By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Kevin Knox plays his first collegiate game tonight against Utah Valley and to get ready for that he says practices with coach John Calipari have been “crazy” recently even though Kentucky will play three games in the next five days.
“There were times he’d put the rims up where the ball wouldn’t go in so we had to rebound. So, no shot would go in, even if it was a good shot, layups missed, everything. You had to rebound everything just to get that conditioning,” Knox said Thursday.
“Make people go up and back and be able to push through that. It was really tough practices. Every drill we did we ran a 17 before just to get tired so we’re mentally ready for that type in the game. It was definitely intense practices before that last exhibition game. But it’s definitely paying off for a lot of us.”
Calipari says he had been as hard as he’s ever been on a team at Kentucky with recent practices because this team is behind most of his other teams at this stage of the season.
“It’s just trying to get them when they’re fatigued to just continue to fight. When they’re fatigued, get them to think. Things that they’ve never really had to do. But, I’m going to say this, a great group of kids. As we start this off, I have to accept more than anyone else, more than any fan or media, that we are where we are and it’s going to be a process and we could get dinged along the way,” Calipari said going into tonight’s game against Utah Valley.
“This team that (coach) Mark’s (Pope) put together, I’ve watched tape, they’re pretty good now. They’re one of the oldest teams in the country and guess what they’re playing? Probably the youngest team in the country. I don’t care where they’re from, where we’re from, this is not going to be easy for these guys. I’m happy on the trajectory of the team. It’s just that we are where we are.”
Calipari knows his team will “get hit in the mouth a few times” in the weeks ahead — UK hosts Vermont Sunday and then faces Kansas Tuesday.
“What happens when you’re us, the other teams play as well as they can play and they play with more energy, they’re more focused and they execute better because they’re playing against Kentucky, in Rupp Arena or anywhere,” Calipari said. “That means it puts even more pressure on you to do and play the way you have to play.”
Kentucky has just nine healthy scholarship players, which has not helped the practice routine.
“We scrimmage four minutes, take a minute and 30 seconds, scrimmage four minutes. Because that’s what the games like. Prior to that we would just go until I decided we stop. Let me tell you, when you’re doing all the other things that these kids do and you’re coming to this practice and you’re not being told you’re the greatest,” Calipari said.
Calipari said sports information director Eric Lindsey told him he’s never heard him so loud in practice.
“I’m holding them accountable. That’s then. Now, we got three games in five days. It’s hard when you’re my age, you don’t remember back to other teams and how they were early. You don’t remember 2009 being down 19 to Miami of Florida, no, Miami of Ohio. It looked like you were going to win and it took a buzzer beater by John Wall to win the game. You forget all those,” Calipari said.
“You just think you won all these games. This is going to be a process. Whether it’s this team, Vermont is a top 50, 60, 70 team with everybody back. An NCAA tournament team. We’re ready to play them. Especially when you’re talking 36 hours later. I want to have fun with this. I personally want to have fun with this. But it’s hard because you get used to how things are and this is going to be different.
“I’m going to have to be somewhat different. As you get older, some of you in this room, you’ve been mean and nasty you’re whole life and now you try to change. You can’t. You’re mean and nasty.”
Sophomore Quade Green had a cut under his eye Thursday he said was from taking an elbow in practice from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“It was getting intense in there. Just happened. Playing defense, swinging his arm, elbowed my face. Still was practicing. Taped it up and everything,” Green said.
He said the tougher, more physical practices have made everyone, including him, better.
“Because when you get to the next level, everybody’s going to be playing intense because it’s just a job now. You gotta treat it like your job now,” he said.
Green said the team had been doing a lot of running to get players’ bodies and minds both right.
“We’re still running and still fighting through the elevation that he wants us to make,” Green said.
Calipari was not happy with the way UK played defense in its last exhibition win over Centre College.
“After that game, Cal got on us. So we’ve been playing way better defense than we usually do,” Green said.