Basketball wisdom to keep in mind this coming season: Platoons are made for Kentucky, not Kentucky for platoons.
At Media Day Thursday, UK Coach John Calipari spoke of a much-discussed five-man platoon system of substitution as a means to use 10 or more players in games. But he repeatedly stressed the need to be flexible.
He won't be wedded to a platoon system if circumstances suggest playing someone more minutes or someone else no minutes better serves the team in a particular game.
"This is not my political affiliation, but this is not communism," Calipari said.
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For example, Kentucky will use its best free-throw shooters to protect a lead in the final minutes of a close game rather than slavishly devote itself to a platoon. Foul trouble, the need for perimeter shooters against an effective zone, a hot hand or the need to blunt an opponent's big scorer with a defender might lead Calipari to abandon the platoons.
"I'm not doing this to be a genius," Calipari said of the experimental platoon system. ". . . I've never done this before."
The decision on what players play in the first or second platoon remains fluid. UK has experimented with different units in recent practices.
"I'm not convinced what the groups will look like," the UK coach said.
Calipari noted how his coaching mentors had always advised him to pare down a rotation to six, maybe seven players. That would mean more playing time for those players, thus fostering better cohesion.
"The best teams I coached, I coached six guys," Calipari said. "Whether 'Mass' (Massachusetts), Memphis or here."
Necessity mothered Calipari's invention of a platoon system. The surprise return of Willie Cauley-Stein, plus Andrew and Aaron Harrison required Calipari to set aside a team-building formula based on so-called one-and-done players.
"As soon as the twins said 'We're coming back,' I went, oh my gosh," Calipari said. "What am I going to do?
"Then I called the freshmen's parents and their kids and said, 'I got your back. You just keep training. This is going to work.'"
The result? Five players substituting for five players on a rotating basis.
"What else were you going to do?" Calipari said.
Kentucky fans celebrate the official return of college basketball at Big Blue Madness Friday night.
Earlier this fall, UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell said at the Tip-Off Lunchon in Louisville that he would dance, which has become a regular feature of the annual hoop-alooza that introduces the school's basketball teams to fans. Calipari said he would not dance.
Doors open at 5:30. The show begins at 7.
Freshman Devin Booker noted that he did not attend last year's Big Blue Madness as a prospect. He attended the Madness at Missouri, his father's alma mater.
"They showed a lot of love up there," he said of the Mizzou Madness. "Now, I'm here at Kentucky. I'm looking forward to our Madness."
Booker said he'd received advice on the dance moves he'll attempt when introduced to the capacity crowd. For instance:
"Stay committed to your dance," he said. "When you're out there, it's a lot different from rehearsing."
The coaches voted Kentucky No. 1 in their pre-season poll, which was announced Thursday.
"There are probably five or six or seven teams that could have all been No. 1 in the country," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, you have to play games."
Calipari noted that UK might have been the preseason No. 1 team going into a 2012-13 season that ended in a loss at Robert Morris in the NIT's first-round. Actually, the Cats were No. 3 in the coaches' and media preseason polls going into that season.
"We almost fell off the face of the earth," Calipari said in putting a No. 1 ranking in context. "To me, that's fine. It's good. It's something for our kids to live up to. But it really has no bearing on what we're able to try to undertake."
UK was No. 1 in the preseason polls last year. UK was ranked No. 2 going into a 2011-12 season that saw the Cats win a national championship.