Though no doubt enjoyable for fans, Kentucky’s blowout victories in the Bahamas left one important question impossible to answer: Who will be UK’s catalyst (or is that Cat-alyst?) this coming season?
UK did not require a difference-maker in rolling to one-sided victories in each of the four exhibition games.
“You need a couple” of difference-makers, UK Coach John Calipari said this preseason. “Who’s going to be the guy who can change the game for three or four minutes to help you win? Who’s that? Still not sure who that will be. You try to have one or two or three of those, if you can. If you do, your team is really, really good.”
Calipari offered a job description for a catalyst.
“Someone’s got to be as good as anyone else in the country,” he said. “That dude, he can physically, skill-wise, whatever it is, length, speed, quickness, John Wall. For three minutes, he just changed the game. Now we can go win the game.
“I don’t know who that’s going to be for this team. That will probably play out.”
The catalyst does not necessarily have to make a key difference on offense by making shots or feeding the ball to teammates for scores. Calipari suggested Tyler Ulis was a catalyst defensively.
“Which is you go, and he’s there,” the UK coach said. “And then you go, and he’s still there. And then you go, and all of a sudden, he took the ball from you. Where did he come from?”
Ashton Hagans could be a difference maker on defense.
“He’s got a little bit of Tyler,” Calipari said of Hagans. “Tyler had to play angles and really had to be advanced in what was happening next because of his size. Ashton hasn’t done that yet. Ashton just mauls you. Like he knows to stay in front and body you. And he’s not afraid to be physical.”
Calipari acknowledged that the SEC will be challenging. UK’s five home-and-home opponents include three projected contenders for the championship (Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State), a Florida team likely projected in the upper half of the standings and a Vanderbilt team touting one of its best freshman classes.
“I don’t know if the other top teams are playing each other twice,” Calipari said. “I don’t think so. They can’t.”
One of Tennessee’s permanent home-and-home opponents is South Carolina. Mississippi State plays Ole Miss twice every season. Auburn plays Georgia and Ole Miss twice this season.
“I don’t think we’ve played a tougher schedule since I’ve been here . . . ,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be thrown at these kids. I think they know it.”
Calipari said he congratulated new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. The two have talked about playing a game.
A home-and-home series will be difficult to arrange, Calipari said. But he made a UK-Memphis game sound possible in the future.
A fix needed?
Calipari said he is not opposed to players going directly from high school to the NBA.
“Kids going directly to the G League, I’m not good,” he said.
Such players would forfeit the chance at a college education for the long-shot chance of advancing to the NBA through its G League.
“I’ll be on mountain tops, on tops of buildings screaming it,” Calipari said of his opposition. “So . . . 30 years from now, and you look at where I stood on things, people will say, ‘Well, he was against it, and look what happened.’ My guess is they will say, ‘He was right” because we have the highest graduation rate of basketball players (and) of African-American players. How many of those thought they’d be one-and-done?”
When reporters responded that all players would think they could be one-and-done, Calipari said, “Yeah, they all did. . . . So now they’re left with an education.”
About this series
This story is part of a series looking at the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team as the Cats prepare to open the 2018-19 season. Watch for more on UK in the coming days in the Herald-Leader and on Kentucky.com.
Important upcoming dates
Oct. 12: Big Blue Madness
Oct. 21: Blue-White Game
Oct. 26: Exhibition vs. Transylvania
Nov. 2: Exhibition vs. Indiana-Pennsylvania
Nov. 6: Season opener vs. Duke at Champions Classic in Indianapolis