Kentucky Coach John Calipari shocked freshman Isaac Humphries during the Duke game. Of all possibilities, Calipari put the freshman big man in the game.
“When he came up to me and said I’m in, I thought, ‘Me? Really? I’m going in right now?’” Humphries said Thursday. “I played a fair amount of minutes (12), and I was just determined to make sure he was happy with putting me in. I wanted to prove to him that I could do it.”
Mission accomplished. Calipari noticed how Humphries contributed: two points, three rebounds, two blocks and a presence around the basket.
“Isaac was fine,” Calipari said. “Isaac was not intimidated at all by the situation.”
Humphries played fewer minutes against Albany (seven) and NJIT (six). As curious as it might sound, he said he was more comfortable going against Duke.
“I play better against bigger players,” he said. “I like to be physical. It’s easier against guys my size.”
Besides providing a needed boost against Duke because of Skal Labissiere’s foul trouble, Humphries said his performance made him reassess how he might contribute this season.
“I definitely learned that I could compete,” he said. “I just learned to have more confidence in myself.”
Family and friends in his native Australia offered Humphries congratulations.
“It must have been on TV because a lot of my friends and family were calling me afterward,” he said. “It was cool.”
The family and friends might not fully appreciate what Humphries did.
“We have nothing like it in Australia,” he said. “They just think it’s just a little basketball game. But little do they know that it’s a very big game.
“I think they understand basketball, but they don’t understand the severity of how important a game like that is. I just explained to them that it’s pretty big. It’s a pretty big arena and nothing like you’ve ever seen me play in. It’s hard to explain to them, but they Google. So they can look it up.”
Need consistency from bench
Derek Willis scored 25 points in UK’s first two games. He was scoreless against Duke. That typifies the unpredictability of players coming off UK’s bench so far this season.
“We need somebody who’s going to be consistent off the bench,” Calipari said. He mentioned Charles Matthews, Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Willis as possibilities to fill that need.
“Somebody consistent so we knew what we’re getting,” Calipari said.
The Cats do not necessarily want consistent scoring, he said. The need is for reliable contributions.
Tooth or consequences
Alex Poythress got his teeth caught in the net after dunking against Duke. This prompted Calipari to say after the game that if that happened, “Why don’t you do that all the time?”
Calipari meant that Poythress should show his athleticism to the fullest. It’s in Poythress’s self interest not to rely solely on physical play.
“On the next level, bullies don’t make it,” Calipari said. “You’re done. You’re finished. You can’t play at that level. You have to be an elite athlete.”
Meanwhile, Wright State Coach Billy Donlon chuckled when asked about Poythress getting his teeth caught in the net. “The only way I can relate to that in any way, shape or form is if the goal is 5 feet high,” he said.
While there was a buzz about UK’s latest recruiting haul, Humphries and Isaiah Briscoe were not caught up in the enthusiasm. Each applauded the signings, but . . .
“I don’t pay attention to that,” Briscoe said.
Added Humphries: “I’m just focused on what we’re doing right now.”
Not necessarily a mate
Humphries, who is from Australia, laughed at how people assume he knows recruit Tai Wynyard, who is from New Zealand.
“We’re supposed to be best friends because we’re from the Southern Hemisphere,” Humphries told reporters. “It’s two different countries, guys.”
Wright State made 22 of 44 three-point shots in its last two games, and lost both. One reason: Wright State shot only 18 free throws in those games. The losses were to Cal State-Northridge and Northern Illinois, which were the second and third games in a three-day period to start the season.
“We’ve got to drive more, which will be an incredible challenge (against UK),” Donlon said.
The Raiders can put four three-point shooters on the floor, and on occasion five, Donlon said.
“When you’re shooting all those threes, that’s all you want to do,” Donlon said.
▪ Donlon played for UNC-Wilmington, where Calipari began his college playing career. There’s another connection. Joel Justus, UK’s analytics specialist, played for UNC-Wilmington when Donlon was an assistant coach.
▪ Dave Baker, Joe Dean Jr. and sideline reporter Brooke Weisbrod will call the game for the SEC Network.