After an up and down start to the Kentucky basketball season, we’re about to find out just how hard the Wildcats are able to grind throughout the next week or so.
They’ll start with an evening matchup on Sunday against VMI, followed by Winthrop on Wednesday and Tennessee State next Friday. Three games in six days is tough, no matter the level of competition.
To prepare for that grind, the Kentucky players and coaches have ramped things up in practice to build the endurance necessary to get the job done each outing.
“It all starts in practice, trying to go at each other,” freshman guard Immanuel Quickley said this afternoon. “Going hard each and every day. Not taking any team for granted, because any team can come out (on any given night) and beat you.”
There was a noticeable uptick in intensity on both ends of the floor from the first two games of the season to Kentucky’s matchup on Wednesday night with North Dakota. Quickley said the coaches preached execution on the little things over the last week in practice, and that led to things clicking for the team.
“We had a lot more energy, a lot more effort,” he said. “Credit to the coaches for getting us prepared, practice was harder this last week or so. It all started with practice. … People were diving on the floor, taking charges, stuff like that. Little stuff that I think will help us get wins throughout the year.”
There has been an emphasis on fighting from start to finish each possession, not loosening up regardless of the situation.
“Most of the practices have been focused on defense,” said freshman center EJ Montgomery. “We’re really trying to get better on defense every day. We’re going at it very hard. The intensity, fighting through the whole shot clock, never giving up, and competing.”
Quickley understands the team is talented offensively, but when the defense is there, they’re tough to beat. The 6-foot-3 point guard said individually, he has become a polished defender since he first arrived in Lexington.
“The offense is going to come, but I think my defense is really coming along since I got here. You know, pressing the ball full court, talking on defense, being alert, active, trying to get deflections.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has been a huge part of that development, and it has helped Quickley become a more complete player.
“He’s just trying to help me be an overall better point guard. Getting the ball out of my hands early, all the coaches are trying to get me to talk a lot, something I’m still working on. Defense. Really just everything to become an overall better player.”
Montgomery said the intensity in the frontcourt against the other star Wildcat big men has been crucial to his development, as well.
“I learned a lot, those guys really compete. There are a lot of physical guys, they show that physicality on the court. I’m just trying to grow and learn every day from them. … I just want to do anything on the court to help my team win. Whatever coach needs me to do, I’m going to go out there and do that.”
Watch both videos with Quickley and Montgomery below: