By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari says he really has no idea yet on just how much depth his team will have this year. However, he already knows one thing — his current players are not going to be prepared to play as many minutes when the season starts.
“There were guys that were more prepared to play longer minutes last year. They had the three returning guys (Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones). Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist), and they were able to start and play. You knew they could play 23, 24 minutes,” said Calipari after Wednesday’s Blue-White scrimmage.
Calipari said the team’s conditioning could suffer as he continues to teach fundamentals to a team that will have four freshmen among its top seven players.
“How can you scrimmage if you don’t know how to play yet? They don’t know how to stance, they don’t know how to close out yet. They don’t know how to rotate, their spacing and time something so bad, that if you let them just play, you’re telling them it’s okay to play that way in my opinion, how I coach,” Calipari said.
“Now whether that’s right or not, we’ll find out, but I think you’ve got to stop them. Make them play the right way, and then let them play more and more. And they figure out that you’re not moving. This is how we’re going to play. We’ll be fine. We lost a whole team. We’ve got a brand‑new team. We are where we are right now. I think it shows.”
Calipari hopes that will change soon.
“Hopefully in a month you’ll watch us and say, man, they really got better. And in another month you say, man, they’ve got a chance. And in another month, you say man, they’re right there. That’s our hope. That’s what we want to do with this crew,” Calipari said.
“And we have great kids that are listening, so it’s just that their habits — they were always the best player, they were always bigger and stronger, and they could take time off. Two possessions, three possessions. They don’t feel like playing. I’m going to take this quarter off. Can somebody get me a hot dog? Yeah, come on. Coach, I’ll eat this hot dog and I’ll go right in. It’s tough. It’s tough playing here. It’s a tough combo.”
The coach says he only knows one way to make his young team pay attention and improve.
“It’s a grind. Every day, and you don’t back up. You just don’t back up. This is where we are. This is where we’re going. And you just keep pointing it out, keep it real. We’re not playing games,” Calipari said.
“After I just said we went through a few guys and how they played, and I said, you know what? You all want me to keep it real, but it’s hard when I’m talking about you. And there were some guys in the room that said you’re going to have to play better. You’re going to have to play more aggressive.”
Teaching young players to play fast and keep playing that way in all situations is something Calipari knows is not easy to do.
“I’m just trying to get everybody to play to your strengths, do what you do well. There’s a lot of stuff we’re doing right now to get them to play fast and get them in shape,” the UK coach said.
“What happens with young kids is they stop playing all the time. The game’s going on, and one time I looked over and Archie (Goodwin) as grabbing his shorts and the ball is in play. The ball is in play. That’s just freshmen. So we have a lot of freshmen issues right now that we’re going to have to deal with, but that’s part of what happens.”