UK Men's Basketball

UK notes: Hood implores Calipari to play him more

Kentucky Coach John Calipari was on the treadmill Monday watching tape of Georgia playing Alabama. Then freshman Jon Hood entered the room.

"Coach, I'm telling you, I can guard this guy and that guy, and I'll make shots," Hood said, according to Calipari.

To which, the UK coach replied, "You know what? I need to give you a chance. We'll see how things play out."

In reliving the moment for reporters, Calipari said he liked players to be so bold.

When asked why he did that, Hood repeated the question. "Why did I do that?" he said. "I wanted to play.

"They tell me every day I've gotten into being a little too shy. That was kind of me not being shy."

Hood, a freshman guard from Madisonville, hasn't played since the Louisiana State game on Feb. 6. Since Southeastern Conference play began, he's played in two games for a total of 10 minutes.

But Hood said he might help UK snap out of its three-point shooting funk or in other ways.

"Just whatever Coach needs me to do," he said.

Hood said he approached Calipari after speaking to his parents and his assistant high school coach. He also took inspiration from a comment he's heard from Calipari and assistant coach Orlando Antigua.

"Scared money don't make no money," he said. "If you're scared, you're not going to get nowhere in life."

Hood said he would not have any rust to shake off because of practicing against the likes of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe each day. Those workouts give him confidence he can play the defense UK requires.

"I can guard," he said. "Because of John and Eric and forcing them off ball screens. Stay in front of them one or two steps before help gets there. I'm positive I can guard."

Now, Hood will await the chance to prove it. But, he noted, he did not approach Calipari because he's unhappy.

"I didn't ask for anything to be given me," he said. "I just wanted an opportunity. He's still the coach. He controls everything."

'Most improved'

Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl called him the "most improved player in the league."

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn called him an "athletic freak."

They were talking about Georgia wing Travis Leslie, who has blossomed as a sophomore. He ranks 12th among SEC players in scoring in league play (15.8 points a game), sixth in rebounding (7.9), ninth in assists (3.5) and fifth in shooting (49.1 percent).

UK fans got a firsthand look at Leslie when he scored 20 points — including a memorable dunk over DeMarcus Cousins — when Georgia played in Rupp Arena in January.

"Travis has really improved, not just from freshman year to now, but really throughout this season," Georgia's first-year coach, Mark Fox, said. "I talked to Travis about trying to become a basketball player who is a great athlete as opposed to a great athlete playing basketball."

Fox explained: "He's worked hard on some fundamentals. We've been really pleased with his work ethic."

Fox said the Georgia coaches knew Leslie could match up with SEC players athletically. They wanted him to become a better player.

"Drive the ball, pull up, make passes," Fox said. "More effective defender. ... Being a true perimeter player and less an athlete that plays at the rim."

Close games

The loss at Tennessee was the exception rather than the rule for Kentucky. UK has made clutch plays, as evidenced by a 9-2 record in games decided by fewer than 10 points.

By contrast, Georgia has struggled in such games (8-8 overall, 3-7 in the SEC).

"I don't think a lot of people expected them to be in the position (to keep it close)," Fox said of his players earlier this season. "I have to give them credit for battling and putting us in position to win. We just have to learn how to finish."

Depth has been a problem for Georgia. Two players averages double figures in points.

But the Bulldogs shoot free throws well enough to win close games. In league play, Georgia ranks third in free-throw accuracy (71.7 percent).

"Free throws can be a great advantage, especially if your 'bigs' can shoot them well," Fox said. "That's one of the things we do well."

Four Georgia starters have made at least 75 percent of their free throws this season. The exception comes at center with Albert Jackson (55.6 percent), Chris Barnes (55.6) or Jeremy Price (66.1).

Etc.

Calipari had his right thumb bandaged. He hurt the thumb banging on a clipboard at Tennessee, he said. ... Dave Neal and Joe Dean Jr. will call the game for the SEC Network.

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