John Clay: Watching this Kentucky team jell is going to be fun

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 30, 2013 

The real fun begins Friday.

Friday is when John Calipari's crazy collection of basketball talent will occupy the same bench, when five UK players at a time will occupy the floor together instead of practicing/scrimmaging against one another.

Kentucky-Transylvania is a mere exhibition game Friday night in Rupp Arena, but it is a game.

"I can't wait to put on the uniform," said Aaron Harrison on Tuesday night.

(By the way, thank goodness Transylvania Coach Brian Lane has the best sense of humor of anyone in his entire profession.)

Tuesday night before 15,033 fans plus two very happy fans — spring tuition winners Amanda Dowell and Josh Lawson — the Cats conducted their annual Blue-White scrimmage.

While it was certainly not definitive — "It's our annual #BBN overreaction to Blue-White scrimmage day. Always fun," tweeted the actor and huge Cats fan Josh Hopkins on Wednesday — it did at least produce a few interesting insights.

We bring you three:

1. John Calipari owns an embarrassment of riches. And we're not talking about ideas, though heaven knows Cal has plenty of those, too.

Calipari has players. He has a lot of players. He has a lot of talented, athletic basketball players at his disposal.

We all knew this, of course. It is one thing to see all those heralded names on a roster sheet. It is quite another to see them all on a hardwood floor at the same time.

It will be fascinating to see just how Calipari handles such a deep team, which combinations he uses, what experiments he dreams up, how he ultimately comes up with the rotation that serves him best in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Hello, Derek Willis. The least-heralded of UK's mega-class had a huge game Tuesday in Rupp. Willis buried five of six three-pointers and scored 21 points. At least a couple of those threes were from the vicinity of Festival Market.

On our running live blog Tuesday, someone joked — think he was joking — that it was Willis who prompted Kyle Wiltjer to pack his suitcase and head to Gonzaga.

That may be a stretch, but this isn't: Alex Poythress needs to pick up his game or Willis will pass him in the next-up line.

3. The fans aren't just looking for signs of better team chemistry than a year ago, they're almost willing better team chemistry than a year ago.

Much was made in the post-game over two separate scenes Tuesday night.

When Marcus Lee made a couple of bad passes, the high-energy freshman was immediately chastised by teammates. This was seen as the players taking more of an interest and having more of that will to win that Calipari talks about.

Then later on, walk-on EJ Floreal dunked over the SEC's pre-season Player of the Year, one Julius Randle. This was something of a surprise.

Remember, it was Randle who objected to Calipari saying he was dunked on by Willis during an early practice. Randle contended that it was "a hard layup" and that the Texas native actually blocked the shot of the Kentucky native before it went in.

Randle was not making any sort of protests about the Floreal slam.

"He got me," a smiling Randle admitted afterward.

And Randle's teammates got on the freshman forward after the jam. Plenty of ribbing all around, which Calipari said would probably last a few days.

True, that's a hopeful sign as far as chemistry is concerned, but Calipari was right on target when he addressed the subject after the game.

"They really like each other, but we've got a whole season," said the coach. "We've got to get dinged up a little bit."

The true test of team chemistry comes when the chips are down. That's when you find out if a team holds together or it splits apart.

Friday night, for the first time, we get to see this Kentucky basketball team play a game together. Should be fun.

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

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