UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky players vow to stick together no matter how platoons are divided

Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns fought for a rebound over Dakari Johnson (44).
Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns fought for a rebound over Dakari Johnson (44). Herald-Leader

While the details must be worked out, Kentucky players sound upbeat and encouraged about playing in much-discussed "platoons" this season.

"I'm on a team that has so much talent, and it gives me the best chance to win a national championship," freshman Karl-Anthony Towns said after the Blue-White Game on Monday. "That's why I picked (UK). And I'm glad to see that everything's coming true right now. The talent seems really great. The coaching staff, we don't even have to talk about that. It's just about us. We have to execute."

Towns and another of UK's big men, Dakari Johnson, acknowledged that Coach John Calipari's idea of platoons remains in an embryonic stage of development. Although an athletic creed holds that players are creatures of habit, and thus play their best when in predictable roles, Towns and Johnson shrugged at the unknowns present with Kentucky's still-under-construction player rotation.

"You never know what the lineup's going to be," Towns said. "But you do know that you're going to have four other brothers with you on that side. And you're going to have to compete. It's the best thing: knowing that you have all these guys with you on your team every single day when the regular season starts. But, now, you get to compete against them every day and get better."

Johnson reminded reporters that the season's first game is still weeks away: Nov. 14 against Grand Canyon. This is the time for experimentation, which will get another public inspection Sunday with an exhibition game against Pikeville.

"It's just the beginning of the season," he said. "We still have a lot of things to work on and get better at. We started off as a bunch of competitive guys, and that's a good start to have."

After the Blue-White Game, Calipari talked about the broad outlines of how he'll try to put together platoons of players this season.

"I'll probably try some different combos," he said. "I kind of like two freshmen on a team (and) three vets on a team. It gives it some balance. ...

"What I don't want to have is four freshmen on one team. It's just not fair to those kids. Would I ever go with three (freshmen) on one team? Well, the other two would have to be veterans that are playing well for me to do that."

If injury, foul trouble or some other factor necessitates UK's four freshmen playing together, Towns said it would be a challenge the first-year players must face.

"That's our jobs," he said. "We have to make sure that we can do everything we can to bring 'W's" to (UK). And we have to do it with any lineup Coach Cal gives us."

Calipari spoke of what components he'd like to have in each platoon.

"You want to have a point guard on each group," he said. "You want to have some size on each group. And how do they fit together?"

More than once this preseason, Calipari has predicted that the media will attempt to divide UK players. Sophomore Andrew Harrison echoed that theme when asked if he took pride in being on the winning side in practice competition.

"I kind of take a lot of pride in it," he said before adding, "I know people are going to try to split up the team. 'Somebody's better.' You have to go in there and try to prove yourself every day. As a leader, you have to bring it, and make sure your whole team is bringing it every day."

Unusual for recent Kentucky teams, the freshmen do not shoulder the responsibility for success. Instead, they somehow must settle into an unsettled situation.

"The challenge is just making sure I'm at my best," Towns said. "Always work hard every day. Never take days off. ... But what makes it very challenging also makes it very rewarding."

The players sounded like they trust that the present challenge of undefined platoons will evolve into later success.

"It's not confusing at all," Johnson said. "Just knowing that you're going to come out with four other guys that have the same competitive spirit and know how to play and are just as talented as you, it's going to be great."