UK Men's Basketball

Calipari says young Cats are jelling already

From left, guard Andrew Harrison, guard Dominique Hawkins, forward Derek Willis, center Dakari Johnson, guard James Young, guard Aaron Harrison, forward Marcus Lee and forward Julius Randle.
From left, guard Andrew Harrison, guard Dominique Hawkins, forward Derek Willis, center Dakari Johnson, guard James Young, guard Aaron Harrison, forward Marcus Lee and forward Julius Randle. Lexington Herald-Leader

If 2013-14 goes as well as the initial pre-season practices described by Coach John Calipari, Kentucky basketball fans will see great expectations realized.

Calipari told the Lexington Rotary Club Thursday that two NBA officials marveled at the cohesion and enthusiasm on display in workouts.

"Don't know how you get these kids to sacrifice and play for each other," Calipari said he was told by these NBA people, whom he did not identify.

Freshman James Young, a relatively lesser light in UK's freshman constellation, apparently made the strongest impression on these pro people.

"He's the best player in the country right now," Calipari said he was told by the two NBA types.

The point? Calipari said he wanted other UK players to welcome the praise lavished on a teammate. "If you're about yourself, you can't survive here," he said.

Of course, the meshing of seven McDonald's All-Americans (six freshmen plus sophomore Alex Poythress) is seen as the key to Kentucky's season. That was one of last season's failings. Another — the lack of competitive spirit — doesn't figure to be a problem, Calipari said.

"I don't have to coach intensity," he told a crowd of about 400 (twice as large as the usual club meeting).

During his 37-minute talk, which included a question-and-answer period, Calipari embraced and rejected Kentucky basketball's link to the NBA.

He cited the Rotary's motto, Service Above Self, as a foundational piece for the UK program. He noted how ex-Cats John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins announced donations to charities after agreeing to new NBA contracts. Players are encouraged to do charitable work and learn how to handle the riches that come with playing in the NBA.

Critics might say "He only wants pros," Calipari said. "No. No. No. We're teaching service above self. We're trying to teach more than basketball."

But Calipari also made a light-hearted reference to Kentucky producing NBA draft picks (17 in his first four years on the job).

"In two or three years, we may have 14 (or) 15 percent of NBA players come through us," he said. "That means every game you watch will have a Kentucky player."

Calipari touted this Kentucky's team's prowess in the so-called dribble-drive offense. "Best team since maybe the next-to-last Memphis team for the dribble-drive," he said in reference to the 2007-08 team led by Derrick Rose.

Calipari predicted that if Kentucky proves to play the dribble-drive as well as he thinks, opponents will be forced to retreat into zone defenses.

Among the players Calipari said he was working with to make better drivers is Julius Randle, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound freshman who has been likened to a runaway freight train. "A man," Calipari said more succinctly.

The UK coach said he's advising Randle to take on defenders en route to the basket.

"I don't want you to avoid contact," he said he told the player. "Come to a stop and get and-ones."

Calipari likened Randle to Patrick Patterson, the answer to the program's fervent prayer for a studly power forward. Like Patterson, Randle can enhance his game by adding a perimeter component to a muscled presence around the basket.

In a span of seven practices, Randle took only two jump shots, Calipari told the Rotarians.

"He's not where he'll be in a month," the UK coach said of Randle. "If he gets his head and shoulder by you, he's almost impossible to stop,"

Cal advises patience with UK football

Calipari advised the Rotarians to be patient as first-year coach Mark Stoops works to rebuild UK's football program.

Only two or three players can bring a revival of a basketball program, he said.

Those numbers are insufficient in football. "You need the calvary," Calipari said.

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