For a guy about to test himself against one of college basketball’s more exacting standards, Bam Adebayo seems unperturbed.
“There’s always been pressure with me,” the Kentucky freshman big man says, “because I’ve always wanted to be the best I can be.”
For all that’s been written about the line of exceptional John Calipari point guards — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis are nothing to sneeze at — since Cal became a Cat a different position has, arguably, become the signature of the UK program.
It’s had five post players — Cousins, Davis, Noel, Towns, Cauley-Stein — chosen in the NBA draft lottery.
There have been three — Cousins, Davis, Cauley-Stein — first-team Associated Press All-Americans.
Two NBA All-Stars (Davis and Cousins).
Two Olympic gold medalists (Davis and Cousins).
And one Wooden Award winner (Davis).
Coming off a rare season when Calipari and UK could never establish a consistent low-post presence, the hope is that Adebayo — a chiseled 6-foot-10, 260-pounder — can return the Kentucky post position to elite status.
Before an overflow crowd of reporters inside Memorial Coliseum for Thursday’s annual UK Media Day, Calipari sounded confident Adebayo would do just that.
“He’s just getting better every day,” Calipari said. “His footwork, he’s still learning. He still fades some. But he’s skilled. He can pass. He flies up and down the court, flies. Literally, we can go boom, bing, lob, dunk, and it’s him. He may have rebounded the ball, ( and you’re) like what? He’s fast.”
A native of Newark, N.J., who grew up in Little Washington, N.C., Adebayo surprised many when he picked Kentucky over North Carolina State, which had long been thought his recruiting favorite.
In Calipari’s pitch, Adebayo says the Kentucky coach challenged him — and he liked it. “He was telling me (at Kentucky) you don’t get promised anything,” Adebayo said. “He told me you have to earn everything you have. ... I’ve never liked anything given to me. I like to earn everything.”
Last season at the High Point Christian Academy in North Carolina, Adebayo averaged 18.9 points and 13 rebounds. A McDonald’s All-American, he was ranked as the No. 5 Class of 2016 prospect entering college basketball by ESPN.
Interestingly, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg, the former Virginia Tech head coach, says the best comparison for Adebayo in terms of a former Kentucky player is power forward Patrick Patterson — from the two years he spent playing for Billy Gillispie, not the season (2009-10) he spent with Calipari.
Said Greenberg: “Patterson is a good (comparison). ... You think of Patrick Patterson, you've got to remember, it wasn't till his junior year he started to make some threes ... But (the first two seasons at UK) he ran, he played around the basket. He closed off. He rebounded. He had a big, physical body. ...”
In early UK practices, returning Kentucky center Isaac Humphries, the 7-foot, 255-pound Australian, has had a chance to test Adebayo.
“He’s playing really well,” Humphries said. “He surprises me every day. I think he’s, like, the strongest person I’ve ever had to play against.”
Dominique Hawkins, the Wildcats senior guard, says Adebayo’s game is best described by “power, athletic, jumper.”
Adebayo says he’s working to add more. “I’m working on my whole arsenal,” he says. “I don’t want to be one-dimensional.”
Calipari says Adebayo’s development is “going to be a process. Just like it was for any of our big guys that bought it. Karl (Towns), and you saw guys, and as the season went on, they just got better and better and better.”
For what it’s worth, Adebayo says the pressure that will drive him this season has nothing to do with trying to prove worthy of the position once held by star-caliber names such as Cousins, Davis, Towns.
“The pressure I feel, it’s not because of them,” Adebayo said. “It’s because of me wanting to be the best player I can be.”