UK Men's Basketball

Calipari says he expects to experiment during UK’s Bahamas trip

A trip to the Bahamas four years ago this month allowed Kentucky to test drive a much-hyped platoon system for substitution. Next week’s return trip for four exhibition games figures to also feature experimentation, albeit without the allure of such a radical change.

“We’re going to be experimenting with a lot of stuff, and I told them that,” Calipari said Wednesday. “There are things we’ll do defensively we have not done here in the past. I just want to try it. There are things offensively we’re going to try that we really haven’t done much in the past. It’s what I want to try.”

Calipari seemed to suggest he might take a look at more full-court pressure. “How much can we stretch the court out?” he said. “Can we force action and still be the kind of team that plays the percentages?”

Calipari cautioned against the idea that Kentucky can look like a well-polished team at this embryonic stage of 2018-19.

“I told them, ‘Are we going to be a good execution team when we go down to the Bahamas?’” he said. “They said, no. We can’t be. We haven’t been together long enough. But I want to see you playing hard. I want to see you compete.”

Calipari would also like to see ingenuity.

“Things happen in games,” he said. “Work your way through it. See things and then fix it.”

Head-start program

Calipari agreed with the idea that the trip to the Bahamas gives Kentucky a head start. It will enable UK to work on team concepts that normally would come later in the preseason.

After the Bahamas trip, UK can work on improving individual players’ games, he said.

Travis and PJ

Both played college basketball last season. Both entered this year’s NBA Draft. Both heard feedback about improving as perimeter players. Both withdrew from the draft.

The scenario fits both PJ Washington and Reid Travis.

“Similar styles,” Travis said. “We both want to attack the paint, want to get on the boards and be physical down there.”

Recovering

Washington participated in Wednesday’s practice, which was open to the media. He underwent offseason surgery on a broken pinkie finger.

“I am able to do a lot,” Washington said of pre-Bahamas practices. “I’m just focusing on rehabbing that up until I get it back to 100 percent.”

Vets

Here’s how Calipari described the differences he’s seen in veteran players since last season:

“You can see no anxiousness,” he said of Washington. “His body looks good.”

As for Quade Green, “His body looks way better. He’s lost some weight. He looks faster and quicker,” Calipari said.

In speaking to Nick Richards, “I told him you’ve never been a better player in your life,” Calipari said. “Nick wants to please me. I told him, ‘Nick, you’ve got to be in love with you. You’ve got to please yourself.’”

Rookie

Freshman Keldon Johnson said the trip to the Bahamas will be the first time he’s been out of the United States.

“I think it’s definitely a blessing,” he said. “I just want to thank Kentucky for that. . . . I think it’s going to be an amazing time.”

Coaching differently

To build trust with the players, Calipari said he’s spent more time than usual conducting practices.

For a few practices, Calipari said he went “old school” by being the only coach in the gym. It reminded him of his early days as UMass coach when the assistants would be away on recruiting trips.

De-commitment

Calipari sidestepped a thinly veiled question about prospect DJ Jeffries, who de-committed from UK recently.

“I don’t want to get into the recruiting stuff,” Calipari said. “We’ve been so fortunate and blessed that families have trusted us so much.

“But this isn’t for everybody. This is really hard. You have to want this as bad as we want you.”

Jeffries’ father was reportedly dissatisfied with how UK reacted when his son called to share his decision to de-commit.

No hard feelings, Calipari said. “We don’t take this personal,” he said. “I don’t get mad at anybody. You want to go somewhere else, I’m happy for you.”

Etc.

Jemarl Baker and walk-on Alexander “Zan” Payne did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. Baker had missed four or five days of practice because of swelling in a knee, Calipari said. Payne, the son of associate coach Kenny Payne, is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Wednesday’s practice was devoted primarily to defense.

Quade Green showed an ability to finish drives, even despite contact.

UK in the Bahamas

When: Aug. 6-13

Where: Atlantis Imperial Arena on Paradise Island

Games: Aug. 8, 9 and 11 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 12 at 4 pm.

Opponents: Professional teams from Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Serbia

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

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