UK Men's Basketball

Calipari touts talent during Pro Day but UK coach wants more toughness

On Sunday, Kentucky staged its sixth annual “Pro Day,” pro being short for “professional” or “promotional.” Or both.

Anchors Jimmy Dykes and Seth Greenberg gushed repeatedly during the two-hour Pro Day telecast by the SEC Network. A drinking game requiring a chug for every mention of the word “dude” could have meant many hangovers in the Blue Blue Nation on Monday morning.

Dykes used the word “dude” to describe six different UK players: Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, Keion Brooks Jr., Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Nate Sestina. As a bonus, he also referred to Tyler Herro, one of UK’s one-and-done players from last season, as a dude.

Brooks moved Dykes to add a flourish. Dykes called the freshman from Fort Wayne, Ind., “a basketball-playing dude . . . from a basketball-playing state.”

If viewers somehow missed the point, Greenberg explained NBA personnel coming to Lexington for Pro Day because “They (the Cats) have dudes.”

Despite a dude ranch of a team, Kentucky Coach John Calipari joined Dykes and Greenberg in tempering any notion of the Wildcats peeling out of the gate this coming season.

“We’re not going to be the kind of team we’ll be (immediately),” Calipari told the SEC Network anchors. “And it won’t be till January or February.”

UK’s style of play this coming season remains undecided at this embryonic stage of the preseason, he said. Big Blue Madness — the traditional celebration of basketball’s official return — comes on Friday night in Rupp Arena.

“It’s a lively group,” Calipari said. “We have a talented team. We just have to get a little bit tougher. . . . But I’m telling you, I really like the group.”

In separate interviews, Calipari and assistant coach Tony Barbee noted the importance of UK’s four returnees: Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Richards and Montgomery.

“If you don’t play those four, we’re not ready,” Calipari said. “The young kids aren’t ready. And I don’t know which of the young kids is ready for this.”

Whitney had gotten stronger and improved significantly, Calipari said before adding, “for him, more is less. . . . ‘You are long and strong. Your offense is good enough unless you try to do too much, which he does at times.”

Barbee spoke of the learning process that freshmen must accept.

“It’s a struggle early . . . ,” he said. “You’re thinking too much. And you’re almost paralyzed. We’re in those struggle stages with younger players right now.”

The four returnees, whom Barbee said had undergone a “night-and-day transformation” from last season, can ease the pain of this struggle stage.

Besides being returnees, Richards and Montgomery lead the group of seven UK players with wingspans of 7 feet or longer. “Those two dudes have to get it done,” Dykes said.

UK’s third “big,” graduate transfer Nate Sestina, adds to the veteran presence. Greenberg called him “that dude who has to play.”

Calipari saluted Sestina’s willingness to talk on the court. “If I made him stop talking, there’s crickets,” the UK coach said.

Calipari cited other areas that he’ll want to see improvement.

“See the play before you catch the ball,” he said. “Now it becomes are you ready to make a quick play.

“And then you’ve got to rely on your point guards, so the whole game isn’t just fast. There’s pace to this game.”

The telecast saluted Kentucky’s three point guards — Hagans, Maxey and Quickley.

Referring to Hagans’ defense, Greenberg said, “To me, he is the most important player.”

Among the many references to Kentucky as a preparatory step to the NBA was Calipari’s shoes which featured the names of 38 UK players drafted in his time as coach. In future Pro Day shows, the UK coach will have to wear high tops to fit in the additional names, Dykes quipped.

Important upcoming dates

Oct. 11: Big Blue Madness

Oct. 16: SEC Media Day

Oct. 18: Blue-White Scrimmage

Oct. 27: Exhibition opener vs. Georgetown College

Nov. 1: Exhibition vs. Kentucky State

Nov. 5: Season opener vs. Michigan State


The Herald-Leader is now offering a digital sports-only one-year subscription for $30. You'll get unlimited access to all Herald-Leader sports stories.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader