After weeks of showing brief spurts of brilliance on the floor, sophomore forward EJ Montgomery finally put together a complete performance on both ends of the floor, finishing the victory with 12 points on 5-11 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals, one assist, and one block.
As the lead voice in Montgomery’s conditioning efforts in hopes of the former top-10 recruit putting together more than five-minute stretches of excellence and extending that to complete games, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was floored during his postgame press conference.
At the end of the day, this is what Calipari expected when he signed Montgomery in the spring of 2018. This was his vision.
“When EJ plays the way he played, we have a chance,” Calipari said of the 6-foot-11 sophomore. “What EJ did is what my vision for him is.”
As confident as Montgomery is in his shooting abilities, Calipari felt the sophomore forward was so successful because he attacked the rim and forced the issue inside as opposed to floating on the perimeter.
“Notice he didn’t take many jump shots, and the ones he did take, he missed,” Calipari said. “Everything else was at the rim, at the rim, at the rim. He squared up and attacked the rim. What about that block on the other end? What about that play where the [defender] grabbed his arm and he finished the and-one?”
The reason why Montgomery was “ridiculous” and had a complete game on both ends of the floor? Conditioning, something Calipari has been stressing relentlessly in recent weeks.
“EJ was ridiculous. That’s my vision of him. That’s what I think he is,” Calipari said. “Why do you think that is? Conditioning. They don’t like it, it hurts. But the conditioning is paying off. Now it’s time for him to put his foot on the gas and keep [improving].”
Now that he’s in shape, Montgomery is now enjoying his time on the floor, smiling for the first time in what seems to be “the first time all season.”
“I received a text from someone after the game, he said it was the first time he has seen EJ smiling on the floor all season,” Calipari said. “Why? He’s in shape! He’s been conditioning! You don’t smile when you’re winded and out of shape.”
Nick Richards has been dominant for much of the season, but finding consistency elsewhere in the frontcourt has been a struggle.
If Montgomery can sustain this level of play to close out the season? As Calipari put it, this team “has a chance” to make noise this season.