UK's Canadian foes know what they're up against

Players will measure skills against cats

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 13, 2010 

  • UK games in Canada

    All games on WKYT-27

    Sunday: vs. Windsor, 7 p.m.

    Monday: vs. Western Ontario, 7 p.m.

    Tuesday: vs. Windsor, 11 a.m.

As a college athlete, Luke Braund plays forward for the University of Western Ontario. In his summer job, he works the midnight shift in his hometown of Vancouver. Over the next few days, he'll do both in a whirlwind of activity that illustrates a continental-wide difference in basketball perspective between the University of Kentucky and its upcoming Canadian opponents.

"Definitely a little daunting," Braund said of his upcoming schedule.

After working his usual 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift on Friday as a construction laborer, Braund will fly across Canada to London, Ontario. He'll practice with his UWO teammates Friday evening, twice Saturday, twice Sunday and once Monday morning before the team buses two hours to Windsor to play Kentucky.

"Hopefully, I can sleep again," Braund said, meaning re adjusting his body clock to a new time zone and his sleep cycle to nocturnal slumber. "My body is a bit rundown. But once I get on the floor with Kentucky, I'm sure that will all go away."

After the game, he and his teammates will bus back to London, where Braund will board a return flight to Vancouver on Tuesday morning. He's expected to punch the time clock at his job by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Braund's schedule is an extreme example of a team-wide need to prepare on the fly to play Kentucky during its series of three exhibition games in Canada. Teammate Ryan Barbeau said he was one of "six or seven" Western Ontario players who have been in London for workouts. The rest of the players have been working summer jobs and are expected to arrive by Friday.

"Obviously, it's going to be difficult come Monday to try to find some cohesiveness between each other," said Barbeau, who also noted that a lack of conditioning might cause Western Ontario to abandon its preferred fast-paced style.

By contrast, UK players have been on campus since June. In preparation for the trip to Canada, the Cats have been practicing for two weeks in the $30 million Craft Center, which is across the street from a Wildcat Lodge scheduled to be replaced by a new $7 million Wildcat Coal Lodge.

With the Western Ontario team only coming together 72 hours before playing Kentucky, Coach Brad Campbell set a modest objective for the game.

"We're just trying to look organized," he said this week.

During an appearance in Maysville earlier this month, UK Coach John Calipari placed the Canadian trip in the perspective of a chance for extra practice for his freshman-oriented team. Scouting and preparing for opponents shrunk in significance.

"I can see where he's coming from," Campbell said. "They're superior to us talent-wise and, obviously, as a program."

The University of Windsor, which plays UK on Sunday and Tuesday, expects to be a national championship contender. "In our country," Coach Chris Oliver said.

Windsor has three fifth-year players (in Canada, players have five seasons of eligibility). Those veterans are 6-foot-4 guard Isaac Kuon, who Oliver said could be as talented as any college player in Canada, 6-5 forward and aspiring doctor Andre Smyth and 6-foot point guard Monty Hardware.

"We've got some pretty good pieces," said Oliver, who noted that two transfers won't be eligible to play and a third player, veteran guard Enrico DiLoreto, is sidelined because of a recent surgery.

When asked about his team's objectives in the two games against Kentucky, Oliver spoke of effort, perseverance and keeping things simple and sound.

"We talk of evaluating our guys on how hard they play and developing that mind- set," the Windsor coach said. "We know right away that we're going to face some adversity. There's a pretty good chance Kentucky is going to go on runs. It will be a good test determining what type of mental toughness we have. ...

"When playing against superior talent, you have to do things fundamentally at a much higher level. Take care of the ball. Get good shots. Limit second-chance opportunities. The more opportunities Kentucky has, the more trouble we'll have."

Western Ontario, which finished with a 12-10 league record last season, is a year removed from reaching Canada's national semifinals.

Fifth-year forward Andrew Wedemire is a versatile player good enough to be considered All-Canadian, Campbell said. He heads a group of core players to which Campbell said he added "one of the better incoming classes in the country."

Windsor and Western Ontario players are not strangers to playing powerhouse college teams from the United States. Both schools played Ohio State last season.

"They're going to play hard and they're not going to be scared out there," Campbell said.

Players from both schools acknowledged the thrill of playing a Kentucky team stocked with what seems like future NBA players.

"I'm really excited," said Evan Matthews, one of three Windsor freshmen who will be making his college debut against UK. "I'm a little bit nervous because I know the competition will be great. But I'm happy to play against possibly some future pros."

When asked if he saw the games as a chance to learn what he could and could not do against high-caliber players, Matthews said, "That's exactly what it is."

Barbeau, the point guard for Western Ontario, lamented who will not be playing for Kentucky's restocked team.

"I was kind of hoping all the NBA guys were going to stay back another year," he said. "Playing against those guys would be sweet. ... Being able to say maybe you guarded an NBA guy."

Not that Barbeau was downgrading the new Kentucky freshmen. He noted how he's "YouTubed" Brandon Knight, who is expected to take over for John Wall at point guard this season.

"He's impressive, for sure," Barbeau said. "He looks like he can do everything pretty well."

The Canadian teams hope to look like they can do things pretty well, too. Beating Kentucky seems farfetched.

"We know it's going to take a miracle for us to win," Campbell said of Western Ontario's approach.

Oliver spoke of intangibles for Windsor.

"We'd hope to come out of the games with a little bit of respect," he said. "Whether the score is close, that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about how well we compete."

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