Like all programs, Kentucky preaches one-for-all selflessness. But Bam Adebayo proves that it’s possible to have too much of this good thing.
UK wants Adebayo to post up stronger and, in basketball vernacular, “demand the ball.” Too often to suit UK coaches, his easy-going personality off the court appears in games.
Associate coach Kenny Payne, who substituted for UK head coach John Calipari at Monday’s news conference, said Adebayo cannot simply wait patiently for the ball to arrive in the post. Ideally, the demands for the ball begin at Tennessee on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to get Bam to be more aggressive without a play being called” specifically for him,” Payne said. “Demand the ball when it’s not the play. We don’t have to force-feed you.”
Envisioning the Adebayo he’d like to see, Payne harked back to a former UK big man who was anything but shy about wanting the ball, and making sure everyone knew it.
“I think if he had a little of DeMarcus Cousins’ mentality, he changes the dynamic of the team,” Payne said. “Every game, I’m telling him to take over the game for us. Dominate the game for us. Don’t sit back, and five or six minutes (go by and) you don’t touch the ball and don’t say a word. That’s not who you are.”
Wenyen Gabriel, Adebayo’s roommate, confirmed that Payne preaches this message repeatedly.
“K.P. tells Bam that every day,” Gabriel said. “Whether in a game or practice or even if it’s off the court. He’s always telling him he has to demand the ball more.”
Isaac Humphries, the most likely candidate to be the backup big man, suggested that Payne and the UK coaches are essentially asking Adebayo to stray from UK’s team-first mantra.
“We’re taught to be so unselfish, and it’s a team thing here,” Humphries said. “Like, it’s not about, ‘What am I doing for myself?’ … Honestly, I think it’s just that. It’s just the unselfishness of our team.”
It sounds counter-intuitive, but a player getting hot as a shooter can lead to teammates getting the ball.
“It sounds crazy,” Humphries said, “but, honestly, that’s what we do here. … We’ll try to find somebody else to get looks.”
It’s all in the sense of sharing and caring.
Seemingly in this vein, Adebayo didn’t warm to the preseason perception that he could be the low-post strong man Kentucky obviously lacked last season. The absence was perhaps never more obvious than at Tennessee. UK fans might recall that the lack of a credible low-post scoring threat hurt Kentucky at Tennessee last season. The Cats roared to a 21-point lead in the first half. Then as Tennessee rallied, UK couldn’t blunt the Vols’ momentum by having a player score or get fouled or both in the post.
Payne didn’t object to the notion that Adebayo is too considerate of his teammates’ desire to shoot and score.
“I think he’s too nice, too unselfish,” Payne said. “I really do.”
Of course, the idea that Adebayo’s personality changes on and off the court has been chronicled. Most notable of the latter: He’s a Katy Perry fan.
But Adebayo is no pushover on the court. Kentucky just wants Adebayo to assert himself more often.
“We call it white-line fever in Australia,” said Humphries, who is a native of Sydney. “As soon as you cross the line, you just go crazy, and you’re so aggressive, and that sort of thing. That’s white-line fever. ... You are a different person, and you don’t have any regard for anything.”
Apparently, in Adebayo’s case, UK coaches want this disregard to extend to team-first selflessness.
No. 4 Kentucky at Tennessee
When: 9 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 17-2 (7-0 SEC), Tennessee 10-9 (3-4)
Series: Kentucky leads 152-68
Last meeting: Kentucky won 80-70 on Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington.