When a high-profile basketball recruit signs with the University of Kentucky, the goal is to develop as a player, make a run in the NCAA Tournament, get drafted, and make a mark in the NBA.
For players like Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro, who will all make their NBA Finals debuts Wednesday evening, they all followed that same path. And it’s one the upcoming 2020-21 roster is watching closely and will attempt to emulate.
As former Kentucky players dominate inside the Orlando bubble during the NBA Playoffs, the new group of Wildcats are motivated by the success, seeing some of the things they do every day in practice on the biggest basketball stage in the world.
“We’re texting back and forth. I’ll be sitting in my chair and one of them will text me, ‘Did you see that?’” UK head coach John Calipari told the media Tuesday morning. “Some of the stuff we’re teaching, the dribble-drive right now where I am able to go slow or because we are having more time, they are seeing the spacing to the corner. They are seeing the loop behind. They are seeing pitches being thrown and they are texting me like, ‘That’s the stuff you were talking to us about today.’
“So, they are getting a picture that we are teaching not plays, we are teaching them how to play basketball, how to play dribble-drive because if you’re watching the NBA, it’s either trying to get a layup or space out for 3s. How do you create cuts to the lane, spacing on double teams, all the stuff we are trying to teach now they’re seeing?”
Outside of text messages, the UK head coach is also using some of the things we’re seeing from the former Wildcat stars both on and off the floor in team meetings, specifically with Adebayo taking responsibility for Miami’s Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and Davis telling Charles Barkley he needs to be more aggressive and take games over more often.
“So, we will go back and forth, and I talked to them about what Bam did, took responsibility. That’s one of the meetings we had,” Calipari said. “We talk about the question they threw at Anthony, where Charles (Barkley) said, ‘You’re not aggressive enough. Tell us why?’ I mean, there’s stuff that’s happening. We are talking pick-and-rolls. We have always taught pick and run to that rim because we throw it up for dunks. Now you’re seeing people get started in dribble-drive, by a pick and a short roll, which is they’re helping and a bounce pass and they’re playing through that point center. That’s what we are teaching, and they see it back and forth. So, they’re watching the game, watching these players.”
As for the current players, Calipari is telling them that their success in the NBA started with practice, workouts, and learning how to be professionals at Kentucky.
If they want to be like Davis, Adebayo, Herro, and the rest of the former UK stars dominating in the league, it starts now.
“We’re telling them how hard they’ve worked, how much time they’ve spent in the gym, told them how committed they were and everything they were supposed to be doing, academics, to all the things we are doing in the community,” Calipari said. “It’s not one thing. It’s about, quote, being professional. How you act, how you respond to people, when you’re held accountable, what do I do and how do I change? What if someone is playing better than me? So, it is all intertwined with what we are trying to do.”