UK Men's Basketball

Incoming freshmen giving UK basketball a new dimension: height

Kentucky signees (from left) Sacha Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox took a photo together in Chicago the week of the McDonald’s All-American Game in March.
Kentucky signees (from left) Sacha Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox took a photo together in Chicago the week of the McDonald’s All-American Game in March.

After two weeks on campus, incoming freshmen have already given Kentucky basketball a new dimension: height.

That has to sound like good news for UK fans after last season, when the Cats had to try to compensate for a lack of presence around the basket.

“You can really tell a difference in the size of our team,” assistant coach John Robic said on Monday’s Southeastern Conference summer teleconference. “What it’s done, it’s made workouts and practices much more competitive, especially near the rim.”

Robic said the addition of size can return a staple of Kentucky’s good defense in almost all of John Calipari’s seven seasons as coach.

“Because of how long we are, we’re able to challenge a lot more things at the rim,” Robic said.

The freshmen include 6-foot-10 Sacha Killeya-Jones and two 6-9 players: Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel. Tai Wynyard, who arrived at UK last December and did not play, can be considered another 6-9 newcomer.

“You have good speed,” Robic said, “really, really good skill. And it’s a fun group to watch so far.”

The freshmen are beginning their third week on campus, getting acclimated and focusing, so far, on offense, Robic said.

“I think it’s a hungry group that’s really, really getting along well right now,” Robic said. “Which is really encouraging to see so early.”

Briscoe leads

Robic saluted sophomore Isaiah Briscoe’s willingness to embrace a leadership role.

Briscoe entered his name in this year’s NBA Draft and worked out for teams before deciding to return to UK.

When asked if the NBA process served to motivate Briscoe, Robic said, “Well, I would think so. I think that’s a natural reaction.

“He went through the process and gained a lot of valuable information. That’s what the rule was for. He fully took advantage of it.”

Willis a teaching tool?

Robic said he could not comment on the status of senior forward Derek Willis, who was recently arrested for public intoxication. Nor could he comment on how, or if, the program punished Willis.

When asked if the UK coaches used Willis’ well-publicized arrest as a way to teach the players that a misstep in the age of social media can reverberate, Robic said, “The only thing I can say is we educate our players to the best of our ability, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in.

“Hopefully our guys will listen and learn.”

Pelphrey ‘a winner’

Ex-Cat John Pelphrey has made a big first impression as an assistant coach for Alabama.

“Oh, believable,” Tide Coach Avery Johnson said of Pelphrey’s early impact on the program.

Pelphrey was a key component on UK’s 1991-92 team (he set the pick that freed Sean Woods for the go-ahead shot that preceded Christian Laettner’s famous game-winner). He had what Johnson was looking to hire: Head coaching experience, SEC experience, recruiting contacts.

“He’s a winner,” Johnson said. “He won as a player in the SEC. He won as an assistant coach. And he did a nice job as a head coach.”

Plus, Pelphrey worked for Billy Donovan with a Florida program that muscled its way into the elite level of college basketball, Johnson said.

The Alabama coach suggested that Pelphrey’s experience made him a more valuable sounding board than the typical assistant.

“Being able to talk to him head coach to head coach,” Johnson said, “That type of deep level conversation. …

“A lot of times, when you’re talking head coach to head coach, you’re talking about all the different levels of decision-making, and how is that decision-making going to have an impact on the bigger picture.”

An assistant coach-head coach conversation usually involves “instant gratification” issues, Johnson said.

“Where head coach to head coach is more of an oven approach, not a microwave.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton