Yesterday marked the first time this Kentucky team has faced off against each other on the court, and John Calipari liked what he saw so much he compared them to arguably his greatest squad ever. In a Zoom call with reporters earlier today, Cal said this team’s shot-blocking ability has him flashing back to the 2014-15 group that made scoring so difficult Jay Bilas said it was like throwing a frisbee in a forest.
“Yesterday’s practice reminded me of a practice about four or five years ago where you would drive and two players would block your shot. Like, bam, bam! And I laughed and we were out there and I said, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’ That kind of team makes somebody shoot jump shots. That kind of team has your shooting percentage defensively so low that most of the game you’re out running and then you’re flowing into dribble drive.”
Kentucky’s frontcourt this year includes 7-foot Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, who averaged 1.2 blocks per game last season; 6’9″ freshman forward Isaiah Jackson, who had 10 blocks on his high school senior night; and 6’9″ freshman forward Lance Ware, who averaged 2.4 blocks per game on the EYBL circuit in 2019. Clearly, their rim protection has caught Cal’s eye thus far.
On offense, Calipari said he’s enjoying taking his time to teach his new guys — wait for it — the dribble drive.
“What I’ll do with the offense this year, right now Joel and I were the only two on the floor for the past month and a half. Just he and I together. And let me just tell you, I love it. Takes me back to my UMass days where I’ve got one assistant and I’m on the court coaching. All that I’m doing right now is putting in the dribble drive slowly because I have time. And I’m really getting them to understand spacing.”
Calipari hasn’t shied away from heaping praise on this group, but he did note that it’s still very early on, and right now, he’s also focused on making sure this team does its part to make sure there’s a season at all.
“We’ve got a long way to go. Again, it’s August, but it was funny — yesterday, it was the first day we’ve done anything against each other. Everything has been separated in groups…We talked about opening up our locker room. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet to where they can all congregate together because again, one guy doing something dumb can lock you down. Even if we’re going live, guys, I’ll go five, seven minutes and we’ll do something scripted, so 5-on-0, 3-on-0 where they’re spaced and then we’ll come together again for five to seven minutes and then we’ll separate. I’m trying to be respectful because we’re learning new everyday and I just want to make sure with my guys that we’re doing this in a safe way.”
“I want to keep going through the testing. I want to make sure, if we have any issues. I’m challenging the players. If they can’t live like this, they can’t be here. We’re in the lodge, the practice facility, cooks in the building, the weight room, look, if you go out and do something outside, you don’t need to be here because you’re going to infect everybody and we’ve got this pretty well in order.”
Like Cal said, it’s really early, but the fact that he’s comparing this team to the 2014-15 squad in any way so soon has me ready to wear five masks every time I step out the door.