Observations from a UK practice
I had a chance to take in a University of Kentucky men’s basketball practice with a handful of reporters Tuesday afternoon for an inside look at the team’s overall progression. The following are some personal observations from the workout.
Since the season began, Kevin Knox has been Kentucky’s most consistent player on the big stage. Behind the scenes, Knox is equally impressive and is developing a feel for knowing when to drive to the basket or even take the long- and mid-range jumper. Kentucky coach John Calipari also is making sure Knox stays ahead of the curve and taking no time to relax even in practice.
Nick of time
Freshman forward Nick Richards, along with walk-ons Dillon Pulliam, Jonny David, and Brad Calipari, was the earliest arrivals and Richards took part in several post drills before practice began. Under the watchful eye of associate head coach Kenny Payne, Richards focused manly post moves and mid-range jumpers. Richards wasn’t fazed by the work in the post and his work ethic is very much blue-collar.
Coaching like crazy
Calipari has indicated that he’s coaching this team more than any he’s had at Kentucky. The Kentucky coach was busy teaching drills, how to communicate and where to stand during certain drills and sets. Calipari’s main emphasis is mostly defense and wants the Wildcats to play together. One touching moment before practice began was Calipari sharing light-hearted laughs with his son, Brad, who can shoot lights out from 3-point range. Although Calipari is doing more coaching than he’s used to, the players are very eager listeners.
Drive the ball
During most of the fast-break drills and 5-on-5 workouts, Calipari expressed the desire to drive the ball to the basket, especially during fast-break opportunities. This team, from top to bottom, can dribble and drive to the basket before you can blink an eye. As you see in games, Kentucky likes to drive and lob, a lot of which is learned and developed obviously during practice.
Defense is fun
One of my favorite parts of the practice session was the defensive deflection drill, which features three defenders against four offensive players throwing passes around the perimeter. Calipari uses the drill to maximize his team’s overall length. Calipari stopped practice several times to remind the Wildcats to stay engaged on defense and communicate to avoid potential breakdowns.
Rebounding a priority
At one point, Calipari put lids on the rims during 5-on-5 drills in an effort to improve the team’s offensive and defensive rebounding. Calipari liked the way the Wildcats responded and they avoided any running following the drill.
Quade Green wore protective glasses from the start to the end of practice. … The team’s core starting group included PJ Washington, Knox, Richards, Hamidou Diallo, and Green. The second group was headed by Wenyen Gabriel, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Jonny David and Brad Calipari. … The Wildcats spent time on the 2-2-1 press … Calipari wants Diallo to keep working and follow through on his shots from long range.
Jarred Vanderbilt did not practice and neither did Jermarl Baker and Tai Wynyard, who missed because of “soreness.”