A good number of the UK basketball players are now on campus (with the Twins and James Young to arrive soon) and workouts have already begun. You may have read Dominique Hawkins talking this weekend about the amazing battles and “crazy talent” that Kentucky has accumulated this summer. As is often the case, the players use the summer to get acquainted with each other and to workout, but it is also a chance to see some of the legendary “behind the scenes” matchups that make Kentucky basketball so great. Back in the days before the Craft Center, the pickup action was usually at Memorial Coliseum and if you were crafty (or lucky), you could often sneak and watch the guys play against each other. A tradition during the summer months was the fan “pickup game” report, often posted on message boards, that allowed people unable to see the guys play, to get a sense of who was doing what. In college (before many were on the internet for UK coverage), I used to sneak into Memorial and watch Prince, Allison, Camara and others play, leading me at one point to dub Jules Camara the “pickup Hakeem”, due to his tendency to look like a star in these outings. Pickup summer games were fun and gave us all something to blab about over the summer.
However nowadays such luxuries are very rare. The Joe Craft Center has moved these games away from the public and the fans rarely get to see these matchups at any point. However that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening and the story this summer has been the epic battles between Julius Randle and Alex Poythress. A couple of folks familiar with the games (and as Hawkins noted to the Courier Journal) have told me that the battle between Poythress and Randle in practices and games has been special indeed. As one source told me, “these guys are bringing out the best in each other. Alex has stepped his game up so much, I think because he knows he has to in order to stay with Julius. And when Alex wants to, he can guard anyone and it is making Julius work as well. Both are really bringing it.”
The hope all along has been that with Randle and all the other stars coming in, the collective competition would help raise the bar for all the players. Hawkins mentioned that Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein are having battles and I am sure more will occur as the whole team gets here. But what we are hearing initially is what we all hoped we would see last season…Alex Poythress rising to the challenge…in this case at least, a challenge brought by a teammate.