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UK Open Basketball Practice Notes


UK opened its Bamahas preparation basketball practices today to the media, who piled into the Craft Center to take a look at this new version of the Cats. While there are more specifics we will get into momentarily, this much is worth noting at the outset…Kentucky is going to be really damn good. The Bahamas may not show all of the ability, in large part due to the competition, but after watching these guys go at each other in practice, all you can say is “wow”…this team is loaded.

Some general thoughts:

— The biggest change between summer practices (in 2011) and early season practices of years past and this one is simple. These guys are much further along in the game of basketball than past teams. I have seen every version of Calipari’s groups in their first series of practices and this was by far the most knowledgeable group on how to play the game. That should be expected with so many players returning, but it is also a function of the new guys he has. Karl Towns has played for Calipari on the Dominican team, Tyler Ulis clearly has a very high basketball IQ and Devin Booker is catching on quickly. This leads to much more teaching of particular schemes and less of the general “teaching how to practice and be a player” that we often see early in the year.

— We have heard all offseason about player conditioning and now seeing these guys in person, I can tell that it wasn’t just hype. The players on the team look more toned and fit than at any time last year. This is most noticeable in the Harrison Twins, who look to have completely different frames than last season…leaner and more toned. Dakari has clearly lost a ton of weight and Marcus Lee, while not to be mistaken for a WWE wrestler, has much more muscle definition than before. The young guys are also in good shape, while Alex Poythress looks the part of the exceptional athlete that he always has been. The only two people who don’t have quite the same look are Derek Willis (still thin) and Devin Booker, who may need some time in the weight room between now and the season.

— Calipari spent most of the practice working on offensive sets and how the team will play in the Bahamas. Again it is so interesting to watch the difference in where these guys are in comparison to years past. Whereas the team often was thinking during these sets in years past (even into the season last year), the movement is much more natural now. The offense thus flows better and as Calipari likes to say they “just play” much more easily.

— Another positive change from last season? The development of leadership and talking on the court. If you came to a practice the last two seasons, especially early, it would often be eerily silent, with very little communication from the players. Not this year, the Harrison Twins have stepped up to become the leaders of practice, communicating and putting their teammates in the right spot. The same is true of Dakari Johnson, who is much more talkative on the court and pointing where his teammates should be. There is also a lot of leadership from Tyler Ulis, who to an onlooker just watching, seems like a seasoned veteran in terms of running the offense and directing the court.

Because most of the practice was situation around team exercises, it was hard to figure out much in the way of player breakdowns, but here were a couple that stood out:

— If you were to only watch this practice, you would assume that the Harrison Twins are the stars of the team. They lead the practice, direct their teammates and are clearly in control. I was impressed with both their frames, and the decision making is much improved. Aaron had some eye-opening plays, further confirming my belief that he will be the leading scorer on the team this season. Andrew penetrated well (as last year), but also finished better, something I will be focusing on when in the Bahamas. While last year they shared the spotlight with Julius Randle and James Young, in my mind, after watching this practice, this will be the Harrison Twins’ team this season.

The player I was most impressed with in practice was Dakari Johnson. He didn’t do anything spectacular or have an eye-opening dunk, but I loved the way he performed in a long practice, without ever losing energy. Unlike last year, where after five minutes he was down pulling on his shorts, Dakari was constant energy, especially on the defensive end. In multiple instances, he was used as an example for a good play or decision and he showcased leadership with the other big guys. He isn’t the quickest player still, but his hands are good and I think we will see good production from him in the Bahamas.

— If you have been reading our practice notes that have leaked out over the summer, then this shouldn’t be a surprise but the revelation again for me was little Tyler Ulis. I use the word little because he is REALLY little. If he is 5’9″, I am 6’9″…seeing him stand next to Andrew Harrison is almost comical with the size differential. But watching him play is not only exciting, it also showcases why Calipari likes him so much. His basketball IQ is through the roof but he is also extremely quick and able to get the corner on offense, creating penetration lanes. His first step allows him the space he needs to make passes (and he is a great passer) and he is a solid floor general. On defense, there will be issues matching up against big guards (like Andrew) but he can get so low and his hands are so disruptive that he will cause many problems of his own. I can’t wait to watch him next week…fans will LOVE him.

— As for the other Freshmen, they were tougher to judge because a great deal of the practice was devoted to teaching them. I expect Karl Towns especially to be utilized a lot due to his versatility on the offensive end, especially in the pick and roll. However it will be a process trying to get him totally up to speed. His athleticism is not overwhelming but he can do a lot of things well and for a big guy, has a lot of range. Watching Booker shoot, it is clearly he has deadeye range and when he gets comfortable in the offense, will be a threat from anywhere on the court.

— The other guys were similar to what we have seen in the past. This is a group that seems to really like each other and get along well. With team chemistry, I am generally a believer that the better that is, the better the team is. 2010 and 2012 were the teams that got along as a group the best, and they were also the best teams on the court as well. I expect the same to be true with this group as well.

— One more note…this is the most relaxed I have seen Calipari in a long time. In 2011 before the Canada trip, Calipari was in intense teaching mode from moment one and was still the hyper coach we are used to. There is something different about him this time…while he is still coaching with all his might, he was making jokes, praising the players a lot and enjoying the moment. It is as if he is a poker player who knows his hole cards are very good and his relaxed demeanor reflects that confidence. It is only one day, but I think Calipari really, really, really likes his team.

More on the radio show tomorrow…

Article written by Matt Jones

33 Comments for UK Open Basketball Practice Notes

  1. Sorry, had to
    7:55 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Thanks, Matt. Any word on Patterson or Lucas?

    • cracka
      2:58 pm August 5, 2014 Permalink

      they weren’t invited to the Bamahas … wherever that is … ?

  2. Laura
    8:03 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Love hearing this! Going to Rupp last year wasn’t the same. Can’t wait now!

  3. UKClay
    8:08 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    I got a boner

  4. UkeHey!
    8:09 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    How much more hyped does BBN get for basketball practice over football. Only in Kentucky…😞

    • Silly Tards
      9:29 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      Sounds like a comment from someone who’s favorite team has been owned by the Cats.

      6-1, bitch.

    • UkeHey!
      10:26 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      Considering the football team funds these little field trips, seems like Stoops deserves a day in the sun. Instead he is reminded that he will always play second fiddle. Go question your own fandom.

    • ukjaybrat
      10:32 am August 5, 2014 Permalink

      any other year, you’d be right… but we get to see the basketball team actually play in less than a week. WAY before the football team even takes the field. So yeah, we are really hyped about the basketball team.

  5. ukfan
    8:13 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    When other KSR writers make posts like these I tend to take the information with a grain of salt and read the bold, but when Matt Jones says it I am reading every last word… With that being said, this post got me HYPE!! I can’t freaking wait for this season to start!! Matt Jones and Coach Cal, the two most influential men in Kentucky.

    • Marry him
      8:51 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      Matt really needs the ego boost.

  6. Patrick_Wren
    8:15 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Can not wait until Saturday! Flying to the Bahamas till the 18th! Love me some UK Basketball…and KSR live from the Bahamas. What more could a person ask? Also honorary bench coach for game 2!! Yes, UKClay….I can relate.

  7. UKClay
    8:25 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Also, random, but been wanting to discuss this. The Twins decision was so huge in that it really changes the dynamics for at least a year for UK and Cal going forward. We are all curious about the 2015 recruiting class, but with the Twins decision, it ensures that there wont be as much roster turnover. For example, after this year we know for sure the Twins and WCS will be gone. I believe all of the rest have a chance to come back. I believe one or maybe two of KAT, Lee, and Jonson, really due to playing time can come back. Also, I can see Alex coming back, along with guys like Lyles, Ulis and Booker. While especially for Cal, 2015 recruiting is looking sub par to our standards the past 5 years, it will be different because of the talent that will be returning, a lot thinks to the Twins coming back this year.

    • ukfan
      8:31 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      For all of that to happen we need the most important person of all to come back.. Coach Cal

    • Han
      8:48 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      People really haven’t stopped to think about the fact that this is the first time Cal has returned a starting PG in 6-7 years. While Ryan Harrow had a year of practice, and Polson and others have certainly been valuable, the importance of returning your floor general cannot be understated. For the first time at UK, Cal has a player running his offense who knows the system, knows most of the squad, knows the pressure and spotlight, and knows what is expected of him all around. Add in a returning shooting guard, returning 6th man/starter in swingman Poythress, and 2 sometime starters at Center in WCS and Dakari. Opposing teams and fans are truly going to see how lucky they’ve been the last several years that Cal has had to start all over each fall. For the first time since Cal got here, we are not dependent on freshmen or new starters for at least 2-3 starting spots. Thus the freshmen can have more time to settle in and adapt to the game. Which means Cal can use the bench for both the freshmen and an “upperclassman” who’s having a bad stretch.

      And yeah, assuming everyone’s healthy and Cal returns, I expect the twins will declare, and WCS, depending on how many minutes he gets compared to Dakari and Lee and Towns. Unless he does make his way into the starting 5, I expect Lee to come back, along with Ullis, Booker, and Willis. Towns is talented enough at his size to easily be drafted in the first round if he isn’t super awkward, so his performance will determine if he’s lottery this year and how high. And what he wants to work on and the importance of academics will determine if he wants to return. Now, Lyles and Poythress and anyone else who fills the 4 spot will decide their draft future with their play. Poythress may be on pace to graduate this year, so he could come back, declare, or even transfer elsewhere if he really wanted to. WCS could, too, if he’s taken as many summer classes. I only single out Poythress because he’s known to be an excellent student.

      All told, we look great this year, and we shouldn’t be wholly dependent on frosh next year, either, unless Cal leaves. Here’s hoping for that 2-year rule, too. Some day soon.

  8. Luther
    8:33 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Thanks for the update, Matt! Can’t wait for for the Bahamas games and season to start! Go CATS!!

    • Luther
      8:39 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      40 – 0 Baby!

    • Luther
      8:48 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      Go Cards!

  9. Hey Luther
    8:53 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Go screw yourself. I don’t care if it’s a joke, 40-0 talk is simply retarded.

  10. Eddie @AI4UK
    8:54 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Thanks Matt for the great report. Can’t wait to watch them. Go Cats!!!!

  11. NjCat
    8:56 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Feel bad for John Wall. Unfortunately his athleticism doesn’t translate well to the NBA or Int’l game. Not surprised the two younger PG’s beat him out. If he doesn’t figure out how to hit shots consistently defenses will continue to back off and neutralize his speed.

    Boogie on the other hand should definitely make the team. Only way he doesnt is if coach K is planning on a 8-10 player rotation and just wants a Plumley to keep him company on the bench, like Ant Davis last year or C Laitner. I actually think Boogie should start on this team.

    • Computer Blue
      9:31 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      Yeah undeniably a top 5 NBA PG with a max contract and only 23. I pity him.

    • Acd
      10:50 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      How does his athleticism not translate to the NBA? He’s an all star at age 23?

  12. NjCat
    9:04 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Really don’t care if Cal misses on all the rest of the 2015 recruits. I’d like to see Willis and Lee get a real chance to play next year which will never happen if Cal continues to recruit over them. It will feel a lot better with those guys in there than a new roster of freshmen. Let Self, Coach K and Alford see how easy it is to win with freshmen!

  13. Chaz
    9:09 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Before the Tweak, a Cal quote from the UK Athletics video “The Road Begins”

    “I don’t want it to be coach driven. I’ve had to push guys today…push each other. I told you what you’re doing, you’re not holding each other accountable ’cause you’re not talking. If someone doesn’t talk say “Alex, talk man”. But you want me to say it. Well, we’re gonna be an average team.”

    Last season took a year or two off Cal’s coaching career and maybe off his life, but we’re past that now. This years veterans “got it” in March and April last year. It’s gonna be fun this season for BBN and I hope it’s fun for Cal.

  14. floorgeneral22
    10:03 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    “The Bahamas may not show all of the ability, in large part due to the competition….” – Matt, if you are insinuating this team is going to roll over the competition in the Bahamas, slow your roll. They are playing against grown ass men, some of whom have been playing pro ball since these guys were in elementary school. I am afraid our fanbase is going to freak out WHEN these young guys have some struggles against that competition because they don’t understand that they are not playing against chumps.

    • MM
      10:20 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      I think he was implying the opposite. He has said multiple times on radio that they may lose 4 of those games.

    • Chris from Paducah
      10:40 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

      I agree with MM. The teams that UK will be playing aren’t guys that are 1, 2 or 3 years removed from high school. These are going to be GROWN ASS MEN who have more than likely played together for quite some time together. But that’s fine. That’s why this is exhibition games. It gives Cal a chance to mix and match lineups.

  15. ...Continuation
    11:33 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    ….or a guy feelin fresh with a brand new hip!

  16. UKBlue
    11:52 pm August 4, 2014 Permalink

    Love UK, but after this past season, I’m not believing hype. Not counting these up coming games; I’m not believing anything until they show it or prove it especially when another team punches them in the face.

    • ukfan
      1:23 am August 5, 2014 Permalink

      How can you not believe the hype with this team? Were they not the best team in the country at the end of last year? Do we not have basically all those players back? I want to say 40-0 but I won’t (even though I’m thinking it)..instead i’ll say 39-1 with the one loss coming on the road

    • GRD
      11:59 am August 5, 2014 Permalink

      Couldn’t agree with you more. Has everyone forgot about the same hype machine KSR created at this time last year? Let’s wait and see before we count our chickens…

  17. HonkeyCat
    1:59 am August 5, 2014 Permalink

    yo Weblo

    watch some ball. enjoy the hype. let matt get fat. who cares?

    everyone knows this season will be the reason for believing.

    undefeated isn’t unreal. take your Jobu up the Hill.

    why so paranoid? listen to Chris Lloyd

    “A bolt of lighting. Unfortunately, you never know when or where it’s ever gonna strike.”

    I think we do Magoo

    Mr to you

  18. Sully
    11:52 am August 5, 2014 Permalink

    Saw here and other places comments by writers like MJ that Cal seems relaxed and different from last season. No doubt the returning group, on top of the Final Four finish, is part of that, along with the skilled newcomers. But as one who has had a hip replacement, as Cal did after the season, I can tell you a lot of his demeanor owes to that–he is much, much more physicially comfortable than at any time in the last two years, and in little or no pain. Pain and hip discomfort wears you out and colors everything you do. It is a night and day-type difference after the surgery.

    Between the returning players, the skilled new players, and Cal simply feeling better, the Coach has got to be looking forward to this season like no other in recent years.