Smile off the court. Scowl on the court.
Bam Adebayo’s split personality pleases Kentucky’s basketball team and defines it.
“You have to be mean,” Isaiah Briscoe said Monday of UK’s purposeful play in practices. “We’re acting like we don’t know each other.”
Briscoe suggested that Adebayo takes this dichotomy to an extreme.
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“He scares people,” Briscoe said, meaning opposing players. “People are scared of him.”
The best may be still to come, assistant coach Joel Justus said. When asked about Adebayo’s potential to improve, Justus said, “He’s got tons. … I don’t believe and I don’t expect anybody here will see Bam’s best basketball.”
Justus saluted Adebayo’s “tremendous desire and thirst to be the best he can be, and have others around him be their best.”
Not wanting to denigrate UK’s “bigs” last season, Briscoe diplomatically handled a question about the Cats’ presence around the basket this season.
“I’m not going to say it wasn’t there last year,” he said. “Our ‘bigs’ did what they did. … This year Bam just gives us a consistent inside presence. That’s big for us.”
Adebayo has taken what the defense gives: over-powering single defenders and passing out of double- and triple-teams to set up open perimeter shots.
“Bam playing the way he is is going to take us far,” Briscoe said.
Youth vs. youth
Kentucky’s two opponents this week — Mississippi State and South Carolina — are “two of the better teams in our league,” UK Coach John Calipari said on a SEC teleconference.
Kentucky plays at Mississippi State Tuesday in what shapes up as a battle of freshman-dependent teams.
Stats maven Ken Pomeroy rates Mississippi State as the second-youngest team in the nation. UK is the fifth-youngest.
Each team has a sophomore leader — Briscoe for UK, Quinndary Weatherspoon for State. Each team has a veteran contributor: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder for UK; I.J. Ready for State.
“I’d say they are a team very similar to us,” UK assistant coach Joel Justus said.
State, 12-4 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, starts three freshmen. Two more first-year players come off the bench.
State has “a young team like we do,” Calipari said, “but they fight and defend. They create good shots. … It’s going to be a rough one.”
As for Saturday’s game, South Carolina is off to its best SEC start since 1996-97 when the Gamecocks won their only SEC regular-season championship. The Gamecocks won their first four league games.
Calipari said he was “blown away” by how South Carolina has played.
It’s still too early to appraise newly-arrived five-star player Hamidou Diallo. He has not yet participated fully in workouts.
“I can see he’s a hard worker,” Briscoe said. “So that’s good.”
Justus spoke approvingly of Diallo’s overall approach to joining the UK program.
“He’s here for the right reason: To become his best version,” Justus said. “And he knows it’s a process and you can’t skip steps.”
Watching and learning can be “a big part” of this process, Justus said. “‘Hami’ is an extremely bright and inquisitive young man. I think these next couple months are going to be critical for his development.”
To scout himself would not be a quick and easy report, Briscoe said.
“I don’t think there’s any one thing you can say,” he said. “I’m not one-dimensional.”
If opponents try to contain his scoring, Briscoe said he’s content to pass. If opponents focus on teammates, “I can go and have a big night,” he said. “So I don’t know what you can say. I’m always playing basketball, making winning plays. Stats don’t really matter to me. It’s about winning.”
Fazed by Cal
Justus might have raised eyebrows by saying Calipari did not “faze” Briscoe. Don’t all coaches want to get the attention of all players?
Actually, the word faze is defined as to disturb or disconcert. So maybe Justus had a point.
Justus suggested that he is fazed by Calipari. He referred to Calipari “as someone who sells our head coach, who is a Hall of Fame coach, who is the absolute best at what he does and who is undisputedly unapologetically the NBA prep in getting guys where they want to go.”
Justus saluted Briscoe’s leadership qualities.
“Personally, I believe the thing he does best is drags us,” Justus said. “He’s a gatherer of guys that gets us to where we want to go.”
Justus on why Mychal Mulder has more than eight times as many points (104 to 12) and more than 11 times as many three-point baskets (23 to two) than last season:
“I believe Mike is playing, maybe, with a little desperate, with his career coming to an end.”
▪ Mississippi State will be staging a “white out” at the game. Before leaping to conclusion this is a special promotion tied to Kentucky coming to town, State spokesman Gregg Ellis said the school does a promotion with every home game. There was a “black out” for Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
▪ Brent Musberger, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.