UK Men's Basketball

How does cautious Cal assess young Cats? It’s a mixed review

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (1) during the game against the Troy Trojans at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (1) during the game against the Troy Trojans at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

Unlike his players, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he does not watch college basketball on television.

Instead, he said he watches such shows as “Alaska: The Last Frontier and Life Below Zero.”

“I don’t want to get discouraged … ,” he said Thursday. “We’re so far behind these other teams. … I’ve just got to stay focused. And I don’t want to have anxiety. Well, we’ve got to be more, do more. We are who we are right now.”

UK, the least experienced team in Division I, plays Monmouth in New York on Saturday. Calipari updated his assessment of the team.

It was a mixed review, leaving listeners unsure if Calipari was delivering a sober overview or trying to temper his enthusiasm for fear the players will believe further improvement is unnecessary.

“I think it’s day to day …,” Calipari said of how this work-in-progress is progressing. “Yesterday, I told them I feel encouraged right now. And they were, like, Wow! Really!”

Then in a deadpan voice, Calipari added that he’d probably have a different message at Thursday’s practice.

“I’ll probably say I really feel discouraged right now,” he said as reporters chuckled. “That’s how things have been. And a lot of it is just, I don’t want to be the guy who has to go crazy to get them to compete and play. Because if I am, that means they’re real close to letting go of the rope.”

A practice earlier this week breathed life in that scenario, he said. The players’ heart rates and efforts rose after Calipari unleashed some stinging rhetoric. The UK coach took this as a bad sign.

“Do you mean to tell me I have to be that mean for you to do what you should want to do and what you’re supposed to be learning to do?” Calipari said he told the players.

The next day’s practice was better, he said. The players are listening and trying to follow orders. The basketball transition from high school to college has been more difficult than the players anticipated, he said.

Calipari also said Kevin Knox’s average of 35.3 minutes is too much. Why? “He’s in the one position we don’t have too many (alternatives) … ,” he said. “I wish I had two of those. I don’t.”

The UK coach also said he’d want Wenyen Gabriel to play like Derek Willis, meaning a so-called “stretch-4” who can spread defenses with perimeter shooting.

Hamidou Diallo is getting a better feel for UK’s approach, Calipari said.

And PJ Washington could be the player to improve Kentucky’s meager three-point shooting. Washington has begun to improve as a shooter in practice.

“I keep telling him, we need you to shoot balls,” Calipari said. “I need you to shoot some jump shots. That’s what this team needs.”

Monmouth (3-6) will present a challenge, Calipari said. He also saw the noon tip-off as an additional challenge. For one thing, that means the UK team won’t stay in New York Saturday night, but will return after the game so players can resume preparation for next week’s final exams. Calipari said each player had at least one final exam on Monday.

Games that start at such an early time are usually decided by the team that’s more engaged, Calipari said.

Then he added, “We better show up and play.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton


Kentucky vs. Monmouth

When: Noon (ESPNU)

Where: Madison Square Garden