After nearly an entire month of pure football coverage, tonight sparked the first unofficial opening to the Kentucky basketball season with UK’s annual Pro Day.
Representatives from all 30 NBA teams flooded Rupp Arena to watch your Wildcats participate in various agility, speed, shooting, and team drills, along with physical measurements and testing. At the end, we were treated to four-on-four and five-on-five scrimmages.
There were some jaw-dropping plays, some sloppiness, and everything in-between. Overall, though, the Cats put on a solid show and it’s easy to see why John Calipari is so excited about this group.
Here are five takeaways from the event:
Kentucky in the spotlight
Each year I’m amazed at just how beneficial UK Pro Day is for the basketball program on so many levels.
For one, it’s an opportunity for every individual on the team to shine in front of an arena full of NBA scouts. These kids have dreams of reaching the next level, and John Calipari is giving them the platform right away to make an impact with guys that very well may take a shot on them in the league a year from now.
It’s also a chance for potential recruits to take an inside look at the program and see how Kentucky runs things. The entire thing is a recruiting pitch. They can see first-hand just how many scouts there are, what they’re looking for, and how Coach Cal is helping them achieve that. It’s brilliant.
The promo video showed a bit of that, highlighting past Pro Days and the NBA stars that came from it:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 7, 2018
I think these guys know what they’re doing.
It took a while to warm up, but between Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker, Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley, and Brad Calipari, the nets were lighting on fire at one point during the shooting drills.
They started with a full-court drill, where they hit each player in transition on the corner, the wing, and then the top of the key, with each taking turns taking shots from beyond the arc. Once they got into a rhythm, just about every player nailed a catch-and-shoot opportunity. At one point, I counted six consecutive makes from six different shooters.
Or what about 27 consecutive makes during another shooting drill?
?? from behind the arc. pic.twitter.com/nYch53SRbe
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 8, 2018
When this team gets hot, they let you know about it.
Herro obviously had the prettiest stroke, but Baker is a name to watch out for if he can stay healthy. He hit seven consecutive threes with the camera on him during one shooting drill, and it was a fluid, consistent, silky-smooth shot. We haven’t ever seen him play in a Kentucky uniform due to injury, so it was great seeing him out there put the ball in the basket.
We saw this throughout the Bahamas trip, but my goodness is it fun watching this team attack on both ends of the floor each possession.
With NBA scouts in attendance, it was obvious they weren’t going to risk letting up for even one play. Dunk attempts were ferocious, they fought for positioning in the paint, drives were physical, and shot-creators pushed through the tenacious defense to get tough baskets. It made for some sloppy play at times, but the fundamentals were there and Calipari was happy about it on the sideline.
As far as individual efforts go, Ashton Hagans came up with nasty steals, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Reid Travis blocked shots, Keldon Johnson was a pest on whoever he guarded throughout the night, etc. They’re skilled offensively, but they’re going to have some unbelievably dominant defensive outings this season.
If there were any questions about player motors (or lack thereof) last season, I can assure you it won’t be an issue this time around.
During the 2014-15 season, John Calipari emphasized the difficulty of each practice on a regular basis, using that as a recruiting tool.
“If you come to Kentucky, practices will be harder than games,” he said.
Today, we got to see even more of that, and I’m convinced it’s going to be really tough for Coach Cal to avoid the platoon system again. Each play was a battle with no easy buckets, little-to-no dropoff in talent between group A and group B. We saw huge blocks, steals, offensive moves, and buckets on both ends of the floor, with neither unit dominating the other. They were solid on both sides, and they’re each deserving of minutes when the season starts.
Struggling with minute distribution is a great predicament to be in, and Calipari certainly has that.
As mentioned above, it was great to finally see Jemarl Baker hitting shots in a Kentucky uniform. He was advertised as a dominant threat from the outside, something the Wildcats needed desperately at times last season. Luckily there’s help elsewhere this year, but having a guy at the end of the bench who can consistently knock down a jumper or two each game is massive. If he can stay healthy, Baker can be that guy.
We also got to see EJ Montgomery return from a back injury suffered in the Bahamas, and it doesn’t seem to be nagging him in the slightest. He was hustling on both ends of the floor, hitting some impressive jumpers, and making an impact with his length on defense. It’s hard to believe the Cats have a top-ten recruit and future lottery pick that sometimes gets looked over because of the ridiculous depth on this team, but it’s a good problem to have.
In other injury news, Keldon Johnson tweaked his ankle at the end of the scrimmage portion of the event and looked to briefly be in some serious pain. John Calipari tweeted after the event that the injury wasn’t serious and he should be just fine, so it looks like the Cats escaped what could have been a devastating loss. Phew.
Overall, it was a fun night and a great preview of Big Blue Madness just five days away.