Kenny Payne filled in for John Calipari to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Tennessee in Knoxville. I shared his comments on De’Aaron Fox, Dominique Hawkins, and Bam Adebayo with you earlier, but now it’s time to go through the leftovers. I came up with five.
1. Payne is “really proud” of Wenyen’s transformation
Wenyen Gabriel’s been on a roll the past three games, averaging 10 points and 9.7 rebounds, a considerable uptick from the rest of the season. With both Wenyen and Derek Willis playing well, Kentucky is a different squad, and no one is happier about Wenyen’s production than Payne.
“I can’t begin to tell you what Wenyen and Derek from that four spot has meant. The way they played the last couple games, the last three games or so, it’s been invaluable. Proud of both. Really proud of Wenyen because when Wenyen was struggling, his effort wasn’t struggling. It was just production. Now he’s knocking down shots, now he’s playing with confidence, now he feels reassured in what he’s doing and you’re seeing the real him. That’s who he is.”
2. Wenyen’s finally adjusted to the college game
To what did Payne attribute Wenyen’s recent breakthrough? Finally adjusting to the college game.
“For a high school player to walk into college basketball there is nothing to equate to what we do. So, high school kids come in and they think, I can play like I played in high school. Well, not at Kentucky. Not here. Wenyen had to come in — and the one thing that never changed was his effort, his energy and his effort. Now he’s learning to be an offensive player that takes open shots, which Coach Cal is on him about, and he’s rebounding the ball better, he’s playing excellent defense, he’s helping off the ball and he’s doing everything that we ask him to do.”
3. Isaiah Briscoe’s been bragging about his three-point shot
Payne spent a lot of the presser praising Isaiah Briscoe, who’s had a rough couple of games. Payne said told reporters that mentally, “Briscoe is not the same basketball player” as he was last year because he’s finally at peace with himself; it hasn’t looked like that the last few games, but Payne said Briscoe’s doing so well in practice he’s even bragging about his newfound three-point shot.
“I think at times he surprised himself because he’s bragging on what he’s shooting from three,” Payne said of Briscoe’s improvement. “He takes pride in not being the weak link from the three-point line. The pressure is on him to continue to get better shooting it. We know that the scouting report from the other team is that if you have to back off somebody, let it be Briscoe. I encourage it. I think it’s good for him to prove to people that you aren’t going to play defense like that against him.”
Really, really want Briscoe to have a big game tomorrow night.
4. Calipari’s doing his best to make sure tomorrow night’s not a trap game
With #2 Kansas coming to town on Saturday, Kentucky could easily overlook tomorrow night’s game in Knoxville; however, Payne said Calipari’s making sure his players are aware of what happened the last time the Cats went to Thompson-Boling.
“I think Cal has talked about how they beat us last year, how scrappy they are, how physical and how hard they’re going to play against us,” Payne said.
Even though only a handful of players were on the team that blew a 21-point lead last year, Payne seemed confident that this young squad knows what awaits them on the road each week.
“Every time we step on the floor, you can see it; they’re coming with their best game. Whether it was Mississippi State, whether it’s Tennessee, we can’t afford to look ahead to anybody. We know that we can be beat by anybody.”
Yeah, I’m still a little nervous about it. Not gonna lie.
5. Jerry Tipton thought Wenyen Gabriel said Bam was his “sweet man,” not his suite mate
The funniest part of today’s media opp happened when Wenyen Gabriel was talking about his suite mate Bam Adebayo, and Jerry Tipton thought he said “sweet man” instead:
Bam Adebayo is Wenyen Gabriel’s suite mate not sweet man. pic.twitter.com/UX5DA6sxNa
– Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) January 23, 2017
Clearly, Jerry is ready for Valentine’s Day.