UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notes: Intense practices push players to improve

Kentucky players, including forward Alex Poythress, left, and guard Tyler Ulis, left the court after the Cats defeated Georgetown College.
Kentucky players, including forward Alex Poythress, left, and guard Tyler Ulis, left the court after the Cats defeated Georgetown College. Herald-Leader

Platoons of players are supposed to make Kentucky overwhelming this season. The wealth of talent has already improved practices, Coach John Calipari said Thursday.

Noting freshman Tyler Ulis' uphill climb against teammates like Andrew Harrison and assorted 7-footers, Calipari said, "He's not looking as good in practice as he is in games. ... That's why they're all getting better. Because the competition is forcing you."

As Ulis and Andrew Harrison make each other improve, so Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns must rise to each other's challenge, Calipari said. The same for Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison, and on down the roster.

"It's been great stuff," Calipari said.

The UK coach said he made recent practices "ultra competitive." But with six games in the next 12 days, Calipari said he intended to dial back the intensity.

Platoons should help UK cope with so many games in a short period of time.

"You're not playing 35 minutes," Calipari said. "So you should be able to do it."

Fewer minutes per game equals less physical toll. "Basically, you're talking 31/2 games" rather than six, Calipari said.

Starting point

Whether coach spin or wise perspective, Calipari shrewdly suggested that UK's many non-starters should not feel slighted.

"Why would you want to be in the starting five?" he said. "Those first four minutes, the (opposing) team is on fire."

It's better to be in the second wave when the opponent's initial adrenaline has subsided, he argued. By contrast, "We're jacked up," he said.

Compatible Cats

In deciding which players play in which platoon, Calipari sought a player-to-player comfort level, Marcus Lee said. "He was just looking for people who came together on the court."

Hence, twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison are on one platoon, while longtime friends Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis are on another.

Lee said he and Ulis are also compatible. "Real good in the press," Lee said. "We both bring a lot of energy with it, so we work well together."

Father-son game

Max Majerle, the 12-year-old son of Grand Canyon Coach Dan Majerle, made the trip. It is the first road trip he's made in his father's two seasons as coach.

"He's a huge basketball fan," Dan Majerle said. "Obviously, he watches the Kentuckys and the Dukes and college basketball. And he loves to play basketball.

"He knew we had scheduled Kentucky. And the only thing he asked was if I could bring him with me. Yeah. It'll be a great experience."

Max will sit on the Grand Canyon bench. "Soak it all in," Dan said. "So I'm excited for him."

Father looked forward to the experience as well.

"I'm excited just to be in Rupp Arena," he said. "I've heard a lot about it. It's the Mecca of college basketball, so it's going to be not only an experience for our kids, but for me."

Debut season

Grand Canyon enjoyed a successful first season in the four-year transition from Division II to Division I.

Picked to finish last (media) or next to last (coaches) in the Western Athletic Conference pre-season polls, the Antelopes finished third in 2013-14.

As part of the transition, the school expanded its home arena from 4,614 seats to 7,000.

Weather, man

Most teams travel the day before an away game. But Grand Canyon came from Phoenix to Lexington on Wednesday.

"We're just tired of the great weather here," Majerle joked. "So we thought we'd get some cold weather and get out of this 75-degree weather here, the sooner the better."

Actually, flight arrangements were better on Wednesday than Thursday, Majerle said.

Familiar names

Two familiar names are on the Grand Canyon roster.

Royce Woolridge, a graduate transfer from Washington State, is the son of the late Orlando Woolridge.

Ryan Majerle, a transfer from Division II Grand Valley State, is the nephew of the Grand Canyon coach.

Etc.

■ Bob Romantic, executive director of Grand Canyon's office of communications and public affairs, sent an email with updated numbers on the school's enrollment. It's 11,000 students on campus and 55,000 online.

■ Dave Neal and Darrin Horn will call the game for the SEC Network.

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