Kentucky Sports Radio was in attendance for the Wildcats’ Tuesday afternoon basketball practice in the Joe Craft Center, where John Calipari and the guys went for about two and half hours, spending about half of that time on offense and the other half on defense. Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard were inactive for the day, so they took in the action from the stationary bikes on the sideline. Everyone else worked hard under the direction of Calipari.
Observations from the practice can be found below, but keep in mind, it’s only one of many practices this preseason.
You should also know that I lost a contact lens while walking into the building, so anything that happened on the left side of the court was a little blurry, and we sat on the far right side.
Let’s do it.
— Things began with a couple laps around the court and some light stretching with Rob Harris, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Warming up is important, ya know!
— After loosening up for a few minutes, the team split into two groups and worked on rebounding on each end. Coach Justise took one half, Coach Barbee the other, while Calipari sipped his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at midcourt. Kenny Payne, I assume, is out recruiting somewhere.
— One of the first major takeaways from the practice is that the team is very enthusiastic and encouraging of one another. I noticed early on that they do a lot of clapping, which has probably been emphasized by the staff. They stayed upbeat throughout the entire session.
— About 10-15 minutes into practice, they switched to an individual, full-court layup drill. Each player sprinted coast-to-coast with the basketball for a layup until, after a handful of trips by each man, a second player was added to move the ball up without dribbling. After a couple of rounds of that, three players passed the ball four times to go the length of the court for the lay-in. It was a very fast-paced drill.
— Next up, the Cats worked on a half-court offensive set that, after a score, led into an (intentionally) intercepted pass on the ensuing inbounds and then another score in transition. Cal demanded they throw a lob on the second bucket after the steal. In this drill, I realized this team is going to throw the lob A LOT. I also further realized Malik Monk is freakishly athletic and may knock himself out on the rim while finish off an alley-oop. Mychael Mulder was getting way up there, too. He looks much bouncier this year.
— In the next drill, with more half-court offense instruction, Wenyen Gabriel missed shot after shot from the baseline. He’s going to need to knock those down in games, especially if he is getting the looks he got in the drill. Later in practice he finally made one in a scrimmage, which led Calipari to stop the practice and yell, “WENYEN!” with both arms raised in the air. Still, it seemed Gabriel went about 1-for-10 on that midrange jumper on the day, from what I saw.
— Cal stopped practice at another point to call out De’Aaron Fox’s shot selection in the inside-out offense. Fox took a three-pointer when Cal would rather see him blow by his defender and take it to the rack. Cal told his point guard, “I’m not going to tell you not to shoot on the inside-out. But where he was playing you, you should’ve driven by him.”
— Calipari was really stressing being in the right position, moving without the ball and playing fast in the first half of practice. Several times he yelled, “Go! Go! Go!”, and often at Bam Adebayo directly.
— Adebayo was also singled out after passing the ball to Wenyen Gabriel in the lane when he had an opening to finish. Cal told him, “Any time you catch it in here, you shouldn’t have to pass. Just don’t get blocked and don’t turn it over. If you miss it, we’ll get the rebound, but you go up with it.”
— Adebayo also received praise over the course of the practice. First, for his offensive rebounding, as there was no one on the court who could keep him from getting second chances. Then, Cal commended Adebayo’s listening, saying he is taking the coaching and making the changes right away, during a screen drill.
— In the live scrimmaging, Derek Willis seemed to hit most of his three-point attempts. There was also a nice jumper from Sacha Killeya-Jones at the top of the key, which I didn’t know he had in his repertoire. Killeya-Jones’ shot looks a lot smoother than I expected from the big guy.
— Dominique Hawkins did it all. Throw him in the mix for Practice MVP, along with Adebayo and Monk.
— As for the match-ups in the five-on-five drills, we saw (Blue/White): De’Aaron Fox/Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk/Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins/Brad Calipari, Wenyen Gabriel/Derek Willis, and Bam Adebayo/Sacha Killeya-Jones.
— About halfway through the practice, Cal switched it up and focused on defense. That began with lateral movement drills from sideline to sideline and then on into an off-ball defending drill. For that one, he put a coach/manager in one corner and each player had to get out to intercept the pass from the top of the three-point line. If the coach/manager felt a player was fudging out to get a jump on the pass, Cal told them to cut backdoor and beat them that way.
— Defensive drills continued with working on closing out on shooters; a 4-on-3 drill where offensive players moved the ball around the perimeter to challenge the defense’s length and quickness; playing on the ball and making switches. During the switching instruction, Cal emphasized that they all need to trust each other. He then said a guy like Wenyen Gabriel is learning to trust because his high school team was so bad, he was a one-man show.
— Killeya-Jones got called out for not keeping his hands up in one of the on-ball drills. Cal had to remind him that he’s 6-10 and that he wastes that length by playing with his hands down.
— In that same drill, Adebayo hit two or three deep, contested jumpers over Killeya-Jones. If he’s hitting those consistently, WOW. (Although I can’t imagine he’ll have the green light for those in games.)
— Also from that on-ball drill, Derek Willis earned a loud yell of excitement from Calipari for causing a couple of deflections and staying active. That’s something they’ve really pushed Willis to work on this year because he will be needed defensively.
— After working on all aspects of defense, Cal then had his bigs go through a five-minute shooting drill while the guards did some legwork by pushing weight sleds off to the side. Once the five minutes were up, the groups switched and the guards went in for five minutes of shooting. Managers kept count, and of the numbers we were able to hear where we were sitting, Briscoe hit 61 threes, Monk hit 56 and Willis hit 54. Maybe shooting won’t be a problem after all?
— Practice concluded with more fast-paced, five-on-five action. I snuck out with a couple of minutes left to get back to the office, but those who stuck around say Malik Monk hit a buzzer-beater to finish the day. The team will be off tomorrow.