UK notes: Calipari tries to temper expectations

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2009 

While suggesting Kentucky-sized expectations pressure-proof players in the program, Coach John Calipari tried anyway to rein in runaway hopes of fans for next season.

"Half of the team is new players who never played a down of college basketball," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "The other half has never played this style."

Calipari scoffed at the hyperbole surrounding Kentucky, led by ESPN commentator and Hall of Famer Dick Vitale's tongue-in-cheek declaration that the Cats could compete for the NBA championship in 2009-10.

"He never embellishes ever," said Calipari, returning the tongue-in-cheek fire. "We have a ways to go. This is going to be a step at a time."

As he did more than once after taking the job, Calipari envisioned a building process that included alarming turnovers early and steady improvement. "By March, playing our best basketball," he said.

When asked about holdover players, Calipari noted how Darius Miller, Josh Harrellson and Perry Stevenson had played well. Of Stevenson, he said, "We had to stop practice. The whole team clapped for him."

Of the recruits, Calipari said big men Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins had the inside-outside versatility to play together on the floor. At 6-foot tall (as listed by the Derby Festival Basketball Classic), Eric Bledsoe seems to defy Calipari's stated preference for big guards.

"When I recruit players, I want to make sure they play big," Calipari said in clarifying his preference. "... Eric is 6-1, maybe, but he plays big. He's fast, physically strong and tough. And he has great vision. In this offense, you have to be able to react."

Hello, goodbye

Calipari acknowledged that there will not be scholarships available for some holdover players. He said he would speak with those players "in the near future." Academic standing would be a factor, too, he said.

The new UK coach suggested the players should have a feel for whether they can stay.

"They have played enough to know how they fit in," he said, "and where they fit in."

Coincidentally or not, Calipari noted how Kevin Galloway and DeAndre Liggins had been "really out of control" in the dribble-drive offense.

"They have the mentality of taking it to the rim and go at people I want," Calipari said. "It's just, right now, they run over cheerleaders, officials and some others."

Walk-on corps to shrink

Calipari saw UK having fewer walk-ons next season.

"We'll have some," he said. "I think it's important. Some kids have dreams (of playing for UK). Hopefully, we can help a couple of these kids reach their dreams. Just not seven."

Great Wall of UK?

Calipari made two veiled references to John Wall, the point guard from Raleigh, N.C. who is generally considered the No. 1 prospect in the high school class of 2009.

When asked whether UK was done recruiting players in the 2009 class, Calipari said, "I would hope we'd have an opportunity to add one more. But I don't know."

In noting that Patrick Patterson might not be the only soft-spoken leader in the mold of his former point guard Derrick Rose, Calipari said, "I'll be honest. Eric Bledsoe does not speak. Neither does another kid we may get. He does not speak."

UK leads in attendance

For the 13th time in the past 14 seasons and the fourth straight season, Kentucky led the nation in average home attendance, 22,239 per game.

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