Kentucky assistant Joel Justus filled in for John Calipari today in the pre-IUP press conference in the Joe Craft Center.
Here are five things he said:
One of the focuses in practice this week was defending smaller, quicker teams.
“In all transparency,” Justus said, “it’s been addressed every single day since last Friday.”
Last Friday was, of course, the Transylvania game, when the Pioneers were able to do more against Kentucky’s defense than the Kentucky coaches would’ve liked.
“I think that’s something we want to see an improvement on defense,” Justus told reporters Thursday, when asked about stopping straight line drives. “You have gotta keep the ball out in front.”
He noted the matchups in that game were pretty unique and not something UK will see again soon.
They’re not looking ahead to Duke.
When asked if the Cats will use tomorrow night’s game to prepare for Duke in the season opener, Justus followed UK coach-speak protocol and said Kentucky is only worried about getting better.
“I’m pretty sure since Coach Cal has been here, he’s been consistent in saying that the biggest opponent and the most important opponent that we play is ourselves,” he said. “I think we’ve addressed that since we started practice in August and I think we’ve continued to echo that message this week in between Transy and then our game tomorrow night. I think that will be the message daily as we move forward this year.”
“Every game is important, not only to our guys – it is a chance for them to show who they are, who they’re becoming. It’s a chance for them to be evaluated.”
Jemarl Baker is day-to-day.
As we told you earlier, Jemarl Baker is working out and is considered day-to-day with the lingering knee issue. Coach Justus admitted he wasn’t sure what Baker’s playing status was at the time of the press conference.
Baker missed the first exhibition for precautionary reasons, after saying he felt back at 100 percent and ready to get going.
Tyler Herro has “supreme confidence.”
One of the stories to watch tomorrow night will be whether or not Tyler Herro can bounce back from his 1-for-8 shooting night in the first exhibition game. Justus said UK’s leading scorer from the Bahamas trip is in a great place this week and had a great week of practice.
“He is such a fun guy to coach,” Justus said. “He has such a swagger about him, such a supreme confidence. That comes from how much he works and the amount of time he spends in the gym and the amount of love he has for his own progress and work.”
He clarified Coach Cal’s comments about Sophomore Nick Richards being unique in college basketball.
Prior to the Transylvania game, Calipari said no team in the country has a player like Sophomore Nick Richards. Cal also praised Richards’ improvement from his first season to the beginning of his second. Justus was asked to expand on Cal’s comments, to which he said, “I think you look at a guy who has put a significant amount of time and effort into his body but also into his skills. I think what Coach is saying is he’s a sophomore who’s been through it. He’s been knocked around a little bit. He’s been forced to build his own confidence.”
“He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be a factor for us if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”
See it all for yourself: