Arguably, Kentucky’s most intriguing position going into the 2017-18 season is point guard. Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander bring different approaches to the position. So how will UK determine who plays when? Matchups? Hot hand? Coin flip?
“Play totally different,” fellow freshman Kevin Knox said of UK’s leading point guard candidates Thursday.
Gilgeous-Alexander is faster and more of a disruptive force on defense, thus better suited for the uptempo style Kentucky prefers. “Quade has played slow his whole life,” Knox said. “The kind of guy who had to change when he got here.”
Green is more of a three-point shooting threat. In UK’s three exhibitions, he made seven of 11 shots from beyond the arc. He seems better able to spread opposing defenses that are likely to prefer to sag into the lane to limit UK drives to the basket.
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“We’ve been working on Quade’s defense because he’s a little bit smaller and a little bit slower,” Knox said.
Green acknowledged inattention to defense prior to coming to Kentucky. “I wasn’t really doing it, really,” he said. “I was going through the motions on defense. But now, I believe I picked it up.”
Green downplayed the idea he and Gilgeous-Alexander are starkly different options at point guard. Both, he said, “try to get where you’ve got to go, really. So we’re both fighting in practice to try to get better. That’s every day.”
With a bandage under his left eye, Green looked like he had been in a fight. An inadvertent elbow from Gilgeous-Alexander required three stitches to close, Green said. He will wear the bandage in Friday night’s opener.
UK Coach John Calipari suggested a decision might not have to be made.
“I like it,” he said of the point guard candidates, “because we’ve played with three point guards the last few years.”
At a news conference Thursday, Kansas Coach Bill Self downplayed the notion of his players looking past the opener Friday night against Tennessee State and toward Tuesday’s game against Kentucky.
“The whole thing is you can’t look ahead,” he said. “I mean, people naturally do that. But players shouldn’t and coaches shouldn’t. If we’re going to have success … playing Kentucky on Tuesday, the best way to have success is to have some momentum moving forward by playing well on Friday.”
Power of prayer?
Knox said he had noticed what Utah Valley has dubbed “the toughest 24 hours in college basketball history: a game at Kentucky on Friday night, then a game at Duke on Saturday night.
“That’s crazy back-to-back games right there,” Knox said. “I was looking at that the other day and just praying for them. I know it’s going to be rough for them Friday and Saturday.”
Bask in glow?
When it was suggested Utah Valley could bask in the glow of UK and Duke this weekend, Coach Mark Pope recoiled.
“We’ll see if we bask in any glow,” he said. “The only way you bask in glow is you win a game.”
Pope scheduled games at UK and Duke on back-to-back nights as part of an effort to raise Utah Valley’s basketball profile.
So how about this: Much like the moon and the sun, Utah Valley can seem to shine as it reflects the glow of UK and Duke? Better.
“The promotional value is huge for us,” Pope said of this weekend’s games. “It’s really important.”
Pope recalled coming to Rupp Arena for a game against Georgia. He was the Bulldogs’ director of basketball operations.
His wife, Lee Anne, a former personal assistant for David Letterman, and their four daughters planned to attend the game. This caused a problem for Avery, the second oldest of the four daughters. She was about 6 years old at the time.
“She grew up not knowing there was any other blue besides Kentucky blue,” Pope said. “She just thought KentuckyBlue was one word.”
Lee Anne wanted the daughters to wear Georgia gear as a show of support for their father.
“Avery was about to enter Rupp Arena, she was so twisted up,” Pope said. “‘How can I cheer for Georgia?’ The only way Lee Anne could get her in the gym was they went to a store and bought her some Kentucky socks for her to wear.”
Avery, now 14, and her sisters — Ella, 16, Layla, 12, and Shay, 8 — plan to attend this season’s opener at Rupp Arena.
When asked if his daughters and Lee Anne would be rooting for Kentucky, Pope said, “No, no. no. We’re trying to win. We’re coming in there trying to win. It’s not a joke to us. There’s no way to respect Kentucky better than for us to come in there and do everything we can to win, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The Atlanta Tip-Off Club named Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo to its watch list for the Naismith Trophy, which goes to its national Player of the Year.
Knox and Diallo have also been included in a watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, which is presented by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
In all, eight SEC players were named to the Naismith Trophy list. In addition to the two UK freshmen, the SEC players were KeVaughn Allen (Florida), Yante Maten (Georgia), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Tyler Davis (A&M) and Robert Williams (A&M).
▪ Calipari said Jarred Vanderbilt will start practicing with the UK team at the end of November. Vanderbilt injured his left foot early in preseason workouts and initially was expected to be sidelined until January.
▪ Rich Hollenberg, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Brooke Weisbrod will call the game for the SEC Network.