UK Men's Basketball

Calipari’s long line of point guards advise — but don’t intimidate — Fox

As the story goes, De’Aaron Fox was playing a video game called Need for Speed against his brother. His brother won and, as Fox saw it, celebrated excessively.

Fox quickly had enough and threw his controller at his brother. It shattered against the metal chair his brother was sitting on.

“I’m extremely competitive,” Fox said in recalling the moment. “I try to win at everything.”

As Kentucky’s heir apparent at point guard, Fox must compete against an opponent who presents an unusual challenge. This opponent will be present at every game, yet he’ll be unseen. This opponent lives in the collective memory of UK fans and is known by the name John Wall-Brandon Knight-Marquis Teague-Andrew Harrison and, most vividly because the recollection is freshest, Tyler Ulis.

The standard those John Calipari point guards set (not to mention Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis) is now how Fox will be judged.

“I’m anxious to get started,” Fox said. “I know what (Calipari) has done for guys, and guys have told me what to look out for and what to expect. So I’m just ready to be coached by Cal.”

As he prepared for the challenge, Fox spoke to Wall, Harrison and Ulis about the experience of playing point guard for Calipari and the oxymoron that has come to represent: routine excellence.

The former Calipari point guards advised Fox to maintain a healthy perspective when the coach offers, shall we say, constructive criticism at high volume.

“Just know when Cal’s getting on you, it’s for you,” Fox said the former point guards told him. “He’s not doing it for him. It’s the best for you. And he knows what he’s talking about. So just be ready to take it, to accept criticism. Yeah.”

As of early September, Calipari was not ready to commit to Fox as Kentucky’s point guard. The UK coach seemed to hint that the team would not be singularly dependent on the point guard as it was last season with Ulis.

“He’s going to have the ball,” Calipari said of Fox. “But Tyler had it, would you say 97 percent of the time? And he probably needed it 98 percent.

“This is totally different.”

Fox acknowledged that Ulis, the Southeastern Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year last season, is a hard act to follow.

“He set the bar pretty high,” Fox said. “I’m just coming in trying to do what I do. I feel like if I play to the best of my abilities, I can be that, too.”

Fox, who said he’d played point guard since sixth or seventh grade, described his game as “fast and tenacious.” That applies to offense and defense. He can score, but he also likes to get his teammates involved.

Calipari lauded Fox’s ability to get to the rim, absorb contact and score. “He’s not flailing,” the UK coach said.

But ...

(There’s always a “but,” especially in the preseason, when there’s so much time and so much need for improvement.)

“You just watch him, and his pace of game is too casual at times,” Calipari said.

To illustrate the point, Calipari cited Wall’s speed and how wisely Wall relied on that speed.

“John Wall knew that was his No. 1 weapon and used it all the time,” Calipari said. “Probably too much. De’Aaron hasn’t figured out that should be his No. 1 weapon. It’s a weapon he’ll use every once in a while.”

If you put a lot of stock in nicknames, Fox will be Kentucky’s primary point guard. Calipari dubbed Fox “the general” during the recruiting phase.

“That’s pretty cool,” Fox said, “especially when he explained it to me so that I actually understood it. ... It’s just cool he thought of a nickname for me like that.”

Of course, when you consider the UK point guards who came before, being a general seems a mere starting point in judging the person playing the most important position on the court.

And remember, Calipari said Ulis was the best floor general he’d ever coached.

“Honestly, I don’t feel pressure at all,” Fox said. “I’m coming in to play basketball. I’ve done this so long in my life. I don’t really feel pressure in doing it.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Meet the Cats

Today’s stories on De’Aaron Fox and Brad Calipari are the third and fourth in a series of 14 on Kentucky’s 2016-17 men’s basketball players.

Coming next: Wenyen Gabriel and Jonny David.

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