If perimeter shooting is a question hovering over Kentucky’s basketball team, Coach John Calipari was not prepared to answer it at Media Day Thursday.
“It could be,” he said when asked if shooting could be a problem. “May not be. May end up being the best shooting team I’ve had. It’s too early (to tell).”
Meanwhile, UK players indulged themselves in what could be called swish-ful thinking.
“I don’t think it’s a concern,” freshman Malik Monk said. “People might think it is. I just want to come out here and surprise everybody.”
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Kentucky’s projected starting backcourt does not have a player billed as an excellent shooter.
Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe struggled mightily to make shots last season. Calipari said Briscoe had made marked improvement as a shooter.
Freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Monk were not known as standout shooters prior to coming to Kentucky.
“Outside shooting is going to be a question for them. … ,” Fran Fraschilla said of the Cats during ESPNU’s telecast of Sunday’s practice. “If they make jump shots, they become dangerous.”
One of Fraschilla’s co-panelists on the telecast, Seth Greenberg, downplayed the notion that perimeter shooting will be a serious issue for Kentucky.
“Look, every team in the country is wondering if they can make enough shots … ,” he said in a telephone conversation this week. “I actually think they are better shooters than people think.”
Monk won the three-point shooting contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game last March. But he has a reputation as a streaky shooter.
“Malik’s jump shot, I feel, is almost unguardable,” Derek Willis said, “because he elevates so high.”
Greenberg vouched for Monk as a capable shooter from 17 feet in. Fox can make enough shots “to keep you honest,” Greenberg said.
And Briscoe “has improved significantly,” Greenberg said. Briscoe said he has taken a hitch out of his shooting motion.
During the two practices he watched, Greenberg noticed Calipari encouraging Briscoe to shoot.
“Don’t worry about make or miss,” Greenberg said of Calipari’s encouragement.
The UK coach was sending a message, Greenberg said. The intention was to “empower” Briscoe, Greenberg said. “You trust him. You believe in him. You want him to be aggressive.”
Briscoe welcomed the invitation to shoot, something he said he’s also heard recently from Greenberg and visiting Hall of Famer Larry Brown.
“It’s crazy because the first day coach (Calipari) told me to shoot all threes, I think I made, like, 10 of 20,” Briscoe said. “He was, like, ‘Good. So obviously, you can shoot the ball.’
“It’s a mind thing. You just have to let it go. That’s what I’ve been working on.”
Briscoe acknowledging his shooting woes last season (13.5-percent accuracy from three-point range, 46 percent from the foul line) created a “mind thing.”
This didn’t rob him of a sense of humor. When asked if he sensed all UK fans watching him as he shot last season, Briscoe quipped, “When aren’t they watching?”
Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com echoed Fraschilla’s comment about shooting being a question mark for Kentucky. It was an issue last season until Willis emerged to give UK a third capable perimeter shooter.
“Jamal Murray, he was one of the best shooters in college basketball last year,” Givony said. “I don’t see one of the best shooters in college basketball in Kentucky’s backcourt this year.”
Neither Monk nor Fox came to Kentucky billed as a dead-eye shooter. And Briscoe’s shooting problems last season are well documented.
In the early going, Calipari said the freshmen had been “too casual.”
Calipari attributed Monk’s streaky reputation to settling too easily for a shot rather than patiently trying to find a high-percentage shot.
Monk recoiled from the suggestion he was a streaky shooter. “Whoever said that may have seen one game,” he said, “or an off game. … I don’t think I’m a streaky shooter.”
Fox seemed to acknowledge that he can be one a streaky shooter.
“I’ve been able to shoot my whole life,” he said. “Just trying to get it more consistent, a lot more consistent.”
Even if Kentucky does not make a large percentage of perimeter shots, Greenberg offered a reassuring thought: this UK team will not be dependent on perimeter shots.
“Look, they’re not a flat-out jump-shooting team,” he said. “That’s not who they are. That’s the thing.
“They are an attacking, athletic, long team that’s going to be an elite defensive team.”
Earlier this preseason, Calipari stressed defense as Kentucky’s modus operandi this season. He said the Cats would pay about three times as much attention to defense as offense.
“Because I think that’s … what we are,” he said. “You got shot blocking. You got size.”
Calipari hit the same theme on Media Day. “I’m going to be disappointed if in February this isn’t the best defensive team,” he said.
As for Kentucky’s guards, Calipari lauded Briscoe, Fox, Monk and senior Dominique Hawkins without mentioning shooting. He cited their defensive skill.
The quartet, he said, “will just maul you.”
Important upcoming dates
Oct. 14: Big Blue Madness
Oct. 21: Blue-White Scrimmage
Oct. 30: Exhibition vs. Clarion
Nov. 6: Exhibition vs. Asbury
Nov. 11: Season opener vs. Stephen F. Austin