After missing the Missouri and Georgia games with an illness to start SEC play, Kentucky freshman guard Johnny Juzang was also held out by John Calipari against Alabama.
During his weekly call-in show, the UK head coach said that he let the 6-foot-6 guard know that he was never planning on playing him against the Crimson Tide since he had been so behind with conditioning and on-court activity.
His time, though, was coming.
“He was in there [at practice] today,” Calipari said on Monday. “He had a virus, so we separated him from the team. I told him, “I hope you know I had no intention of putting you in the game. You know that right? Just know that you didn’t practice and you’re behind those guys.” Look. I’m coaching to win. He’s going to do great. He shot the ball pretty good today. You know how hard this is for [guys like Juzang]?”
Just two days after the call-in show, Calipari played Juzang eight minutes on the road at South Carolina, with the former four-star guard finishing with two points on 1-4 shooting.
His first basket since the Ohio State game on Dec. 21? A follow-up lay-in at the rim to put an end to South Carolina’s 9-0 run that cut Kentucky’s lead to just four.
“He missed the shot, then he stuck it back in,” Calipari said of Juzang. “But he had the courage to go get it and go again.”
In terms of his total body of work in limited action, he also added five tough rebounds in a game several other Wildcats got out-worked on the glass.
And because of it, the Kentucky head coach is contemplating a move to get him more time on the floor.
“Second thing Johnny did, in eight minutes, he got five rebounds,” he said. “So now you need to ask, did he earn more minutes?”
According to the freshman guard, he was just wanting to make an impact on the game any way he could.
“It felt good for sure, I’ve been out for a minute, so I’m trying to get back [to full strength],” Juzang said. “It felt good to be back out there. I’m just trying to keep competing and contributing.”
Calipari put a call out for physicality and toughness from his players, and Juzang wanted to be the one to answer in his first time back on the floor in two weeks.
“Definitely, just seeing moments and instances where you think you can come in and set the tone physically,” he said. “Hit some guys, bump some guys, just get physical. Bring some toughness. I’m excited to put some points on the board too. I’ve been getting a good feel for the game [while I’ve been out], seeing who does this, who does that on my team. You just try to find little opportunities, little niches in the game [where you can make an impact].”
When asked about a potential boost in minutes for Juzang, Calipari said that he plays no favorites and will play the best and most productive players moving forward.
In short, if your stats determine you can make an impact on the floor, you’ll play. If not, you won’t. Simple as that.
“It’s not about who I like or dislike. It’s not like I’m playing favorites,” he said. “What I said to a couple guys, you are what your stats say you are. I don’t want to hear, “I can do this” and “I can do that.” You are what your stats say you are.”
Does a two-point, five-rebound performance in eight minutes warrant that? We’ll find out tomorrow afternoon when the Wildcats take the floor in Fayetteville.