John Calipari started his head coaching career with the UMass Minutemen. At least at this early stage of the 2017-18 season, he’s coaching the Kentucky Minutemen.
After UK beat Thomas More 103-61 in an exhibition opener Friday night, Calipari repeatedly cited minutes played as an indicator of how his UK team must improve its level of conditioning.
“Right now, I think we could play about an 18-minute game . . . ,” Calipari said afterward. “I think if it’s 40 (minutes), we’re going to struggle for a while.”
When a reporter suggested that freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander appeared ready to play with energy the entire game, Calipari quipped, “Yeah, he’s on the IV in the back right now.”
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Of course, several players suffered cramping in the Blue-White Game, which Calipari suggested was caused by a lack of conditioning.
Against Thomas More, UK pressed full court, especially early in the game. “We pressed for conditioning more than anything,” Calipari said.
A UK fan might ask how the players are not in good condition given summer and fall workouts.
Calipari said the anxiety of playing in games with thousands of fans watching adversely affected a player’s level of conditioning. No matter the practice sprints, a player must literally play his way into peak condition, he said.
“Why would that NBA team not be in midseason form right now?” Calipari said. “Conditioning, well, you just play into it.”
Kevin Knox agreed.
“Yeah, he’s right,” he said. “Some of us can’t really play two minutes without getting tired, hands on the knees. That’s just something we’ll get better at. Tomorrow in practice, I know we’ll do some more conditioning. Just getting ready for the season, because I know those 40-minute games — those big-time games — we’re the youngest team, so there’s a lot of teams that have older guys that have been playing and are in really good condition. We just have to get better at it. I think it’ll come along once the season comes on.”
Knox led all scorers with 27 points. This led Wenyen Gabriel to dub him a silent assassin.
“Because he didn’t need the ball in his hands the whole time for him to get those 27 points,” Gabriel said. “He ran the floor. He did all the little things that you need (to do). It was all within our offense.”
Gabriel pointed out that Knox took only 12 shots while scoring 27 points.
“It’s within our offense, so the ball is still going to move around,” Gabriel said, “and other people are going to have different opportunities. He’s not a ball-stopper. So I think that’s big.”
UK’s game against Kansas on Nov. 14 commands the attention of point guard Quade Green.
“We just prepare for that Kansas game coming up,” he said. “So we’ve got to be preparing for that. . . . Got to get ready every day. Up the scale every day, every practice, every game. . . . Every day we’ve got to prepare for that game.”
UK seemed intent on establishing low-post scoring. On several occasions, the Cats were called for offensive fouls while trying to score from the post.
“I don’t think they’ll call those in the season,” Knox said of those offensive fouls.
When asked why he did not expect those calls in the season, Knox cited Thomas More’s lack of size.
“They were kind of little, so they were kind of flopping,” he said. “Just falling on the ground.”
Future opponents will not flop, Knox said.
“They’ll stay up and stand their ground,” he said.
Calipari noticed that PJ Washington had no assists and four turnovers.
“I’m looking at PJ as a play-making big man,” Calipari said. “He can’t be zero assists and four turnovers.”
Gabriel wore a white headband. He did not wear a headband last season.
“Hair just getting longer,” he said of the headband as he wiped a few strands of hair away from his eyes. “I’ve got to do that.”