LOUISVILLE — Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis' performance will be critically important, especially early this season, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said at the 2015 Wildcat Tip-Off Luncheon on Wednesday.
Late in his 17-minute talk, Calipari got to the upcoming 2015-16 season.
"As we speak, we stink ... ," he said, which caused a good-natured chuckle to fill the air. "Early on, we're going to be ugly. We've got to hope Tyler is so good that we get by the ugly."
Calipari said Ulis had 25 assists and three turnovers in a recent three-day practice period.
"Really good," the UK coach said. "The other guards are under water. More turnovers than assists. That's OK. They're learning."
Earlier this year, ESPN analysts Seth Greenberg and Sean Farnham said Ulis would be the best point guard in the country this season.
When junior Dominique Hawkins broke a bone in his right hand Sunday, which was not mentioned at the Tip-Off Luncheon, that left UK with three options for a play-making point guard: Ulis, and freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe.
Junior forward Marcus Lee also got a do-better nudge from Calipari. Not getting a rebound in two practices ignited the coach's corrective impulses.
"Told him about it the next day," Calipari said. "He got seven rebounds" at the next practice.
A crowd of about 800 heard Calipari describe the UK team for 2015-16 as in flux.
"Everything right now is an experiment," he said.
UK must decide what type of offense to run, whether to press, whether — or how much — to play zone defense.
"That's what makes this job tough," Calipari said. "The turnover."
Seven Kentucky players entered the 2015 NBA Draft, and six were selected. Calipari suggested the revolving door each year is a double-edged sword: tough for coaches who must almost totally revamp strategies to fit new personnel.
"What's great about this job is the turnover," Calipari said. "Being able to sit in the green room (at an NBA Draft) and see families' lives change, and be able to see generational poverty end."
Upon being introduced as a Hall of Fame coach, Calipari was treated to a 20-second ovation. He immediately turned the attention to another newly enshrined Hall of Famer in the hotel ballroom: Louie Dampier.
"Thank you," Calipari said. "Now, let's give the real hand for the guy who made all those shots and did all he did for Kentucky. How about Louie going into the Hall of Fame."
Calipari briefly reviewed the 2014-15 season, which Kentucky began with 38 straight victories.
"They did it by sharing," Calipari said of the players. He then cited Devin Booker taking relatively few shots (7.6 per game), plus Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein taking the fourth- and sixth-most shots.
"That's what was amazing about the season," he said.
Of UK's platoon-system of substitution, Calipari said, "I had 10 children who had to eat. Now, I could starve three."
Instead, he devised and sold a system of regularly playing 10 players.
The luncheon was something of a salute to Calipari. UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell joined in the spirit of the affair by referencing Calipari's attendance at Pope Francis' recent speech to Congress, then jokingly said a UK coach who had a 38-1 record last season didn't need divine assistance as much as Mitchell did.
Calipari seemed to shy from the spotlight.
"I do not think I am Kentucky basketball," he said. "I don't think that. I'm in the seat temporarily. If Kentucky basketball is about anybody, it's Coach (Adolph) Rupp."
Continuing the thought, Calipari said he called Rupp's son, Herky, upon learning of the Hall of Fame nomination.
"I want you to understand it's taken this long for someone else at Kentucky to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame that's not associated with your father," Calipari said he told Rupp. "And he said, 'You're part of our family.'
"Which made me feel good because he knows I'm not trying to be Kentucky basketball."