Kentucky started preseason practice on October 16, and according to John Calipari, they haven’t had a bad one yet. Yesterday, Cal told reporters that he’s loving the energy and work ethic from this group, which he’s maximizing thanks to the changes the NCAA made to this year’s practice schedule.
“With the energy that I have, our energy has been good. We haven’t had a bad practice yet. We’re going two-a-days on Saturday and Sunday and the guys have done—the second practice yesterday, which was the fourth in two days, they were good. They were good. And some of them stayed after. And so, I’m liking this.
“The corona has gotten us to spend more time with our team if they weren’t traced. I’ll give you an example: They gave us four hours and then they let us ramp up to eight hours, which meant I could go an hour and a half for four or five days. An hour and 20 minutes for five days to really get up in running and training. We should do it every year that way. It’s only two weeks. But every year it should go from four hours on the court to eight hours on the court in a week to now we’re at 20. We never here at Kentucky reach 20. We’re usually, early in the year because we’re doing doubles on the weekends, we may get to 17, 18 hours, but we’re never at 20 hours.”
Who is standing out so far? Calipari touched on the marquee freshmen like Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston, but also doled out praise to Devin Askew, Davion Mintz, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, and, of course Olivier Sarr. Let’s start with Clarke, whom Calipari told Bruiser Flint could be an elite player ala John Wall or Anthony Davis.
“He’s growing right now. His stuff is all potential. You’re talking about, I’m going to guess he’s 6-6, 6-7. He’s a guard. But what we’re finding out, he’s one of those guards that if you get him near the basket, he’s really good. Like, really good eight feet and in. And so, we’re just figuring that out.”
When listening to Calipari talk about Clarke, it’s clear he’s the player he’s going to be hardest on this season because he’s got so much potential.
“He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s quick. What he’s learning to do is to not mess with the ball. Like, right now, we chart lane touches. So, throughout the practice and accumulated for the year to this point, how many lane touches? By far, he has the most lane touches and that includes big guys who are catching it off passes. That’s a lane touch where they’re posted up. He’s probably got double the lane touches of anybody on the team. Now, it’s taken him time because he’s used to messing with the ball. We’re just saying, ‘Get the ball by the man and get in the lane.’ So, he’s playing in a way that he hasn’t played. So, his decisions are still coming around. Like, OK, now you’re not messing with it, you’re running downhill, you’ve got to slow your mind down. Do I have a runner? Do I have a layup? Do I have a lob? Do I have to stride stop? And that’s what we work on.
“What I’m trying to get them to understand is, you have a freedom inside of the principles that we’re teaching. You have a freedom inside of the skillset you have. In other words, you’re not a 3-point shooter. You’re not shooting 3s. If you’re a driver, figure out areas to drive. If you want to shoot 3s, get in the gym and start making 3s. So, we’re doing all of that, and Terrence I’m on right now based on the fact that he has a chance to really be special.”
Fellow wing BJ Boston missed some time this summer with a finger injury but is back on the court, and Calipari likes what he sees…except on defense.
“The other guy that is playing really good is BJ (Boston). So, now all of a sudden you’ve got these two big wings that are both 6-6, 6-7 that are different. BJ’s knocking down shots. He’s getting to the rim. He’s making layups. I mean, I’m really surprised. He doesn’t guard the way that he has to or the way he will if he wants to stay on the floor.”
Calipari didn’t tip his hat as to who will be Kentucky’s starting point guard, freshman Devin Askew or grad transfer Davion Mintz, but said he likes how the backcourt will pair with the size on the wings and in the middle.
“Devin and Davion are both different, which is great for us. They’re playing well. So, the guard play looks to be pretty solid right now. But, you know, up front we’re big. We can be 7-foot, 6-11, you know, 6-7, 6-7, or you can go with another big guy with two big guards. I mean we could be a big team. You won’t believe this, we are working on zone. Now, we’ll probably play it a possession or two for the season, but we’re working on it.”
Twelve seasons in, at least Calipari admits he’ll never us a zone, right? When asked about Olivier Sarr, Cal said there’s no doubt the former Wake Forest star makes Kentucky stronger, but added he’s impressed by Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware, confirming the scuttlebutt we’ve heard from practice so far.
“We’re better. You know, I had to remind my team yesterday that because they’re doing a good job of competing against him. Isaiah (Jackson) and Lance (Ware), I mean, these guys, they’re not just giving way now, So I said, ‘Understand his last two ACC games he had 55 points and 20 rebounds.’ And I said, ‘Now, they weren’t great teams. You know they were Duke and Notre Dame.’ When I say that, I’m joking obviously. But he had 55 and 20. And I said, ‘When you’re competing against him, I’m not sure another guy in our gym could have had 55 and 20. So, you’re competing against a really good player, which tells me we’ve got some good guys.’”
“But I’m saying again, Olivier is playing well. I’ll tell you the other kid that’s surprised me is Isaiah, he can do more than I thought. We have too many one-handed rebounds right now. We’re doing defensive drills, doing stuff, playing and we get a good stop and then we don’t rebound the ball or we go after a ball with one hand and now it’s tipped away. We’re doing a lot of conditioning because of stuff like that right now.”
Enjoy all of Cal’s remarks below.