Big Blue Bahamas primer: What Kentucky fans can expect

mgraf@herald-leader.comAugust 7, 2014 

The University of Kentucky will play six exhibition basketball games in the Bahamas from Aug. 10-17 in preparation for the 2014-15 season. Here, in 15 questions and 15 answers, is everything you need to know about the Wildcats' journey:

1. Where will these games be played?

All six games are in Nassau, Bahamas — 988.5 miles from Lexington, which is about a two-hour, 13-minute flight. Nassau is about 185 miles southeast of Miami.

2. What can the Cats expect life to be like in the Bahamas?

Though UK and its fans will spend most of their time on basketball and the beach, here's a brief overview. The Bahamas is an English-speaking country of more than 700 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, populated by some 319,000 people, of whom 85 percent are black, 12 percent are white and 3 percent are Asian and Hispanic. Nassau is the country's capital and largest city. The New York Times called it "a laid-back island town." Temperatures are forecast to be in the mid- to upper 80s.

3. Where are the Wildcats staying?

UK's accommodations will be grand. The Cats and their fans are staying at the Atlantis, a resort and waterpark on Paradise Island, across the bridge from Nassau. The resort is renowned as a beach getaway for all manner of glitterati. It's less than 5 miles from the arena in which Kentucky will be playing.

4. In what type of arena will UK be playing?

All six games will be held in Nassau's 2,500-seat Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, which was renovated last spring. The gym is part of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre located in the Central New Providence neighborhood in Nassau.

5. When was the last time Kentucky played in an arena so small?

The best comparison is probably the 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center used for the Maui Invitational in Hawaii, in which the Wildcats last played in 2010. Kentucky played Robert Morris in the 3,056-seat Charles L. Sewall Center in Moon Township, Pa., in the 2013 National Invitation Tournament. But the smallest? It has to be the 1,200-seat ballroom at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, Mexico, where UK played in the Cancun Challenge in 2009.

6. What time will the games be played?

You'll need to take a long lunch break to watch the Cats, or make sure the DVR is programmed. Every UK game tips off at 1 p.m. in Nassau, which is in the same time zone (EDT) as Lexington.

7. If I'm not making the trip, how can I follow the Cats?

■ The Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton will be with the Wildcats in Nassau providing live updates on Twitter @jerrytipton and on his blog on Kentucky.com, in addition to videos, statistics and coverage of games, Big Blue fans and more.

■ Every game will be televised live. The first three will be on ESPNU; the last three will be on the new SEC Network, which should be available to most viewers in Kentucky.

■ All six games also will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network — WLAP-AM 630 in Lexington and WHAS-AM 840 in Louisville. Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will call the action. Kentucky Sports Radio is planning pre-game and post-game shows each day.

8. What does the game schedule look like?

Aug. 10 — Puerto Rico Reserves

Aug. 11 — Champagne Chalons-Reims

Aug. 12 — Puerto Rico Reserves

Aug. 13 — Off day

Aug. 14 — Off day

Aug. 15 — Dominican Republic

Aug. 16 — Champagne Chalons-Reims

Aug. 17 — Dominican Republic

9. What other college teams will be in the Bahamas?

Morehead State, Alabama State, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi, North Carolina, Northern Arizona, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Portland State and Samford also will play exhibitions in the Bahamas this summer, but NCAA rules don't allow U.S. teams to play against each other there.

10. What do we know about the opponents?

The Dominican Republic National Team presents the stiffest competition. Coached by former UK assistant Orlando Antigua, the Dominicans are using the Bahamas games as a warm-up for the FIBA World Cup in Spain later this summer.

Champagne Chalons-Reims will play in France's top professional division next season.

The Puerto Rico squad is made up of reserves from the national team.

Most of the rosters are still being finalized.

11. Is that the same Dominican Republic National Team that John Calipari used to coach?

Yes. It's also the same team Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns and former Cat Eloy Vargas have played on. Towns will be playing for the good guys this time.

12. What if Kentucky loses?

Kentucky will probably enter the 2014-15 season as the No. 1 ranked team in college basketball, but don't panic if the Wildcats don't go 6-0 in the Bahamas.

Coach John Calipari scheduled the tour with the idea that his veteran team would face significant challenges.

"We're going to go against national teams that we should not beat," Calipari told ESPN this summer. "We should go 0-6."

Perhaps an exaggeration, perhaps not.

Calipari said the opponents will "have NBA players on them."

We're not talking LeBron James and Kevin Durant here, but these will be grown men and professionals who have been playing together previously in some cases.

13. What will Kentucky's roster look like for these exhibition games?

The Wildcats boast a deep and experienced roster of players who were part of UK's run to the national finals last season.

■ Seniors — Tod Lanter, Sam Malone, Brian Long.

■ Juniors — Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress.

■ Sophomores — EJ Floreal, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dominique Hawkins, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis.

■ Freshmen — Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyler Ulis.

14. How will Coach John Calipari find playing time for all those guys?

That is, of course, the question everybody is asking about this season's Cats. The Bahamas trip gives Calipari a chance to experiment with his rotation. Seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle surgery) and 6-10 Trey Lyles (unspecified leg procedure) are not expected to play in Nassau as they recover from injuries, which should alleviate the logjam in the front court — at least temporarily.

15. What else should we be looking for on the court?

Other than how playing time is distributed, there is plenty to keep an eye on. How will point guard Tyler Ulis be used, and will he play together with the Harrison twins? Do the returning players look stronger and better after an offseason? Who will provide outside shooting? While the Cats are overly stocked with size and at guard, who will fill the swing-player role vacated by James Young? Is there a defense-first mindset? How polished is Towns?

And, most importantly to some, how will Kentucky look in their specially produced Nike Bahamas game uniforms with the stripes down the sides?

Mathew Graf: (859) 231-3529. Twitter: @KentuckySports.

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