Intense. Passionate. Taking the competition personally. Coaches normally do not like anything less than a zealous approach from players. But in the case of Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo, maybe a sprinkling of casual indifference might help.
“He’s not relaxed,” associate coach Kenny Payne said when asked Monday about Diallo’s recent play. “He’s pressing. It’s like the harder you’re trying, the worse it’s getting.”
The pressing shows in Diallo’s avert-your-eyes statistics of late. In the last three games, he’s made four of 15 shots (one of 12 from three-point range). In the last six games, he has no assists and 10 turnovers.
During a news conference Friday, UK Coach John Calipari offered his thoughts on how Diallo can return to form.
“I just want him to make really easy plays to get himself going,” Calipari said. “Worry about defense. Worry about running the stuff we’re trying to run. Lose yourself in the team.”
After Diallo took a season-low one shot in a season-low 10 minutes of play at Arkansas on Tuesday, Calipari said he tried to reassure the player that he believed in him.
“Cal’s done a great job . . . letting him know, ‘I’m not turning (away) from you; we need you,’” Payne said on the weekly radio show. “And just for these fans out here who question Hami, just understand Hami is a really good basketball player. Or he wouldn’t be in that jersey. He is talented. He just has to settle down, stop pressing, stop having self-doubt and trust his ability and let it come and be at peace with it.”
When asked how Diallo can contribute, Calipari mentioned the player’s extraordinary athleticism. Plus, “we’re trying to get him to shoot pull-up jumpers. Free-throw line jumpers. That’s a good play for him.
“And the biggest thing for him right now is sell-in defensively. No reason he shouldn’t be a great defender.”
Calipari again credited players settling into roles as important for Kentucky to end a losing streak at four games and start a two-game-and-counting winning streak.
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Calipari said. “Guys have got to fall into those roles. And then be good at what we need them to be good at collectively.”
The assigned roles also help the coaches, Calipari said. “Now, it’s easier to know if a guy is playing well. It’s not about a made shot, a missed shot. It’s are you doing what the team needs you to do?”
Landing a plane
Calipari likes to liken a team finding itself to landing a plane. He says he just hopes he doesn’t run out of runway before getting the team/plane down to the ground safely.
As for this season, he said Monday, “We’re not down on the ground yet. But we’re seeing it. We can see the ground below us now.”
Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin had a memorable way of describing Kentucky defenders who can switch off and on assignments: “bigs” on guards, guards on “bigs.”
“I would say organized chaos,” Martin said, “because they make you make extra plays. There might not be clear passes. They switch a lot of different things, and they keep you off balance.”
When asked about Jarred Vanderbilt, Martin borrowed an analogy from Calipari.
“When he rebounds the ball, it reminds me a lot of Dennis Rodman,” the Missouri coach said. “The level he rebounds that ball. And for him to be 19 years old with that frame, that size, that athleticism, that quickness, that fight and that desire, it’s hard. It’s really hard to keep a guy like that off the glass. . . . His approach is relentless, and it’s not easy to contain.”
‘Step it up’
In the last eight games, Wenyen Gabriel has made 14 of 43 shots (32.6 percent). He’s made only four of 23 three-point shots (17.4 percent). In the last nine games, he has not scored double-digit points, and averaged 5.0 points.
“We need Wenyen to step it up a little bit,” Calipari said. “He was a little bit better a week or two ago. He’s got to come back to where he was.”
In the first half of the game at Missouri on Feb. 3, UK made only six of 30 shots (zero of 10 from three-point range). When asked if it would be more difficult to duplicate such a defensive effort in Rupp Arena, Martin said, “Not at all. I think when you defend, your defense travels.”
Tom Hart and Sean Farnham will call the game for ESPN.