UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Joe B. Hall compares current Cats to all the greats he's witnessed

Former University of Kentucky head basketball coach Joe B. Hall photographed outside Rupp Arena with a large photo of Adolph Rupp in the background in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 23 2012.  Hall will be honored as a "heart hero" at the American Heart Association's Lexington Heart Ball on Feb. 25. Charles Bertram | Staff
Former University of Kentucky head basketball coach Joe B. Hall photographed outside Rupp Arena with a large photo of Adolph Rupp in the background in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 23 2012. Hall will be honored as a "heart hero" at the American Heart Association's Lexington Heart Ball on Feb. 25. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Joe B. Hall, who turns 86 Sunday (today), scrimmaged against the Fabulous Five. (We'll pause to let that sink in.)

His preseason conditioning program, then an innovation for Kentucky, sharpened Rupp's Runts.

He recruited Dan Issel.

He coached the 1978 national championship team.

It's extremely early to make historic judgments. But who better than Hall to compare and contrast the current Kentucky team with its storied predecessors?

The Fabulous Five? "Way ahead" of the competition.

Rupp's Runts? "About as pretty a team as I've ever seen."

The '78 champs? "Probably more similar" to the current Cats in terms of size, talent and adaptability to counter any opponent's game plan.

Then there are the "really great" teams of Rick Pitino's time as coach: the Jamal Mashburn-led Final Four team of 1993 and the Untouchables of 1996.

"But this team that (John) Calipari's got, it's like you hand-pick the players you wanted to form a team," Hall said last week. "The size. The backup size. The athletic talent. There's just so much there to work with."

Hall noted the UCLA dynasty teams of the 1960s and 1970s as a reference. He was not the first to cite college basketball's blue-and-gold standard for excellence.

"When you started the season, you felt you were trying to be No. 2," Hall said of John Wooden's Bruins. "You just felt their presence."

Will Kentucky have that kind of aura this season?

"Yeah," Hall said. "We're so unusual in the ability of the big men who can do the things these kids can do."

For Hall, a thread tying together the greatest of UK teams is unity of purpose.

The Fabulous Five, which won the 1948 NCAA Tournament? "They played like everybody thought the same way," Hall said. "They were so in tune (with each other) offensively. They moved the ball like magic. They just overpowered teams. Just crushed them."

The Runts? "The whole team would pass the ball," Hall said. "They worked the ball so beautifully, as well as any team I've ever seen."

The '78 champs shared one characteristic with the current Cats: They faced a championship-or-bust burden of expectation. Hall noted "just strain and pressure" as factors in the two losses in the 1977-78 season. "We didn't play well," he said of losses at Alabama and at LSU. "We didn't come ready to play."

Of course, the 1977-78 season had a happy ending. Time will tell with the current Cats, but there's reason to believe.

"It's a beautiful thing to see the way they're moving the ball and playing unselfishly," Hall said. "And playing defense the way they are, and helping each other."

Maybe most astounding when talking about a team with nine McDonald's All-Americans, Hall said, "They're exceeding their ability with their effort."

'Lost art'

Shooting is the most elemental aspect of basketball. The first skill every boy and girl tries to master is putting the ball through the hoop.

Yet, so many players cannot shoot. Or at least cannot shoot well. Former UK player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second player taken in the 2012 NBA Draft, has spent his young pro career trying to become a better shooter. Surely, that says something about the relative importance of shooting.

That's what makes UK freshman Devin Booker stand out. Though plenty athletic, he is a shooter. He breathes life into shooting fundamentals: square your shoulders, jump straight up, roll the ball off your fingers, return straight down to the floor.

"He's probably got the best form I've ever seen," longtime friend and fellow freshman Tyler Ulis said. "He has a beautiful shot. A perfect shot."

Booker would not go so far as to say so basic a basketball skill as jump-shooting has become a lost art.

"I'd say the lost art of basketball right now is the in-between game," he said last week. "Like the one-dribble pull-up or the two-dribble pull-up. Which is an effective play, but a tough play to make."

When executed correctly, the pull-up jumper is fun to watch. Darrin Horn, the former coach at Western Kentucky and South Carolina, said there were at least two reasons for its growing demise.

"In high school or AAU, it's either shoot a three or get all the way to the rim," he said. "The game has changed in how it's played."

Horn also cited the increasing popularity of analytics. Weighing percentages and potential points scored, it's better to shoot the three-pointer or drive in order to get to the foul line. Basketball as science, not art.

Except for big men, "there's no great scorer without a mid-range game," Horn said. He listed Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and, going back a bit in time, Michael Jordan as examples. Turning back the clock even further, Jerry West should be mentioned. Diehards of a certain age would add Rick Mount to the list.

"You have to create those shots," Horn said of the mid-range pull-up shot. "You're not always going to get an open shot or an open lane to the basket."

At 6-foot-6, Booker can be difficult to stop if his offensive game includes three-pointers, pull-up jumpers from mid-range and drives to the basket. The pull-up improves the other options.

"'Unguardable' is probably too strong a word," Horn said of a player of that size with that variety of scoring options. "But it's hard to guard because you're getting your shot on the move.

"I told my guys, if I'm on the move and I can stop and go straight up, you're never going to stop me from getting that shot off because you can't stop your own lateral movement to then go straight up as I get to my point of release.

"It's physically impossible."

As a bonus, the pull-up jumper is also aesthetically pleasing to watch.

Sub yourself?

It's hard to imagine a player walking past that little fellow dressed like the man on the wedding cake (aka the coach) and telling the official scorer he's reporting into the game for a teammate. But that's just what UK Coach John Calipari said again Friday that he wants his players to do.

Really?

Calipari likes to say Kentucky's platoon system is not Communism. But it isn't democracy either. According to no less an authority than Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, all basketball systems should be a dictatorship. The coach — and not the players — decides who goes into the game.

As sports parlance terms it, Calipari wants the players to take "ownership." He wants them to take a personal interest in making things right.

The ever-wily Calipari said he recently stood Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson side by side and told them they will share minutes at a position. The same for Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee. The same for Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker.

In promoting the sub-yourself approach, Calipari asked, "What if the other guy isn't bringing it? What if he isn't bringing energy? What if he's not concentrating? What if he's not in the game (mentally)? You OK with sharing minutes with that guy? No? OK, then go take him out. Walk up (to the scorer's table). Take him out. You tell him, 'I took you out.'"

When asked how Kentucky could benefit from such decision-making, Calipari said, "They hold each other responsible."

Update

Victoria Sun, who once covered UK for the now defunct Cincinnati Post, now works for Florida State's basketball program. She is a special assistant to Coach Leonard Hamilton. She had been in a similar position at Eastern Michigan.

Sun covered UK from the 2002-03 season through about the first half of the 2007-08 season.

Her time as a UK basketball beat reporter abruptly ended when the Cincinnati Post went out of business on Dec. 31, 2007. (Happy New Year!)

"I remember going to sleep thinking, what is next?" she said.

What happened?

Columnist Phil Mushnick of the New York Post noted that Kansas State wore black uniforms with dark purple numbers in the Maui Invitational last week. Dark purple on a black background made the numbers difficult to see.

"Whatever happened to teams wearing their school colors?" Sean McDonough said on the ESPN telecast.

To which, Mushnick wrote, "Good question. ... What happened? The sports world went money-first, sneaker cartel-corrupted, gang-fashion slick and sick. That's what happened."

Happy birthday I

Former UK Coach Joe B. Hall turns 86 Sunday (today).

"I'm 10 years older than Adolph (Rupp) was when he passed," he said. "That's amazing."

Hall noted how the aging process brings challenges.

"I tell you, it wears on you," he said. "Old age is not for the weak at heart."

Hall's family planned a combination Thanksgiving/birthday celebration for Sunday.

Happy birthday II

To Julius Randle. He turned 20 on Saturday. ... To Larry Johnson. He turned 60 on Friday. ... To Jamal Mashburn. He turned 42 on Thursday. ... To Brooks Downing. He turns 51 Sunday (today).

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