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By LARRY VAUGHT
It didn’t take coach John Calipari’s postgame speech/tirade to let Kentucky freshman center Dakari Johnson know how the Wildcats played.
“Obviously, we could have played a whole lot better,” said Johnson after UK’s 76-42 win over Transylvania in Friday’s exhibition game. “But it is a process. This was our first time as a team (playing against another opponent). We will get better as we go on.”
They will. Or at least they better to fulfill the gigantic expectations on this talented team that failed to play with the energy and effort that Calipari wanted and is going to demand this season.
“The biggest thing that we learned is that energy and effort trumps talent,” Calipari said. “It just does. It always has, it always will. Now, talent that trumps the energy and effort, and they do both, like they come out, then you dominate play. Obviously our talent isn’t playing with enough energy and effort.”
Calipari said what Transylvania did — slow the pace, shoot 3’s, run back on defense, fall back into the lane to keep UK away from the basket — is what the Cats will face most of this season because of their size, talent and youth.
He also wants his team to understand that what worked in high school, doesn’t work at Kentucky.
“There’s the difference between running and sprinting. We have a lot of guys that running has always been good enough, and, this is me. You can’t be on the court then. You know, it’s okay, but you can’t be out there,” Calipari said.
He said that’s why senior point guard Jarrod Polson (five points, one assist, one steal, 18 minutes) played so much with freshman starter Andrew Harrison sidelined by a knee bruise for the entire game.
“I thought Jarrod was good. All that Jarrod did was run really hard and push the ball. We had absolutely none of that in the first half. We didn’t get a breakout,” Calipari said.
Johnson also impressed Calipari with his nine points, eight rebound, one steal and one assist in 17 minutes — and Calipari said he would have played more except he wanted to let freshman Marcus Lee play the second half.
“We have a ways to go. That doesn’t look like the No. 1 team,” the UK coach said.
Freshman Julius Randle had 16 points and 12 rebounds — he also had five of UK’s 10 turnovers — in 26 minutes. James Young, who seems to be UK’s most active defender, had nine points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes.
While Calipari liked those numbers, he was more focused on the lack of energy/effort.
“This was a great lesson. Jon Hood played well. I even said after, ‘How did Jon Hood play?’ He played great. Yeah, he missed every shot (he made one), but he played great because he played hard. He just competed,” Calipari said. “We had a lot of non‑competitive guys out there. They’re just going to have to learn. This was a great lesson for them.
“If you don’t compete, I’m taking you out, which is what I’ve always done throughout my coaching career until last year. I couldn’t.”
Now he can. Three times in the second half he substituted five players at a time, something UK women’s coach Matthew Mitchell did last year and maybe Calipari will do this year.
“If we get that kind of effort, that’s exactly what will happen. They’ll all come out. Then the guys will be saying, please don’t play me with him and him because you’re going to take us all out. Then all of a sudden peer pressure takes over. Then I don’t have to coach the guy to play hard, they will. Or they’ll walk over to me and say, take him out, just get him out of the game,” Calipari said.
“This was a great lesson for us. It’s what this team needed. (Transylvania coach) Brian (Lane) did exactly what we wanted Transy to do: played really hard, spread the court, kept coming at us, made 3s, sagged on defense, and were physical.”
Randle said the team understood Calipari’s message.
“One of his pet peeves is not playing hard. We were just not out there playing hard enough on defense or offense running the floor,” Randle said. “We just had to compete. If we do that, we will be fine. We’re young, and we don’t really get it right now. We stopped a lot, but we will be fine.
“We just need to play hard. (Calipari told us) we weren’t playing hard enough, so we just need to step up and play a little bit harder. It’s just all effort. All of that is just playing with effort. We we will be fine.”
Calipari probably believes the same thing, but he sure wasn’t saying that.
“When I watch the tape, it will be more obvious. We just stopped. We didn’t talk. We blamed a teammate,” Calipari said. “I mean, they scored 12 in the second half, and six of them were on a team I couldn’t leave on the floor, the guys I started the game with. I had to take them out again.”
But this year, he can do that and that’s why eventually this team will be just as good as he expects it can be.