John Clay: Solid six might be all Calipari needs

But Cal would rather have eight

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClayDecember 23, 2010 

It's obvious Kentucky has a super sixth man.

But does it have a seventh?

Doron Lamb wasn't just terrific Wednesday afternoon, he was record-setting. The freshman came off the bench to drain 11 of 12 shots from the floor, including seven of eight from beyond the three-point arc. His 32 points broke Kentucky's single-game freshman scoring record of 31 set by Jamal Mashburn in 1991.

Lamb helped the UK subs outscore the Winthrop subs 42-4 on the way to an easy 89-52 Kentucky victory.

In other words, Lamb scored 76 percent of Kentucky's bench points, which brings us to the question: Does Kentucky need a bench? Or at least a bench beyond six players?

John Calipari's first six are set in proverbial stone. Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins are the starters. Lamb is next up. He has that mastered.

"And if Eloy (Vargas) does what he did today we've got a nice little rotation of seven," said Calipari after Wednesday's win. "In the old days, that's what they played, they played seven guys. The eighth man was a spot throw-in. And if you weren't in that top seven, it was a long year."

These days, teams play nine, 10, 11 players a game. Safety in numbers. For example, Michigan State has eight players averaging at least 14 minutes per game. Duke has eight players averaging 15 minutes per game, though one is the now-injured Kyrie Irving.

Nine players on Calipari's 2008 Memphis national runner-up team averaged 12 or more minutes. This Kentucky team has seven.

Last Saturday, when UK trounced Mississippi Valley State 85-60, Jon Hood played two minutes. Stacey Poole didn't leave the bench.

"It used to be you (played six or seven). Now, you got to play guys or they leave, blah, blah, blah," Calipari said. "But I like my seven. I really do. I would love for us to get that eighth man, whether it was Stacey, whether it was Jon (Hood). I'm even ready to try and go with Jarrod (Polson) a little bit."

Of course, he'd love to be able to suit up another sitting on the bench, the one named Enes Kanter.

Wednesday's development was Kanter's father telling Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News he would "guarantee" that his son would return next year to play college basketball if the NCAA asked him to sit out as a one-year suspension, rather than the original "permanently ineligible" ruling.

No Enes has caused some to ask, why the low numbers? Did Cal fail to sign other players? No, not really. When it became apparent last year that as many as five of his players could end up in the NBA Draft, the coach said he could live with 10-11 players. He was not for taking players just to have players.

"You have a lot of room for error if you have 10 or 11 like we did a year ago," Calipari admitted Wednesday. "The couple of games where Terrence has played like he's played, he wouldn't have played 25 minutes. He'd have played 10 minutes. That's it. But we've got no choice."

Hood played nine minutes Wednesday. The sophomore did sky for his one rebound, which catapulted Calipari out of his seat in applause. But Hood missed his only two shots. His confidence could use some points. His standing with the coach could use some scrap.

Poole played three minutes. He grabbed two rebounds and didn't attempt a shot. Eleven games in, he hasn't earned enough Cal love to see long stretches.

"So you've got to kind of cajole and grab and hug and yell," said Cal of the six or seven he does play. "That's the issue we have right now."

As for the first six — especially that sixth one — they are pretty good.

Repeated Calipari, "I like my team."

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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