After two easy blowout wins against Ottawa and Kentucky State, the Kentucky Wildcats start playing games that count this Friday against Albany.
The season opener is the beginning of a stretch where Kentucky will play three games in five days. Head coach John Calipari does not think it will be an easy sequence for his team, but he said that it will provide him with an idea of where they stand early in the season.
"We’ll have a lot of things answered. (Albany) has most of their team back and was an NCAA Tournament team (last year). NJIT has their whole team back and their players that beat Michigan on the road. Duke is Duke", he said during a press conference earlier this afternoon.
Calipari said he has watched some tape of the Great Danes but is already familiar with them and has great respect for them.
"One, they are well coached. You’re talking about players who believe they’re an NCAA Tournament-level team, and it’s a hard first game for us", Calipari explained.
Albany won’t be afraid of Kentucky going into the game and Calipari said that will be apparent during the opening moments of the game.
"They’re walking in the building saying, "We can beat these guys.’ And the beginning of the game will be important. Not that you have to be up 13-0; they just have to know, ‘Oh, they won’t be as easy as we thought,’ because right now we have a whole new team. They are looking at us saying, ‘They’re no different than us’ because they’ve got veterans that were in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and we know how hard it is."
Calipari said the game will be an indication of how much fight is in his young but very talented team.
"For us, it’s a great game because we have young guys that think, ‘Well, I'm at Kentucky.’ Yeah? And they're at Albany. Now, let’s figure this out. Should you be at Albany and they need to be a Kentucky? That’s the stuff to feel, and I know it’s going to be that kind of game."
Practice and Improvement
With a loaded schedule for most of the next week, Calipari explained that he will have to alter the way the team practices.
"I knew these last two days were the last two days that I could really say, ‘Let’s go.’ Today will be non-contact even though we will go up and down the court. More about execution and spacing and all of those things. Obviously Saturday and then Sunday, what are you going to do when you play at 8 p.m. on Saturday? Then you have Monday, and then you’re playing on Tuesday,"
Cal's team is also upping their effort in practice, and he praised his team’s work ethic.
"We are beginning to get tougher", said Calipari. "This team works every day. They’re playing and they’re bringing it. My hope is that they listen and they want to be coached. We have to tell them the right stuff."
Photos surfaced earlier this week on the UK Athletics Instagram page showing junior guard Dominique Hawkins practicing. Today, Calipari confirmed that Hawkins is ready to play but due to him one of his teammates might not be for the Albany game.
"He's hurt two guys right now", Calipari joked before explaining what happened. "Isaiah (Briscoe) bumped knees with Dom so he’s got a bruised knee. (He’s) day to day, so I don’t know if he will go Friday or Saturday."
Tyler Ulis also had an accidental scrape with Hawkins, but Calipari said that Ulis will be able to play against Albany.