On a night that began with Coach Calipari walking past me an hour and a half before tipoff, looking at Alan Cutler’s cowboy boots and simply shaking his head, the new edition of the Kentucky basketball team looked equally out of sorts, yet full of potential on Monday night. The Cats played the Blue-White game in front of the largest crowd to ever see the event, just a hair over 14,000 people, and the energy in the crowd was palpable. From the moment that the opening tip went in the air, three major differences were obvious:
1. This team is talented in ways that UK hasnt been in quite some time.
2. This team is quick and will move the ball at a break-neck pace.
3. There is no hiding in John Calipari’s system.
All three of these conclusions have been stated and should have been obvious before this time. But they become striking when you see them in full game form. Kentucky’s talent is immense. Between Patterson, Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins and Orton, there are five guys who will certainly play in the NBA on the roster. When the guy who potentially had the worst game of anyone on the squad is also a former High School All American (Deandre Liggins), you know you have talent. Also, this team is going to move. When the first half saw the Blue team being constituted as the “Starting Five”, it was clear that the modus operandi for this team is to get up the floor quick and get to the rim. And finally, as Cal said all summer, his system shows a players strengths (and weaknesses) in their rawest form. You see what guys can do, for good and bad, and the cream rises to the crop. We saw that tonight.
With that being said, here is a quick rundown of the games for the various players:
Patrick Patterson: He is a force. At no point during the game did Pat look forced and at no point did he look like he was struggling in any phase. Instead, he scored 24 points on 11 of 15 shooting, and was in the right place throughout the game on both ends. Matt Pilgrim, you lost the name….Patrick is a beast.
John Wall: Wall showcased why I believe he has a chance to be the second player in UK history to get a triple-double in a game. 25 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. Not bad eh? But what you really see from minute 1 is something else….Wall is the quickest player with his first step that I have ever seen in college…period.
Darnell Dodson: You want the revelation for the game? How about Darnell Dodson scoring 26 points? We knew he could shoot from the outside, but did you know he could take the ball to the basket as well? Dodson was impressive throughout, but especially in half one, when he had to (along with Hood and Harris) try to create offense on the Reserves team. He did it, got bumped up to the starters team and played well throughout. Great night.
Eric Bledsoe: People seem to forget about Bledsoe and it is amazing that it continues to happen. There is no one with better court vision, combined with freakish athleticism than the tiny guard from Alabama. Watching him is a pleasure and everything he does is so smooth that you wonder how great he can really be. His 9 assists were quite impressive.
Daniel Orton: I hear people talk about the improvement of various players, but for my money, no one has grown more than Daniel Orton. While I have always liked Daniel’s game, he had his way inside for most of the night and won the Freshman Big Man Battle #1 in Rupp. The kid is smart, plays hard and can control the paint. He will be special.
Demarcus Cousins: I had some disappointment in the play of Big Cuz tonight. His effort was not consistent and there were times that he didnt seem completely engaged in the game. But man does he have talent. His ball handling was a major surprise to me and showcases how many offensive weapons he has in his arsenal.
Ramon Harris: It is easy to forget Ramon and honestly, the fall from starting lineup last year to not starting the Blue-White game this year is a steep one. However, he played well tonight, scoring 12 points, making four threes and playing the “anchor” role on the Reserves team. If Harris defends and can shoot decently, he will get minutes. He did that tonight.
Darius Miller: For the vast majority of the game, it was easy to forget that Darius was playing. He took two shots in the first half and seemed to be settling into the “non-aggressive” Darius from last season. But then Calipari called time out and in a six play sequence, he took a shot on every possession, making four. Afterwards, he went back into hiding. Darius has star potential. To maximize that potential, he has to be more aggressive than tonight.
Jon Hood: Along with Dodson, no one did more to help their stock rise tonight than Jon Hood. People always like to focus on what Hood cant do, and it was clear tonight that he has a ways to go defensively. But he can take the ball to the basket, hit the open jumper and pass the ball well on offense. If he hits threes consistently, there will be minutes for him, and tonight he took a big step in my eyes.
Josh Harrellson: Harrellson had a double-double at halftime. It was a quiet double-double, but that is because Jorts did was Jorts does. He hustled, banged inside for rebounds and hit the open three point jumper. Do that and there is a role for him on the team. If Jorts plays like he did tonight all year, he will be a valuable contributor…and while he does seem to have Jared Prickett syndrome with the missed bunnies, he had a good night.
Mark Krebs: Mark played less than the other 12 guys, but had a good showing nonetheless. He scored five points, played better defense than I have seen, and generally had a solid evening. His stroke is smooth and he definitely looks like he will be more than just a fan favorite this season in some games.
Perry Stevenson: Two guys struggled tonight, and for my money, none more than Stevenson. It is difficult to see where Perry fits in this team. Not scoring is one thing, but how can he have only 3 rebounds at his height? Stevenson looks like the fifth big man on a team with three future NBAers ahead of him. Perry should take note of what Ramon is doing and try to find a role…tonight that didnt happen.
Deandre Liggins: Most will look at Liggins’ stat line and say the game was a complete dud for DeAndre, but I dont think that is quite fair. While his 0 points is not good (last one to do it was the infamous Jared Carter game), he looked more comfortable on the court and I thought was more into the game than last year. But he still makes too many mistakes and I think he may have had 400 fouls. The coaches privately trump Liggins as an X factor…if that is the case, he must have a better game than tonight.
So all in all, a fun night in Rupp Arena and one that gets you excited about the future. I had two moments that I loved tonight, first the great sight of Calipari honoring Joe B Hall by bringing him on the bench with him in the second half. Joe B is a legend for this program and I love seeing Calipari acknowledge him in such special ways. Second, it was great to see former players at the game such as Ron Mercer, Wayne Turner and Micheal Porter…the more of that we have, the better for the program. And I got to ride back to Louisville with Mike Pratt and listen to him talk basketball for an hour. It doesnt get much better.
Big day on Thursday as we have more on the Blue-White game and set our eyes on Mississippi State. Go Cats!