Kentucky’s pre-Bahamas media day has come and gone, but there are some key takeaways from what was said.
As the Wildcats prepare for their first real competition together, here’s a look at what to expect, what not to expect, and who to watch for.
Expect a boost in physicality
Perhaps the most telling sign of Kentucky’s success under Calipari has been the quality of his big men. Calipari almost always brings in quality guards, but it’s always taken a capable big man or two—DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo—to make a Kentucky team really good.
Kentucky didn’t have that last year, but they do have it this year in a big way, and Calipari knows it.
“We’re a physical team that we haven’t been because you can also throw Keldon (Johnson) in there with a couple of the guards – both Immanuel (Quickley) and Ashton (Hagans),” Calipari said. “You’re talking about a physical bunch. Those two have played together, I think, once. “
He’s talking about Reid Travis and PJ Washington in that quote, likely a duo that will be Kentucky’s most physical players this year. Having them on the floor together would turn the Wildcats into a glass-cleaning monster.
As Calipari said, adding Johnson into the backcourt as a versatile wing give the team even more size and strength.
Don’t expect the Wildcats at their best yet
This Kentucky team is going to be really good, but the Bahamas trip will be more about laying the groundwork to reach their full potential. It’s the first time they’ll play against real competition together, and this is still a very young team.
“I’ve already told them we’re going to make mistakes,” Calipari said. “I said, ‘Are we really going to be a good execution team when we go down to the Bahamas?’ They said no. Said, ‘We can’t be. We haven’t been together long enough, but I want to see you play hard. I want to see you compete. I want you to see things and then fix it. Things happen in the game; just work your way through it.’”
So don’t expect the Wildcats to hit the ground running. This will, however, make them more likely to hit the ground running when the actual season starts.
“Now we’re ahead of where we should be with the kind of teams that we’ve had historically,” Calipari said. “That’s why when we come back, we’re not pressed to get started. We did a lot of work before they go back. When we’re done with the Bahamas, I think they go home for about eight or nine days then we get started.”
Washington agrees that this is going to get Kentucky into a good position for the season.
“It will help us a lot because right now we haven’t really played anybody else but us, so going out there and seeing how we compare to other teams is going to be great at this point in the stage before the season especially in August. I feel like we’re going to be really good some way into the season, and I just can’t wait to get out there and play somebody else.”
There will be many different player combinations
With a team this loaded and versatile, there’s a lot of guys that can play multiple positions well. So this trip is going to be a chance for Calipari to figure out what works best.
“We’re going to be experimenting with a lot of stuff, and I told them that,” Calipari said. “There are some things that we’ll do defensively that we’ve not done here in the past. I just want to try it. There are some things offensively that we’re going to try that I really haven’t done here in the past, but I want to try it. I may like it, I may not.”
There are so many different lineup possibilities with this team. EJ Montgomery and PJ Washington are looking good enough on the perimeter to think they’ll sneak some minutes in at the 3 against bigger teams.
Keldon Johnson’s ball-handling and shooting have been better than advertised, so perhaps he’ll play shooting guard this season in addition to his projected starting spot on the wing.
Calipari is working really hard on this team
Being the head coach at Kentucky may allow you some luxuries. But Calipari isn’t taking any of them this summer. The Kentucky head coach has spent more time coaching this team than usual, taking a lot of responsibility off his assistants to direct practices.
“You guys know in the summers I like to get out of here,” Calipari said. “This summer I wasn’t gone that much. I was gone, but not that much. I was going at least three hours a week of the four that we had (for team skill instruction). Three hours was with me.
“Normally I would say, ‘You guys (assistants) deal with that; I’ll come back.’ I just think this team needed a head start. Especially these young kids. I made that decision. My wife was gone; she liked it.
“No, and to be honest, I’m loving it. I don’t know how many days we’ve been going since Friday. I don’t even know what day it is. I’ve really enjoyed being in the gym. How about this? A couple days I was there by myself. Old school. I had no assistants. I coached the team with no assistants. It was just me.”
And with Calipari in the gym for practice more, practice has been a little different than it was last year, according to Washington.
“Last year, we didn’t really focus too much on the defense and pick-and-roll,” Washington said. “This year we’re focusing a lot more on that. Different ways to guard and different ways to come off it on the offensive end as well. We just really been focusing on the defensive end right now.”
Reid Travis is ready to earn a leadership role in his new home
Travis is the most experienced player on this team, but he’s still a first-year player at Kentucky. He’ll be a seasoned veteran, but he’s acknowledged that he has to earn a leadership role.
“(I) Think it’s just being humble in the fact that I’m not going to walk in the door and gain everybody’s trust the first day, That’s something you have to work on day in and day out. Show my work ethic, show that I can be that leader and hopefully when we get into the season they can look at me and kind of lean on me for certain things that I’ve gone through,” said Travis.
“Reality is that I kind of feel like a freshman all over again in my own right as far as being here and being fresh, still going through the system. Any little tidbits I can give them here and there I’m definitely going to do that. Try and mold myself into that role.”
Travis is still adjusting to Kentucky. He’s never been on a team with teammates this good, and he’s battling with them on the court in practice. Calipari has been impressed.
“He’s been good,” Calipari said. “There are times when he’s struggled to get the ball in. I said, ‘You know, of all the tape I watched, I never saw you miss a shot like that. Tell the guys why you’re missing some of those.’ He said, ‘Length.’ Like, all of the sudden you’re out there and everybody is really long and big. So I said it’s the best thing for him. Physically, he’s beating some guys up a little bit, which is good for them.”
When he adjusts to the length of his own teammates, he’ll be nearly impossible to stop around the rim. This trip will be a good chance for him to become a major leadership figure in the locker room.
Travis and PJ’s bond dates back to pre-draft process
Back in May, both Travis and PJ were testing the NBA Draft waters and strongly considering a jump to the pros. It just so happens they ended up facing each other during a workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which may have helped make it easier for Travis to eventually leave Stanford and come to Kentucky.
“We were in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ workout together, so we played against each other then,” said Travis. “We probably got some of the same feedback in terms of you can come or you can go. We’ve talked about it, and for both of us going through this journey together and being able to compete every day is a blessing.”
But while they may be bonding as teammates, they’re also going to war in practice, as Calipari wants his two most physical players bringing out the best in each other.
“75 percent of the time, Cal is matching us against each other,” said Travis. “It’s been very physical, very aggressive. We both have a similar style in that we want to attack the paint, we want to get boards and be physical down there. It’s been great for me, trying to find that competition.”
John Calipari pre-Bahamas press conference
Calipari gives us the lowdown on his team, summer workouts, and what he expects in the Bahamas.Posted by A Sea of Blue on Thursday, August 2, 2018
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