UK Men's Basketball

From being the man to being a teammate, Kentucky freshmen must adjust

Kentucky Coach John Calipari likes to say players need to have amnesia. He means they must quickly forget about a mistake and not let it affect the next play.

After UK defeated Eastern Kentucky on Friday, Nate Sestina said the benefit of forgetfulness extends to past glories on the high school and AAU levels. Players almost have to relearn how to play basketball as they move to the college level.

“Like all that stuff is over with,” Sestina said of a player’s former persona. “Nobody cares what you did in high school. Nobody cares about McDonald’s All-American and all that stuff. When you come here, you’re a Kentucky basketball player.”

Freshman Keion Brooks acknowledged this drastic difference

“I was relied on to score the ball a lot,” he said of his high school role. “Just be the man.”

Kentucky has a roster full of such men, he said.

“I had a lot of freedom” in high school, he said. “I still have freedom, now. As long as you play hard and you’re making the right play, Cal gives you the freedom to do things you can do as long as you don’t get outside yourself.”

Of players reverting to old habits, Sestina said Calipari does a good job of “nipping it.” By that, he said Calipari “just nips the egos.” After the victory over EKU, Calipari said freshman Kahlil Whitney is learning to stay engaged.

Brooks said it can be “kind of a hard adjustment to take a step back (and) not be the star all the time.” To which Calipari said, “Keion played a lot of minutes. Like, ‘I want to play more minutes,’ and then today he did and he died.”

With exaggerated heavy breathing, Calipari added, “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, you got to get in better shape.”

‘He’s hurt’

Nick Richards’ star turn was well-timed. Before the game, UK announced that EJ Montgomery would not play. Montgomery injured an ankle in the game against Michigan State and will be checked daily by medical staffers, UK said.

Calipari offered no elaboration. When asked about Montgomery’s status, the UK coach said, “It’s day-to-day.”

Nits to pick

For those needing a nit to pick, Kentucky made only two of its first six free throws. Then there was the timeout Calipari called with 9:13 left in the first half. What prompted the timeout with Kentucky up 21-7 was EKU scoring in transition despite Calipari urgently waving an arm to signal his players to get back on defense.

Kentucky also got sloppy late in the first half. Three straight UK turnovers helped Eastern Kentucky go on an 8-0 mini-run that reduced the gap to 37-23.

After another Calipari timeout, Kentucky scored the next nine points.

Early in the second half, Whitney fouled a three-point shooter. And with barely a minute left, he hung on the rim after a dunk.

Lead the nation?

Richards blocked four shots, which was one shy of a career high.

When asked about Richards’ ability to be a rim protector, Calipari said, “If he gets four blocks every game, he leads the nation in shot-blocking.”

Moreno scores

Freshman Michael Moreno, who came to EKU from Scott County High School, was the Colonels’ only double-digit scorer. He had 14 points, which included a blitz of four three-pointers in a span of six possessions.

“Michael was really good tonight,” EKU Coach A.W. Hamilton said. “That was a huge bright spot for us. … He’s going to be a really big player for us. He’s only practiced for two weeks.”

Moreno’s preseason practice time was severely limited because of a foot fracture.

Of his blitz of threes, Moreno said, “I just caught it and let it go. That’s all I really knew to do.”

Who is EKU?

The game was the first step in Eastern Kentucky’s eye-catching schedule for this season. In 2019-20, the Colonels will be only the third team to play every Division I team in Kentucky.

“We want to recruit our state,” Hamilton said in explaining the scheduling. “We want to get the best players out of the state of Kentucky. What better way when sitting in a living room than to say we play every D-I team (in Kentucky)?”

Hamilton, who is from Georgetown, said that message would have hit home with him when he was in high school.

The scheduling is also part of Hamilton’s attempt to enhance EKU’s basketball brand.

“We want people to know who we are,” he said.

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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