Towns' knack for scoring a pleasant surprise for Cats' coaches

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 13, 2014 

  • Next game

    Kentucky vs. Dominican Republic

    When: 1 p.m. Friday

    What: Big Blue Bahamas exhibition

    TV: SEC Network

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • UK gets four Super Tuesday games

    UK will be featured four times on ESPN's Super Tuesday series during the 2014-15 season, the network announced Wednesday.

    Super Tuesday showcases games from the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten each week beginning Jan. 6 and running through March 3.

    Here is Kentucky's Super Tuesday schedule:

    Date Opponent Time

    Jan. 13 MISSOURI 9 p.m.

    Feb. 10 At LSU 7 p.m.

    Feb. 17 At Tennessee 7 p.m.

    March 3 At Georgia 9 p.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — After only three exhibition games in mid-August, it's way too early to make judgments about college basketball players and the upcoming season. That seems especially true of freshmen.

Karl-Anthony Towns might be an exception.

When asked if Towns was even better than the Kentucky coaches anticipated, John Robic did not hesitate nor equivocate.

"Yes," Robic said after Kentucky's game Tuesday.

"I really didn't know how gifted a scorer he is," the UK assistant coach added. "He has to get stronger, but his skill level is really, really high for a young, young man. And he really hasn't shot the ball well, and that's one thing he can do. But he can score in a variety of ways, and he's going to be a big piece for us."

In practices the UK media corps got to watch last week, Towns exhibited a soft and easy-shooting touch from beyond three-point range. So the fact that he has missed all five shots from three-point range here so far should not lead to a conclusion.

His father, also named Karl, suggested that nothing more than eagerness might have disrupted his son's perimeter shooting.

"He said he's playing with a lot of adrenaline," the elder Towns said before UK's game Monday. "I think Cal (UK Coach John Calipari) talked to him (and) calmed him down."

Towns acknowledged a keen sense of anticipation with his UK debut here.

"I struggled at the beginning," he said after Monday's game. "I think I did some stuff trying to find my shots. I felt the best thing I could do was switch my game and go (with) more of an inside attack. And it worked. I kept pounding away at it."

"Just playing active as K.P., Coach Kenny Payne, told me to do. And I think I did a good job of that."

In the first three games here, Towns has averaged 13 points and 7.7 rebounds. He's been almost automatic when shooting around the basket (15 of 21 on two-pointers), and his 9-for-11 free-throw accuracy reflects his shooting touch.

It's that balance between inside and outside skill, when to do which, that Towns must master.

But the key is that both can be options.

"I think he's shown everybody what you read about him is true," his father said. "People saw him spin and throw the lob. They're seeing his complete game. They haven't even seen all his skill sets because he's in the process (of learning the college game).

"Come October and November, I'm telling you, he's going to be something to really reckon with. People really didn't get to see him shoot. But once he gets in that flow, they're going to see he can shoot the ball from way far."

Assistant coach Payne, who directed the UK team in Tuesday's game, said Towns must think inside first. That might take time.

When asked Monday whether his size (6-foot-11 and 255 pounds) might prompt the assumption that he's only a power player, Towns said, "I think my size sometimes deceives people, but at the end of the day, I have to do what's best for the team. Today, the best thing I could do for the team was give them an inside presence.

"I don't think people give me enough credit for the perimeter. But, you know, that's a little advantage."

Payne lauded Towns while emphasizing the need to have the perimeter skills accent the low-post presence. And not the other way around.

"Unbelievable on the boards," Payne said of Towns' 10 rebounds against a professional team from France. "Still, we're not satisfied because he has so much more. He's a very talented, very energetic player with a whole bunch of skill.

"In order for him to be the best player in the country, it has to start from the inside out," Payne said. "He has to learn that we play this game from the inside out, not outside in. But what he brings to this team is super because what we need is big, long, energetic skilled guys who can dictate what we're trying to do."

Towns' father, no little guy at 6-5 and 327 pounds, said size runs in the family. One of the UK player's uncles is 6-8, another about 6-7.

"We never thought he'd be a 7-footer," the elder Towns said. "They say he's going to grow a little taller. Hopefully, he'll be like 7-1 or 7-2."

A McDonald's All-American from New Jersey, Towns signed with Kentucky over Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Rutgers and Seton Hall. A relationship with Calipari made a key difference. As coach of the 2012 Dominican Republic team, Calipari had Towns in the tryouts (Towns' mother, Jacki, is from the Dominican).

"It was like a no-brainer," the player's father said of the commitment to Kentucky. "They were like family. He was comfortable."

Towns' parents made the trip to the Bahamas.

"We wouldn't have missed it for the world," the player's father said. "This is technically our kid's first games in college. And me and my wife wanted to be part of this experience."

Like other UK fans, Towns' parents liked what they saw in the first three games. "He's definitely gotten better," the elder Towns said.

And, more importantly, Towns has given every indication that, yes, he'll get a lot better.

Or as his father said, "I think for the fan base and alums, he's good, bro."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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