Coach John Calipari suggested Saturday that the increasing international flavor of Kentucky’s roster is more coincidence than conscious effort to recruit globally.
“You’re recruiting guys who don’t want to run from this,” he said. “This is just what they want. And whether I’m from Lexington, Ky., or Toronto, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, who wants this?”
Kentucky freshmen Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray are from Haiti and Canada, respectively. Transfer Mychal Mulder is also Canadian. Karl-Anthony Towns, who sat next to Calipari at a joint news conference Saturday, played for the Dominican Republic National Team.
Speculation has UK interested in a 7-foot native of Australia.
“It’s not been by design,” Calipari said. “The guys we have, I don’t care where they’re from. They’re pretty good players.”
To add to the international intrigue, Calipari mentioned a 7-foot-5 Italian who apparently was on campus recently.
“He made Karl look about 6-7,” Calipari said.
To which, Towns added, “He made me look like Tyler Ulis.”
'The best version of Marcus Lee'
Junior-to-be Marcus Lee made a big impression on Karl-Anthony Towns in recent pickup games.
“I’ve seen Marcus play for two years,” Towns said Saturday. “. . . It’s the best version of Marcus Lee I’ve ever seen him play.”
Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted that confidence was a key factor for Lee’s improved play. Towns agreed.
“He’s running the floor at a tremendous pace,” Towns said. “He’s jumping for everything. He’s getting back the swagger you probably saw him in high school have.”
The Bahamas Poythress
The Alex Poythress who was the most productive of Kentucky’s players in the Bahamas last August is the Alex Poythress Kentucky Coach John Calipari wants to see next season.
“I told Alex I’m not settling for anything,” Calipari said Saturday. “You’re going to play like you did in the Bahamas. And I’m not settling for anything other than that.”
Poythress averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in UK’s six exhibition games in the Bahamas. He made 27 of 36 shots and asserted himself as a presence on the court.
Hopes for a breakout season ended in mid-December when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. When asked about the rehabilitation, Calipari said Poythress had begun sprinting.
Calipari cited the changing nature of NBA basketball as a reason for optimism. He suggested that playing Poythress at small forward was intended as the best way to prepare him for the NBA. But with “small ball” all the rage in the NBA, Poythress can shift to power forward.
“Now, ‘fours’ all look like him in the NBA,” Calipari said. “Now, he can be in the position he’s most comfortable playing and (it will) be right for him.”
Labissiere vs. Towns
During a pickup game Friday, incoming Kentucky freshman big man Skal Labissiere competed against outgoing freshman big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
This competition inspired playful needling by Calipari during his joint news conference with Towns on Saturday.
“Skal beat up Karl yesterday,” Calipari said in a deadpan tone before laughing.
Towns had a different take on the competition.
“He showed some great glimpses,” Towns said of Labissiere. “But there’s a reason I’m a pro.”
As Calipari erupted again in laughter, Towns added, “There’s a reason I’m a pro, and he’s a rook.”
Of course, Towns was the first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Labissiere is projected as the potential first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Calipari saw the pickup game showdown as instructional for Labissiere and other incoming freshmen.
“Let the young guys know you’ve got a ways to go, now,” the UK coach said.