You could say Kentucky is seeking better basketball through video games.
Not Madden NFL 17 or Pokémon or Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Part of the formula Kentucky is using to help De’Aaron Fox improve is having him watch other point guards excel, Coach John Calipari said Friday.
“We’re showing him a lot of tape of what other point guards are doing,” Calipari said, “and what he needs to do more of.”
Calipari declined to identify which point guards Fox and the coaches viewed. But the UK coach might have had to look no further than the backlog of Kentucky games earlier this season. Two highly acclaimed point guards played against UK in December: Lonzo Ball of UCLA (14 points, seven assists, but six turnovers) and Joel Berry II of North Carolina (23 points, seven assists and five rebounds).
DraftExpress.com projects another possibility, Markelle Fultz of Washington, and Ball as the first two picks in this year’s NBA Draft. The site lists Dennis Smith of North Carolina State as the fourth pick. Fox is the eighth pick.
Whatever the exact cause-and-effect that can be linked to the videos, Calipari said he saw improved intensity on defense and decision-making on offense from Fox.
On defense? “We’re seeing a guy at the top of the defense clapping and getting down,” Calipari said, “which makes the rest of you (do likewise). It’s contagious.”
On offense? Calipari said Fox has made better decisions about when to attack and when it was prudent to settle into a half-court approach. “When to go, when to pull it out,” Calipari said. “Showing him on tape, if it’s one on four, and you’re the one, you can’t shoot that. You can’t shoot it. You’ve go to pull it out.
“It’s just basketball. (It’s) like teaching.”
Calipari linked these decisions to UK’s recent pattern of having comfortable leads dwindle and late-game anxiety rise.
“We get leads, and they think, ‘OK, now it’s my turn to do my thing.’ Then you turn around and it’s an eight-point game. What just happened?!”
Against Tennessee on Tuesday, a sizable lead grew. The watch-this moments did not occur.
Fox had 13 points and six assists. For only the second time this season, he did not commit a turnover.
“I’ve been playing well the last few games with decision-making (and) things of that sort,” said Fox, who’s had 15 assists and only five turnovers in the last three games. “Just trying to get back to 100 percent.”
Of course, Fox turned an ankle against South Carolina on Jan. 21. That adversely affected his primary attribute: quickness.
A week or so later, Fox became ill. He missed the first game against Georgia. Or as Georgia Coach Mark Fox joked, “They didn’t have my nephew in that game.”
The two are not related.
“I saw five minutes total of the game because I was sleeping so much,” Fox said of UK’s 90-81 overtime victory.
He said he saw the first few minutes because he did not turn off the television after watching a previous game telecast. Then he said he saw a couple minutes at the end of the first half. And he saw the Malik Monk shot that sent the game into overtime.
“Then I didn’t see a second of overtime,” Fox said.
His return came four days later in Kentucky’s 88-66 loss at Florida. Fox, the Southeastern Conference leader in assists, did not have an assist for the only time this season.
“The whole week I didn’t practice,” he said of the lead-in to the Florida game. “It felt weird.”
Fox acknowledged that his first college season has been draining.
“It’s a long season, longer than any season I’ve ever had,” he said. “In high school, we didn’t play as many games, and it wasn’t this hard. It’s been tough.”
His recent uptick suggests Fox is adapting just in time for the all-important NCAA Tournament less than a month away.
Calipari ticked off what stands between now and then: five regular-season SEC games, then the league tournament.
“You’ve got to be in a this-is-who-we-are,” he said, seeming to suggest a team identity. “And we’re still not there yet. But we’re getting closer.”
No. 13 Kentucky at Georgia
When: 6 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 21-5 (11-2), Georgia 15-11 (6-7)
Series: Kentucky leads 122-26
Last meeting: Kentucky won 90-81 in overtime on Jan. 31 in Lexington.