The Big Blue Bahamas trip is finally over, and before we completely shift to football, I thought I’d share some of my final thoughts now that I’m back in the land of reliable wi-fi and reasonably priced food. Here are my ten takeaways from three nights in paradise and six unbelievable exhibition games.
Being stranded at a gym in the Bahamas will bring out the best in people
We’ve told you all about the setup at the gym, which was about a thirty minute ride from the Atlantis. You had your microwave popcorn, enormous boiled hot dogs, and regularly changing prices at the concession stand, which was still so much cheaper than the Atlantis that people would bring coolers to load up on $1 Cokes and water to take back. The gym itself was a hoot, with no boundaries between the players and fans so that if you wanted to play photographer for the day, go right ahead. Plop right down on the baseline. The postgame interviews (with five reporters) took place in the VIP Lounge, which also served as the referees’ changing room.
After the Friday interviews, my husband and I went outside to catch the fan shuttle back to the Atlantis to find that all of them had already left. We tried to get on the UK team and staff shuttles to no avail, and the bus driver taking the Dominican team back offered to let us ride along, but there weren’t any open seats left. Around this time, Jerry Tipton and Kyle Tucker joined us as we contemplated getting a taxi or simply walking back with Dakari Johnson’s mom, and things got a little desperate. Jerry Tipton had the line of the day about UK not letting us ride the staff shuttle when he puffed his chest out and said “They should know better than to piss me off.” Finally, we spotted one lone bus leaving the parking lot. The four of us–KSR, Courier Journal, and Herald Leader joined together–chased it down, and the driver agreed to take us back. Hurrah! We jumped on, and headed to the back, where none other than Jay Bilas was stretched across the back row. It was a hot but memorable bus ride, and I feel like we all bonded a bit, to the point that towards the end of the trip, my husband and Jerry were even buying each other $1 Cokes at the concession stand.
Hum-Diddy-Diddy, yes we’re really giddy
You’ve heard it ad nauseam by now: we are really, really good. Yes, exhibition games, and yes, August, but we are damn good. So good that Jay Bilas told the team they have “an extraordinary opportunity” to make history. So good that John Calipari was reduced to “hum diddy diddy!” after a Derek Willis dunk. Everyone in the BBN is giddy, and while it is important to keep the lessons from last season in our minds, it’s really hard not to get excited for November. This group has talent AND experience, especially at point guard, where they’ll need it the most. Hum diddy diddy.
I am #TeamPlatoon
What makes this team so special? The quality of the depth. The fact that John Calipari can rotate two platoons throughout the game is what makes this team better than any other in the country, and that’s even without Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles. The platoon system was the talk of the trip, and solves that “too much talent” riddle the national media’s been dangling over the program. The platoon system gives the Cats two completely different looks; Team 1 (the Harrisons, Booker, Poythress, and Dakari) is much more physical, and can pound the ball inside with ease, while Team 1A (Ulis, Hawkins, Willis, Lee, Towns) brings the energy, moving the ball the length of the court in a blink of an eye and pestering defenses into quick turnovers. Not only does the platoon system allow Kentucky to attack opponents in two different ways, it keeps the legs fresh, completely wearing other teams out. Calipari said he’s considering using the platoon system at times during the regular season, and I’m all for it. Like Willie Cauley-Stein said, it’s “genius.”
Karl Towns is the BBN’s new BFF
I know we’ve been saying it for the past week, but Karl Towns is pretty much the nicest person ever. Whereas some of the players seemed a little shy with fans, the Big KAT embraced all of them, taking pictures and “shoefies” with anyone who asked. He’s by far the most outgoing player of the bunch, and after a simple conversation with him, you feel like he’s your new best friend. After we learned that he changed his name from Karl Towns to Karl-Anthony Towns just so he could have the initials KAT, I can see why it was so hard for Drew Franklin to stop hugging him.
On the court, he’s just as good, and despite the loaded roster, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t in the starting five by the end of the season. The thing I took away from watching Karl is how competitive he is. You heard him talk about how his missed free throws were “unacceptable,” and when you watch him play, he celebrates each basket he makes and chastises himself for each miss. He’s right up there with Tyler Ulis as one of my early favorites.
Two favorites from my trip: The Poop Deck and Bush Crack
If you’re ever in the Bahamas, you must do two things: eat at The Poop Deck and try Bush Crack beer. Both have ridiculous names, but are delicious. The Poop Deck, across the bridge from the Atlantis, had the best seafood I ate on the trip, and Bush Crack is by far the best Bahamian beer over Sands and Kalik.
The team that hangs together wins together
Even though I’m technically considered “media” now, I’ll always be a fan first. And as a fan would, I geeked a bit over just how accessible the players and coaches were throughout the trip. From seeing the coaches in the casino, the players around the hotel, and being able to sit as close to the action as you wanted at the games, it was truly an all-access trip. It was also great to see how close this team is on the court and off the court. It’s early, but they really do seem like brothers, hanging out in packs each night and cheering each other on during the games. I haven’t seen this many smiles around the Kentucky team since 2012, maybe 2010, and after a rough regular season last year, it’s good to see that the fun times are carrying over from the postseason. Fittingly, during the warm-ups on Saturday, Pharrell’s “Happy” came over the loudspeakers, which immediately reminded me of Dallas, and when I looked over at the team, they were all smiling and mouthing the words right along with me.
The hype behind Alex Poythress is totally real. He’s a different player.
I’ll admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I read all the practice reports claiming that Alex Poythress was a changed player. Been there, heard that. But Poythress proved himself in the Bahamas, leading all scorers with 71 points for the tour and showing off an unwavering confidence we’ve only seen in glimpses during his career at Kentucky. Alex has the tools to be a special player, and with a chip on his shoulder, he’s finally using them. Let’s hope beast mode stays engaged.
The Preclearance Customs at the Nassau Airport is awesome
The Bahamas is one of a few airports in the world that has US Border Preclearance facilities, so that you go through your customs before you get on the plane back to the US. We had a really tight connection in Charlotte, so this was much appreciated. Wikipedia tells me that airports in Bermuda, Aruba, Ireland, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates also do this, and more places should join in. Looking at you, Cancun.
A special start to a special year
This season is one we need to cherish. I don’t think the Cats will ever have this many talented, experienced players again, and two months before the season even starts, they look damn good. Sure, they may have lost the last game, but six games in eight days would wear out any team, and as several people have said, a loss could be the best way to keep the team humble and hungry. Besides, it’s August. Hush up, trolls.
Basketball in August is nice, but it’s time for football
The Bahamas were awesome, and it was a trip I’ll never forget, but it’s time to get ready for some football. I can’t wait.