UK Men's Basketball

Calipari's mixed message for UK's 'bigs': Train like a guard, yet muscle opponents

To fit in the modern NBA, Kentucky's big men will need to be able to run the floor like guards but finish with strength, Coach John Calipari said.  The UK coach said Nick Richards (4) is making progress. “He’s gotten way more comfortable, way more confident, way more physical."
To fit in the modern NBA, Kentucky's big men will need to be able to run the floor like guards but finish with strength, Coach John Calipari said. The UK coach said Nick Richards (4) is making progress. “He’s gotten way more comfortable, way more confident, way more physical." aslitz@herald-leader.com

Be a bully, yet embody the grace of a ballet dancer. That’s what John Calipari is looking to develop in Kentucky’s big men for next season.

When asked on a Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Thursday about strongman transfer Reid Travis, Calipari noted how “small ball” is all the rage in the NBA.

“I told him the league is going to movement,” Calipari said of a conversation with Travis. “‘The league is going to stretching out the court. Don’t get away from who you are. You’re a physically strong, active (player). That’s who you are. But let’s stretch this thing out.’”

Calipari’s message apparently echoed what Travis heard when he put his name in this year’s NBA Draft. Teams reportedly told him he needed to improve his outside shooting and perimeter skills.

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John Calipari said he told Reid Travis that to make it in today's NBA "you’ve got to be able to fly up and down the court." Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

As an All-Pac 12 player for Stanford the past two seasons, Travis bulled his way to points and rebounds. So it seems safe to say Calipari wants Travis to add to his game, not replace post presence with perimeter flair.

“He’s a really good low-post player,” said Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland, who formerly coached at UCLA. “He’s a real problem down low. He’s got great hands and excellent feet and a great feel for the game.

“So he’s going to be a real load for everybody in our league to contend with in terms of getting the ball in the paint. He’s hard to stop down there. That was a great pickup for Kentucky to get him late.”

Calipari did not single out Travis as a big man who needs to add a perimeter component to his game. The same applies to sophomores PJ Washington and Nick Richards, plus incoming freshman EJ Montgomery.

When asked specifically about Richards, Calipari cited improvement in comportment.

“He’s gotten way more comfortable, way more confident, way more physical,” Calipari said. “But he’s going to have to demonstrate performance in games so he can build his own confidence.”

Richards averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds last season. He played double-digit minutes only once after Feb. 17 last season.

As with Travis and other “bigs,” Richards will be asked to play away from the basket. Interestingly, he voiced a preference for not being pigeonholed as a low-post player, in part because NBA big men play out on the floor.

On this, Calipari agreed.

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New Wildcat Reid Travis has been advised by John Calipari to retain his power skills around the basket but improve his ability to space the floor. Elaine Thompson AP

“The game is kind of going position-less,” he said. “I want him to train as though he’s a guard. I want him to have those kind of skills. At the end of the day, just like Reid, just like PJ, just like EJ . . . , They’re all being trained as though they’re guards. But I want them to finish like they’re ‘bigs.’

“I told PJ and Reid, you two are bulls. You two are so physical. You don’t want to get away from that. But under-sized bullies don’t make it at the next level. You’ve got to have great movement. You’ve got to be able to fly up and down the court. You better be able to space the court out.”

Witk many good players and the possibility of more coming, UK might consider reviving platoon system. But John Calipari does not want to.

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