From John Calipari's viewpoint, this college basketball season might be an exercise in keeping up with the Jones. Terrence Jones, that is.
"If there's a better player in the country, I've got to see him," Calipari said Tuesday. "Maybe that guy is in our gym. I don't know."
Calipari saluted Jones' increased concentration and zeal going into a sophomore season. The UK coach said that four NBA scouts marveled at Jones' improved attention to the task at hand.
"Not even close," Calipari said of the scouts' apparent joint appraisal.
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Calipari playfully suggested Jones and then fellow freshman Doron Lamb used to compete to see which would be the final player to arrive at practice last season. Now Jones looks like he's swigged Five-Hour Energy each day. First in running drills. Returning in the evening to shoot on his own, the UK coach said.
Jones attributed his diligence to greater maturity and an eagerness to make amends for an NCAA Tournament run last season that stalled in the national semifinals.
"I just feel everything in practice is important," he said. "Being an older player that other guys look up to, I have to take all drills seriously."
Backup point guard
The backup point guard role is one of the questions surrounding this Kentucky team.
Sophomore Doron Lamb said he spends most of practices in that position going against presumed starter Marquis Teague.
"I like it," Lamb said. "I'm getting better at it." Lamb said he's improving in getting his teammates into the proper play and using screens.
Jones endorsed Lamb as a candidate for the role, noting Lamb's improved ball handling.
Lamb and Jones saw the high expectations for Kentucky as a challenge. A media poll picked UK as the team that will win the Southeastern Conference title this season. UK finished No. 2 behind North Carolina in the coaches' first national poll.
"It's an honor," Lamb said. "We just have to live up to it."
Jones echoed that sentiment, saying, "We have to go out and prove it every game, and respect every opponent despite the ranking."
Calipari noted the friendly rivalry between senior Darius Miller and freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in practice.
"You should see the wars between Darius and Michael Gilchrist," the UK coach told reporters. "Wow. I mean, absolutely vicious."
Then after the competition, the two congratulate each other, Calipari said before adding, "Darius has never been better. Never."
Calipari said that Eloy Vargas and Jones had adopted the rags-to-riches habits of Josh Harrellson. Harrellson went from the butt of a Calipari wisecrack to a member of an all-NCAA Tournament region team in 2010-11 by taking a more serious approach to basketball.
Jones and Vargas have similarly changed their habits and conditioning level, the UK coach said.
HBO debuted a documentary on Kidd-Gilchrist's high school team Tuesday evening. Kidd-Gilchrist watched a preview copy of the show, then the UK players watched it as a team, Calipari said.
"It's an emotional thing," the UK coach said. "He's been through a lot, and he's a great, great kid, and an unbelievable competitor. He wants to be special."
Kidd-Gilchrist also wants to be a good teammate, Calipari said. "I have a team full of guys like that right now."