John Clay

John Calipari sees speed, defense and Flintstones costumes for next UK basketball season

Technically, John Calipari’s press conference Wednesday was supposed to be a wrap-up of the 2015-16 Kentucky basketball season, the one that ended with a second-round defeat in the NCAA Tournament.

By now, however, the disappointing past is much less interesting than the promising future.

“With the guys we have coming back, with the incoming guys, I think we’re going to be a pretty good team again,” said the coach.

It’s easy to recognize the source of such optimism. Again, Calipari’s incoming recruiting class — unfinished, by the way — ranks either No. 1 or No. 2 depending on your scouting service of choice. Rivals ranks guard De’Aaron Fox No. 6 in the nation; Bam Adebayo No. 7, Malik Monk No. 9, Wenyen Gabriel No. 13 and Sacha Killeya-Jones No. 24. All signed with Kentucky.

Someone asked how Calipari expects his 2016-17 team to play.

“Really fast,” he said. “Really fast. You remember our ’12 team when we rebounded and the ball was in the basket and you went, ‘Did someone throw it down there?’ We were that fast. … This team has that kind of speed.”

There were a few loose ends to tie up about last year. Calipari said, looking back, he wonders what would have happened if he had given in to an urge to play “small ball” the final minutes in the tourney loss to Indiana. Other than that, however, he’s moved on.

Calipari said he’s not sure if Isaiah Briscoe will leave his name in the NBA Draft pool or return for his sophomore season. At one point in the nearly 40-minute question-and-answer session, Calipari talked as if Briscoe, who was not invited to the NBA Combine this weekend in Chicago, would return. But when asked that, Cal said, “I don’t know.”

The coach does not think that Marcus Lee will be back for his senior season. The 6-foot-10 California native was invited to the Combine and seems determined to make the leap.

“Marcus really wants to do this and my guess is that he will keep his name in the draft,” Calipari said.

Then there’s the wild card, 6-11 center Marques Bolden, the final piece of the recruiting puzzle. The DeSoto, Texas, product has narrowed his list to Kentucky and Duke but has yet to make a decision, or at least announce a decision.

After one recruit said that part of Duke’s recruiting pitch was that a student-athlete would be “set for life” by becoming a Blue Devil while UK’s pitch was all about the NBA, Calipari fired back. Though not singling out Duke by name, Calipari called the set-for-life pitch “preposterous.”

“It wasn’t specific,” Calipari said Wednesday. “That post was more in a general sense. It wasn’t geared to one person, one program.”

And though NCAA rules prohibit a coach from talking specifically about an unsigned recruit, Calipari did say, “If a kid wants to come and walk on our campus in September, I’m all right with that.”

Meanwhile, back to thinking about October, as in next October, as in next season.

“We should be great defensively,” Calipari said. “We should be one of my better defensive teams.”

Someone asked if there was any one newcomer Calipari was especially looking forward to seeing on the practice court. Calipari being Calipari, he named all five.

“DeAaron Fox, people just come to him,” said the coach. “He’s one of those kind of guys. He makes everybody better and he’s got John Wall kind of speed. We’ve got to get him shooting more consistently. Malik Monk I don’t believe even knows how good he is and when he gets in a regimented program — and he had a great high school coach and program — a college program where the other guys are just as good as him, I think his game will go to another level because he’s got Derrick Rose stuff.”

Wait, there’s more …

“I’m anxious to see Wenyen play a wing position at 6-10 and be that big and do it with other really good players so he’s not forced to do stuff he can’t do. Do what you do. I’m anxious to see, cause Sacha’s just gotten so much better. He keeps growing. He’s 6-11. He might be 7-4 by the time he gets here.

And more …

“And Bam, just a great name. Bam-Bam. We’re going to have people literally coming to games with (a Bam-Bam Flintstones costume). We’re going to have the whole student section looking like that. Remember how he used to pick things up, the car and stuff. Bam-Bam. That’s him.”

Who cares about last year?

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader