UK Men's Basketball

UK looks to play fast, but forging a team identity takes time

Coach John Calipari’s Kentucky team opens the 2016-17 season on Friday night against Stephen F. Austin.
Coach John Calipari’s Kentucky team opens the 2016-17 season on Friday night against Stephen F. Austin. AP

With Kentucky opening the season Friday against Stephen F. Austin, it seemed a tad early to ask about a team identity.

But that subject came up at Thursday’s let’s-get-the-season-started news conference.

“Usually that’s organic because we’re so young,” UK Coach John Calipari said when asked if he had determined a team identity. That seems even more true for a team that he said will probably see five freshmen play significant minutes.

“A new team every year, you’re guessing early,” Calipari said. “And then it kind of organically rolls into what it should be.

“We should be a great defensive team. We’re not right now. We should be a great shot-blocking team. We’re not right now.”

Isaiah Briscoe, the team leader, spoke definitively about one aspect of Kentucky’s likely identity this season.

“Speed,” he said. “I think that’s us.”

Kentucky showed plenty of speed in its two exhibition games, especially the 156-63 rout of Asbury. “It was a conditioning session, essentially,” Isaac Humphries said of that 93-point victory.

By contrast, Stephen F. Austin’s experience in playing in the last three NCAA Tournaments promises a more capable opponent for opening night. Calipari suggested the Lumberjacks will “come in here with the idea they’re beating a young team.”

Kentucky’s challenging non-conference schedule — three games in the season’s first five days, games against Michigan State, UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville — led Calipari to say, “We probably over-scheduled. … It’s going to be rough.”

Several players figure to get playing time as the season unfolds. Calipari spoke of a nine-man rotation. He said he may go with the hot hand at power forward, where freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones and Humphries compete for playing time. Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel could get time at either forward spot.

“I think it’s going to be game by game,” Calipari said of the who-plays-when decisions he expects.

Bam Adebayo and Humphries may split time at center or play at the same time. Perhaps in preparation for the latter, Humphries has gotten practice time at power forward.

“That’s different for me … ,” Humphries said. “I’m very comfortable at (center) because I played that my whole life, and all of last year. Learning (power forward) makes me a little more versatile.”

Humphries spoke of he and Adebayo being interchangeable. When one plays center, the other can play power forward.

The difference, and therefore the biggest adjustment, is playing away from the basket more at power forward. After a summer of working on his face-the-basket game, Humphries said he is comfortable on offense at power forward.

The other end of the court may hold the key to how much Adebayo and Humphries play together. The power forward must defend smaller, quicker opponents.

“Can they guard the guys they have to guard?” Calipari said. “I think they can.”

The contrast with last season seems striking. A host of UK players seem capable of providing productive play around the basket: Adebayo, Humphries, Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard could get a look.

That possible congestion led Calipari to preemptively try to defuse any early grumbling. At a recent meeting with UK’s “bigs,” Calipari said he told each how he had improved.

“You can’t let the first two or three games (be a source of discontent),” he said. “How many minutes I give you or who shoots more.

“It doesn’t matter right now. You’re getting better. Stay on that path.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton


Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Series: First meeting

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