John Calipari stockpiles talent each year on his rosters at Kentucky, sometimes even accumulating more than one talented player at each position. Having one elite point guard is crucial to Calipari’s system (as we’ve now seen him both have, and not have…), but having multiple players in the 2-5 position who can be versatile and be plugged in together on the court in various combinations is not something Calipari shies away from. If Cal has two great players who are similar in stature and position, both will play. Over the course of Calipari’s 4 years at Kentucky so far, a number of great practice match-ups/battles at various positions between two talented players have emerged. These practice battles have proven to push both players to work hard every day and perfect his craft. On this year’s team, we might see more of that than ever– and judging by the past results– nothing but good things can come of it.
Best Previous Position/Practice Battles:
DeMarcus Cousins vs. Daniel Orton vs. Patrick Patterson
Daniel Orton never really threatened the starting positions of either DeMarcus Cousins or Patrick Patterson, but he was a legitimate big man with some skill and shot blocking ability who could challenge both Patterson and Cousins every day in practice. Kentucky had 3 elite big men on the roster that year to go head-to-head in various combinations every single day. All three wound up in the NBA draft.
John Wall vs. Eric Bledsoe
Even though Wall and Bledsoe spent most of their time on the floor together as a backcourt combination, how often does a team have TWO of the best point guards in the entire country on one roster? Bledsoe spent a lot of time as the off guard, but both Wall and Bledsoe were able to hone their point guard skills all season long against and beside one another. Both are heading into this season looking to be starting point guards for their teams in the NBA.
Josh Harrellson vs. Enes Kanter
A lot of credit for the development and emergence of Josh Harrellson’s dominance during Kentucky’s season and Final 4 run can be traced back to playing against Enes Kanter day in and day out at practice. Kanter may have never contributed a single minute on the court as a Kentucky Wildcat, but his biggest contribution might have been pushing Harrellson to become a better basketball player and an important player for his team. Harrellson picked up a few post moves and had to become a better defender in order to stay in front of Kanter during early season practices. Both players were drafted in the NBA that year, and Harrellson’s draft status sky-rocketed from an afterthought to a player who spent time on NBA rosters.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Darius Miller
Darius Miller was always solid in his role during his various seasons at Kentucky, but he was never as great as his senior season. I think a lot of that was due to an increased motor and work rate he developed while competing against MKG every day. Both players excelled, and even though Miller wasn’t technically a starter, they both were huge pieces of the puzzle in winning the national championship. Both players are currently playing in the NBA.
Marquis Teague vs. Ryan Harrow
Ryan Harrow’s Kentucky career never quite played out like we might have hoped on the floor in front of the crowds, but according to many behind the scenes, Harrow pushed Marquis Teague in practice for an entire year while he was redshirting. Even though Harrow couldn’t play in games, he gave Teague an athletic point guard to face every day in practice. And if you believe the legends, Harrow may have even gotten the best of Teague on a number of occasions. Teague took huge steps in his development as a point guard from the moment he arrived on campus until he became the lead guard on the way to a national championship. Teague is now playing in the NBA.
Nerlens Noel vs. Willie Cauley-Stein
Kentucky’s roster was so thin last year with very little competition to push one another in practice at certain positions. The one position that had 2 solid players from day one was that of center. Noel and Cauley-Stein were able to push each other all year long, and you could see the progress in both players as the season went on. When Noel went down, Cauley-Stein (even though he hadn’t necessarily played HUGE minutes in actual games) was able to fill in nicely for him. Noel was a first round draft pick in this year’s NBA draft, and Cauley-Stein likely could have been a first round draft pick but chose to come back to continue to improve his game.
… Just look at the success rate of these players coming from these intense position/practice battles. Almost to a player, even with a talented player who plays the same position as them, both players have become successful.
Future Position/Practice Battles:
I won’t go into great detail because we don’t know just how these will all pan out yet… but just look at some of the competition between ELITE players that will be taking place in practices. At almost every position, there will be some great battles between majorly talented players. If the results are anything like most of the ones listed above, I think good things are in store for this Kentucky team…
Aaron Harrison vs. James Young
Alex Poythress vs. Julius Randle
Dakari Johnson vs. Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Marcus Lee