Today was no different.
“I guess I don’t want to be labeled just ‘cause I’m white that I’m a shooter.’ If you don’t look at my skin color and we just go play basketball, you’re not going to say I’m a white kid that can just shoot,” he said.
The Wildcat guard said he learned it from Johnson.
“I can do everything,” he said. “I’m a competitor. I don’t know. I just like saying I’m a dog. I got it from Keldon (Johnson).”
Payne believes every NBA organization will want Nick Richards
The legend of Sophomore Nick Richards continues to grow.
In just nine minutes on Saturday, the Wildcat center swatted away five shots, showing off ridiculous timing and length against an elite opponent in Kansas. He didn’t score any points, but his impact was absolutely huge on the defensive end of the floor.
For Payne, he believes Richards is continually making strides that will eventually land him a long and successful career in the NBA. When it clicks, he’s going to be a special talent.
“Nick Richards, we want him to be able to guard five positions,” he said. “We want to be able to switch ball screens. We want him to be able to chase a 2-guard off a screen. We want him to be a great post defender. We’re asking a lot from a 7-footer that’s a sophomore in college, but with what his tools are athletically, why not? If he can figure it out, every NBA organization will want Nick Richards. He’ll be playing this game for a long time. That’s the goal.”
Improvements are being made defensively, but it’s still not enough
The Wildcats have allowed fewer than 65 points in four of their last five games to go with allowed field goal percentages of 36.5 (Kansas), 31.1 (MSU), 30.4 (Georgia), and 36.2 (Vanderbilt) in that span. They’ve been dominant on the defensive end.
But in Payne’s eyes, it’s still not good enough.
“We’re not complacent as coaches with where we are defensively,” he said. “And we’ve made a big jump. Look, guys, we have to be a swarming defensive team. We’re playing really well defensively, but do we have another 30, 40 percent left in us? I think so.”
There are just a few tweaks left to be made, but when they finally get there, they’ve got a “real chance” to be special.
I think if we can get Keldon Johnson off the ball to be alert and reactive. If we can get Ashton Hagans off the ball to be better. If we get PJ to be a little more consistent. There are lapses there defensively off the ball. If we can get five guys all in tune to guarding the ball and helping each other for 40 minutes, we’ve got a chance. We’ve got a real chance.”
Immanuel Quickley isn’t worried about the layout of Memorial Gym
We all know Memorial Gym sucks and the fact that their benches are in the wrong place, but the Wildcats aren’t too worried about the layout differences.
In fact, Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley says he’s more looking forward to an impressive turnout from the Big Blue Nation.
“I know the coaches are on the opposite side in the first half,” he said. “I heard the floor is elevated, too. But I also heard that we’ll have a lot of people there, just because we’re in Tennessee.”
Quickley feels his team is prepared to play anywhere in the country and still thrive.
“I think we’re well-prepared to play anywhere, honestly,” he said. “Auburn is probably as hostile as it gets. Georgia was a hostile environment, we came away with two ‘W’s’ there, so think we’re well-prepared to go to war with anybody on anybody’s home court.”
They expect a tough game from Vanderbilt
Last Wednesday, the Commodores took Tennessee to overtime at home. On Tuesday, they’re expecting to put on another show when the Wildcats come to town.
They’ll try it by running zone on defense.
“We worked on it a lot,” Herro said. “We know Vandy’s a good team. They almost had Tennessee beat at home. It’s going to be a tough game going into their place. Just gotta come ready as we did the last three games, with that same focus and energy come in and hopefully get a good victory tomorrow.”
Herro added that they need to keep the same mindset as they did all of last week against the top-25 opponents.
“Just coming in with the same mindset as we were playing a top-25 team,” he said. “Obviously, like I said before, they had Tennessee beat at home. If we don’t come to play, they can do the same thing to us. They’re capable of beating anybody, so just coming in with the right mindset and being ready to go.”
Herro credits the coaches for developing him into a complete player
Tyler Herro has proven he’s more than just a shooter this year, and the Wildcat freshman credits the Kentucky coaching staff for helping him show that on the big stage.
“At the beginning of the season, I don’t think I could have made the impact I did on that game,” he said. “Just because I feel like I’m not the same player as I was. Credit to the coaches making me a better player. I feel like obviously I wanted to make shots, but it was good to be able to impact the game in a different way playing defense.”
It was the focus on defense in practice that really put him over the edge, he said.
“Just the coaches pushing me personally and really the team every day in practice,” Herro said. “Ever since the first game, we’ve been working on defense. I’m just putting my foot forward and working hard every day.”
We got another “(Kentucky) is everybody’s Super Bowl”
Quickley learned knows they’ll get Vanderbilt’s best shot tomorrow evening, using one of John Calipari’s best cliches to make his point clear: the Wildcats have to be ready.
“That’s the target you have when you wear a Kentucky jersey. Everybody is going to give you their best shot. Like Cal (John Calipari) says, it’s everybody’s Super Bowl. We just have to come out ready to play each and every game.”
He doesn’t understand the hate quite yet, but he knows they’ll have to take on a tough Commodore team in a rowdy environment.
“Actually, I still don’t really know how much people hate us, I thought people loved us, but I guess people do hate us, too. It comes with it, good and bad. Any team that you play, you want to go out and beat, but I guess especially Kentucky, with the rep that we have, everybody wants to come out and beat us, so you’ve just got to be ready to play every game.”
Quickley is ready to prove the bench can score points
After a zero-point effort from the entire bench combined on Saturday, Quickley is prepared to turn that narrative around tomorrow night.
“I think it’s motivating every game, just to come out and play your best,” he said. “Some games, it’s your game, some games, it’s not. But you have to stay ready at all times, and that’s basically what I try to do.”