John Clay: Scrimmage notes: Cats look deeper than last season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 24, 2012 

  • Next game

    Northwood (Fla.) at Kentucky

    What: Pre-season exhibition

    When: Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.

    Where: Rupp Arena

    TV: Fox Sports South

At the conclusion of the Blue-White basketball game at Rupp Arena — "Can you see how far we've got to go?" John Calipari asked the crowd — the first two ESPN Kentucky Basketball All-Access episodes were being shown on the video screens and blared over the loud speakers.

With that as the backdrop, and Calipari's voice ringing in your ears, some impressions (with added comments) from the Blue's 89-88 win over the White before 12,016 fans at Rupp Arena on Wednesday night.

This will not be a six-man team. There is more depth here than maybe we would have thought, probably more depth than Calipari had a year ago, though in his post-game comments the coach said it was comparable to last season.

Yet, at least down the stretch last season, Calipari basically stuck with his starting five and senior Darius Miller off the bench, in a role that pretty much made the veteran the sixth starter.

Julius Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein, neither of whom was considered a probable starter over the summer, were very impressive, especially in the first half.

Mays, the transfer from Wright State, showed quickness and played with confidence, a self-awareness. He's a heady player. And Calipari said afterward that Mays is enjoying playing with these players on this stage. It will bring out the best in what appears to be a very underrated player.

"I think for the most part I played well," Mays said. "When I wasn't scoring, I felt like I was getting my teammates involved. I was getting in there a little bit on the defensive end, so overall I thought I played well."

Cauley-Stein, the 7-foot freshman from Kansas, got off to an excellent start in the first half, showing post moves on offense and blocking shots on defense. You could see what Calipari was talking about when he started raving about WCS's development in the early workouts.

In the post-game news conference, Calipari was asked a question about the projected starters and the coach quickly said that was someone else projecting the starters, not him.

"At halftime, I would have said that Julius would start and Willie would start," Calipari said.

Ryan Harrow is not very big. The transfer from North Carolina State, who sat out last season, is slight. Can we say that? But he is very creative. He can slip in and out of nooks and crannies and go places where you were not sure he could. He finds his way in there somehow.

What he will need to do is learn how to play defense against bigger, stronger point guards. There are plenty of those out there. And Cal will, of course, figure out a way to use team defense to help Harrow in that regard. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Afterward, Calipari said that Harrow played just OK. He needs to be more aggressive, said the coach, talk more.

"He didn't play badly," Calipari said. "But he can play better."

It was good to see Jon Hood back out on the floor and the redshirt junior played well. Hood missed last year with a torn ACL. He ended up with 17 points and five assists. He made eight of 15 shots.

"That's the best he's looked," Calipari said, adding that the key for the forward is to stop listening to what other people think he can do and do what he knows he can do."

How good did it feel just to be back out there?

"It felt really good," Hood said. "Because the knee is back to 100 percent and I'm looking forward to practice. That's the next thing."

Nerlens Noel hurt his back and it affected his play. Calipari said later that the nation's best center prospect wasn't going after balls like he normally would. Noel ended up with just nine points and eight rebounds with seven blocked shots, but it's a small sample size and one skewed by his physical condition.

Ah, but the first thing Calipari mentioned in the post-game news conference was defense. Last year's team, by season's end, was a great defensive team. This is a different team and the beginning of the season, not the end.

"And we've got a long way to go," the coach said.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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