An initial conclusion about this season’s Kentucky team: UK is not going on the QT about the need to find more PT for EJ.
After the Cats beat North Dakota on Wednesday, John Calipari said he needed to find more playing time for EJ Montgomery. He said the freshman was a “separator,” meaning a player who could make a compelling difference in a game.
“It’s nice to get recognized that my hard work was being noticed,” Montgomery said Friday. He defined “separator” as “just always have energy. Talk. Play defense. Do what I can do on the offensive end.”
Assistant coach Tony Barbee, who substituted for Calipari at Friday’s news conference, called Montgomery “an instinctive basketball player.” A review of the North Dakota game revealed Montgomery making unusually good plays on defense, Barbee said. Twice Montgomery moved from the other side of the lane in one step to block a shot as a help defender.
“Very few guys that we’ve had had that instinct and that ability to react and physically go do that,” Barbee said. “The more minutes he gets at this level, the more comfortable he’s going to be, the more he’s going to understand how hard he’s got to play. And he’s able to sustain that type of effort. He makes us better.”
Point guard update
Here’s how Barbee assessed UK’s point guards at this early stage of the season:
Immanuel Quickley: “He’s steady. We always talk to Immanuel about he’s being a little too careful. We’d like to see him push the envelope because he’s capable. But it’s good to have a steady hand that you know is going to take care of the ball. . . . He has the ability to break a defense down and get to the second level of the defense. That’s ultra valuable.”
Ashton Hagans: “He’s a guy who’s still learning. So he’s thinking of what’s next instead of just reacting to what’s next. . . . It’s just a natural progression. We don’t want him out there thinking defensively because he’s so disruptive (as an on-ball defender).”
When asked about Nick Richards grabbing 19 rebounds against Southern Illinois, then getting only two in 16 minutes against North Dakota, Barbee said, “He might have gotten a little full of himself with 19 rebounds. So he got humbled. We’ve got to use it as a teaching point. It’s a learning opportunity for him.”
“We expect more consistency out of Nick because he’s a sophomore. He’s been through it.”
Barbee suggested there was no definitive update on Jemarl Baker.
“He’s in and out of practice right now,” Barbee said. “So it’s hit or miss with Jemarl.”
The Keydets bring a 3-1 record to Rupp Arena. VMI beat Washington College 89-56, Goucher 98-34 and USC Upstate 78-72.
VMI lost 94-55 to Pittsburgh. In that game, VMI was out-rebounded 42-21. VMI also made only five of 25 three-point shots.
Through four games, 43.1 percent of VMI’s shots have been from three-point range (107 of 248). Coach Dan Earl said the three-point shot has become “a little bit of the great equalizer, depending on who you talk to. . . . I like the three-point shot, and, hopefully, we have a couple guys who can knock them down. We need some more.”
Earl said VMI’s only senior, Austin Vereen, has not played and will miss the game because of a wrist injury. He averaged 10.4 points last season.
‘Service Above Self’
Calipari received the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s “Service Above Self” award on Thursday.
Besides guiding six teams to the Final Four, Calipari has helped 46 players become NBA Draft picks. And as Calipari regularly notes, the job of Kentucky coach can serve as a platform for community involvement and charitable work.
As UK coach, Calipari has played host to telethons to raise funding and awareness in the aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti and Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Harvey. His annual Fantasy Camp, which was held this year in the Bahamas, has raised more than $1 million for charity.
▪ UK’s plans for Thanksgiving are dinner at Calipari’s house with players and their families, Barbee said.
▪ Tom Hart and former Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy will call the UK-VMI game for the SEC Network.