UK basketball notes: No shortage of big men

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2014 

Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns goes hard to the basket while being guarded by Dominican Republic's Jack Martinez during the Cats 83-71 win. The University of Kentucky men's basketball team beat the Dominican Republic 83-71 on Friday, August 15, 2014, at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium in Nassau, Bahamas. Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

CHET WHITE

NASSAU, Bahamas — If Dakari Johnson doesn't get you, then Karl-Anthony Towns will. Or Alex Poythress. Or Marcus Lee. And don't forget about Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles.

"We have an interesting dynamic of big guys," Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne said with stylish understatement.

In UK's 83-71 victory over the Dominican Republic National Team, Payne credited Johnson with setting a tone.

"If you're not going to trap him," Payne said before stopping to chuckle, "he's really hard to deal with." Payne called Johnson "a bull."

Lee brings a spark off the bench. Twice he took feeds from Derek Willis and dunked to start the second half, the second an improbable reach-back job that he directed home.

"His energy is important to us," Payne said of Lee.

Towns brings low-post presence and the ability to face-up and shoot out to three-point distance.

Poythress brings strength, size and athleticism.

Not on display here are Cauley-Stein (a defensive presence and low-post scoring threat) and Lyles (just another — ho-hum — McDonald's All-American).

"I mean, we have so many different, legitimate players, that it's very difficult to plan out who you're going to take away. Then another one steps in."

Less dictation

Payne lamented that the Dominicans outrebounded UK 36-32.

"And they only have two 'bigs,'" he said. "So that says a lot, right there."

Earlier in the exhibition series, Payne noted the importance of Kentucky setting the tone against opponents.

"We did not dictate the pace of the game defensively," he said. "... Some of that could be attributed to the two days off. They were maybe a little rusty."

Of course, Kentucky did not dictate, but Kentucky did win.

"I think it says a lot when you're playing grown men as opposed to other college kids," Payne said.

Six for 23

Freshman Devin Booker made two of six shots (one of four from three-point range). In the first four games, he's made only six of 23 shots.

Concern?

"I think Devin is thinking a little too much," Payne said. "I think he's second-guessing when to shoot it and when to pass it.

"But he's going to be fine. That's the least of my worries, Devin Booker (prolonged chuckle)."

Improved Eloy

Ex-Cat Eloy Vargas showed what his coach, Orlando Antigua, had suggested before the game: That he'd improved significantly from his UK days. He scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots while limited to 18 minutes-plus because of foul trouble.

"Eloy played OK," Antigua said. "I think in the first few minutes, he had some anxiety wanting to show the Kentucky fans what he could do. ... We look for Eloy to have a pretty good World Cup Tournament."

The Dominicans are using the Bahamas trip as part of the preparation for the World Cup, which will be played in Spain beginning Aug. 30.

Ulis 'special'

Poythress said that Tyler Ulis was probably his favorite UK player to watch.

Payne echoed the sentiment.

"Tyler Ulis is a special basketball player," he said. "I love him. We love him. Hopefully, these fans will get to see him and understand what his game is. Because he's very talented.

"You can't put him in a box. You have to sort of let him play off his instincts because his instincts are off the chart."

Advanced development

Antigua noted UK's advanced development as a team for mid-August.

"The chemistry, the knowing one another, knowing the expectations from the coaches, all those things that early on in a season I'm going to have to be teaching our guys at South Florida," he said in reference to his new college head coaching job. "They're on Step Five rather than Step One or Two."

No serious injury

A foul by Andrew Harrison left Dominican guard James Feldeine laying on the floor for several minutes. Feldeine, who scored 13 points, eventually walked slowly to the locker room. He returned to the bench, but did not play again.

"He's OK," Antigua said. "Looks like a bone bruise. We're going to watch him the next 24 hours and see how he feels."

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

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