The Kentucky camp conceded that not having heralded freshman John Wall will make a difference in Friday's opening game against Morehead State. But it won't make that much of a difference thanks to another highly regarded freshman, Eric Bledsoe.
"John is more advanced in his conditioning and pace of the game," UK Coach John Calipari said on Thursday. "That's it. If Eric went just as hard up and down the court, you'd see the same kind of speed."
UK players voiced confidence in Bledsoe.
"I don't think much will be different," Josh Harrellson said before identifying one difference. "The game probably won't be as fast-paced."
Wall has a "quicker change of direction," Darnell Dodson said. Otherwise, the freshmen guards are similar.
But in terms of running the team and basketball knowledge, Calipari vouched for Bledsoe, who the UK coach called "one of the most intelligent players I've coached. He also has unbelievable instincts. We have a lot of key words. (When a key word is said), this kid — boom — he's right into it.
"Now, what he's got to start doing is be more vocal. He'll do it with a head nod when they need a yell."
The question hanging over Bledsoe concerned his health. He sat out UK's second exhibition game a week ago after spraining an ankle in the first.
When asked about Bledsoe's availability against Morehead State, Calipari said the freshman was "very, very fast" in Wednesday's practice.
Morehead/less pace In what figures to be the first of many such strategies against UK this season, Morehead State wants a slower pace that features half-court basketball.
"We want this game to be in the 60s," Coach Donnie Tyndall said. "If it gets in the mid-70s or 80s, we understand we don't have a chance to win."
The key will be to limit turnovers, thus reducing UK's fast-break opportunities, Tyndall said.
In the half-court set, Morehead State wants to keep UK from penetrating to the lane or basket. The Eagles prefer UK try to win the game with jump shots over a defender's hand.
"You can talk about it and talk about it," Tyndall said of the strategy. "But when you have great players like (Eric) Bledsoe, (Darnell) Dodson and (Darius) Miller, it's hard to keep them in front of you. It really is."
Trial and era
Calipari sounded like he wouldn't mind if his UK coaching era began with some tense moments.
The UK coach said he wanted the Cats to "play games where we're down 10 (points). We have to figure out who can play when you're down 10. Who panics, and they must sit. Who's steady, and they play.
"When you make a play, don't act like it's the first time you've made a play."
Calipari noted the difference between practice and games.
"The real stuff starts, the ball goes up, the popcorn smells," he said. "All of a sudden, guys go haywire."
Too much Cal?
Calipari said he'd given the players too much to learn too soon.
"I'm hoping it won't confuse them and they get paralyzed in the game," he said. "It could happen."
Calipari suggested he usually goes into a season thinking he's piled too much on the players.
As if to prove the point, the UK coach said he had "one worry" going into the opener. Then he cited four things.
"Play harder than the they do," he said. "Do what we've been doing (in practice). Make easy plays. Compete."
Cal on Poole
Calipari described new signee Stacey Poole Jr., as the kind of prospect he has used to gain success at Massachusetts and Memphis.
"A competitor," Calipari said. "Plays multiple positions. Slasher. Athletic. In time, he could be our best perimeter defender."
Poole, a 6-5 wing, averaged 17.3 points as a junior at Jackson High in Jacksonville, Fla. He is the son of former Florida standout Stacey Poole, who still ranks as the Gators' No. 4 all-time scorer with 1,678 points.
When asked if UK might add other recruits in this week-long November signing period, Calipari said he hoped that could happen but it was impossible to know.
"At the end of the day, recruiting is the least of my worries," the UK coach said. "I'm worried about Friday."
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ... Dan McLaughlin, Jimmy Dykes and Andy Katz will call the game for ESPNU.