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What’s not to like about Kentucky’s play?

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Just in case anyone still wondered how talented and athletic John Calipari’s team might be this year, the Wildcats put a variety of skills on display — and 19 dunks — Tuesday in the Blue-White Game.

It would be easier to find what there was not to like than point out all the positive signs in this intrasquad scrimmage that drew a Blue-White record crowd of 15,035 fans to see the Blue win 99-71.

As expected — at least by UK fans hoping for a ninth national championship — freshman Julius Randle proved why he could be a special, special player. He had 21 points, eight rebounds and one assist to more than offset five turnovers.

“He’s the most athletic and physical person I have ever seen,” said Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison.

Calipari was most impressed that early in the scrimmage when Randle was not getting the ball, “he just played” and did not let it impact him. Remember UK had a player two years ago named Anthony Davis that had that same mentality.

“Then he started getting it and made shots. He’s really good. He can really pass, too,” Calipari said.

Randle said he was not nervous, but was anxious for the team to have a chance to show what it could do. That included him showing he’s become even better on the perimeter, something Calipari has emphasized.

“That’s something Coach wants me to work on for the next level (NBA),” Randle said. “I am a lot more comfortable out there now. But our practices make you improve. Pretty much what you saw today is how we do in practice. We defended better. We still have a lot of stuff to work on. We’ve got to get better, but we are doing a pretty good job. We are playing unselfish and doing what the coaches ask. We know we have talent. We’ve just got to keep the mindset of working hard.”

But Randle was not the only star when James Young scored 25 points and Aaron Harrison had 19 points — the two combined to go 6-for-9 from 3-point range. Here are some other things that impressed me.

— Less than a minute after he came into the game, freshman center Dakari Johnson dove on the floor for a loose ball. Everyone knew he would throw he weight around in the pain — and he did — but he proved he would be just as reckless on the court.

— During a timeout, Young put his arm around Dominique Hawkins to chat even though they were on opposing teams. That’s the kind of chemistry that was missing most of last season.

— Young hit shots early, but he pulled up on the fast break to feed the ball to Alex Poythress. He finished 11-for-16 shooting.

— Randle and Johnson, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, took turns batting around offensive rebounds, something UK could not do last  year. “He’s a big boy and a load down low,” Randle said.

— Andrew Harrison, UK’s point guard, didn’t play the second half because of a knee contusion. But he looked to be enjoying everything he saw and kept connected with teammates. Again, a little thing, but an intangible asset UK did not have from its starting point guard last year.

— Randle, perhaps the most versatile player for his size UK has had, did a cross-over dribble and dunk on Marcus Lee that was superb. Then a few minutes later he pulled off a defensive rebound, drove the length of the floor, faked Lee and dunked. “I liked both of them,” Randle said.

— And there was Derek Willis taking the ball from Randle, throwing a behind-his-back pass and then spotting up and hitting a 3 from the corner. He finished with 21 points. Calipari said he had “no conscious” and just “let it go” while making five of six 3-pointers.

— And even freshman walk-on E.J Floreal, the son of two former Olympians, threw down a dunk — on Randle. The best part was that even their teammates were laughing and enjoying the moment. “They were still giving it to him after the game,” Calipari said.

Calipari kept noting it was a scrimmage in October, not a win to get to the Final Four. But it was obvious he liked a lot about his team.

“I like that we defended without fouling. The officials, especially the SEC official, told me it was the best he had seen. We don’t try to foul any way. I thought it was good,” the UK coach said. “And we are a shot blocking team, so these rules play to what we do.”

Actually, new defensive rules or not, everything about the game should play to what Kentucky does this year because Calipari has a deeper, bigger and more talented team — and the best part for him and the players is that UK should only continue to get better.

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15 comments

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  1. LindaS

    I think they were very competitive playing against each other. I think our secret weapon is Willis with a hint of EJ and Hawkins. I was super impressed. Dakari’s hands remind me of Nazi. Let the season begin.

  2. Jim Harris

    What’s not to like? Well, I think somebody threw a not so good pass once. And one of the walk-ons missed a shot. Heehee!

  3. Jim Harris

    It does my heart good to see Ky kids in there playing amongst those Mickey D stars–and doing just fine, thank you.

  4. UKFMLY

    I thought everyone looked as advertised but I was really impressed with the non one and done guys, Willis, Hawkins and Johnson will make the foundation for a very good team next year. I was also very impressed by Young. That guy can do it all on both sides of the ball. Boy would I love to be in Chicago for the Mich. St game.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

    GO BLUE OR STAY HOME

  5. Mike

    What a pleasant distraction from the FB program. Derrick would get my MVP award for the game with Hawkins and Johnson close behind. Derrick looks like a nice step up
    from Wiltjer and much faster and more athletic. Not sure Poy looked much different from last year but hopefully he will be an asset to help move us forward.

  6. Jim Boyers

    It was truly an amazing evening and an incredible display of athleticism and talent.

    The things I took from the game are:

    1) The state of Kentucky probably has 3 of the Top 10 teams in the country- UK’s first string, Loserville’s first string and UK’s second string.

    2) This team is not going to have the quickness of past Cal teams, but the boys are sooo long and make such good decisions, that the fast-breaks will be just as impressive as any that the Wall, Knight or Davis teams had.

    3) When Julius Randle wants to take the ball “to the house”, there will be NO ONE in college basketball who will be able to contain him. He is THAT dominating.

    4) This season is going to more than make up for last year’s debacle.

    Larry, I know you enjoyed the game, but we were sitting in section 18 and, from the look on your face, it seemed like your favorite part of the evening was watching “Dancing Guy” do his thing.

    I am SO glad the wait is almost over. Friday can’t get here fast enough.

    1. Jim Boyers

      Oh, one last thing: I believe that the much repeated rumors of possible “shooting woes”, that people seem to think were going to plague this team, are going to be put to rest very quickly. There are at least three really good 3 point shooters (Aaron Harrison, James Young and Derek Willis). This team is not going to have ANY offensive weaknesses.

      1. Scott

        I’m still mildly concerned about free throw shooting. This team could get 1000 attempts if the rumoured changes in officiating occur (and I’ll believe that only when I see it). Making a decent percentage of these is the only question mark left in my mind about this team.

        1. Jim Boyers

          You may be right about the poor free throw shooting, but, much like 2012, I don’t think it is going to matter at all. It may just be wishful thinking but I don’t think any opponent is going to be close enough, at the end of games, to make it matter whether they can make them down the stretch or not.

  7. Viper

    I know it will ultimately be impossible to compare the two because he will only be here a year, most likely. But, am I the only one watching James Young who’s having Jack Givens flash-backs?

    1. King Ghidora

      I don’t think Goose was the jumper that Young is. If Young can find the seams in the zones the way Jack did he will really be special. Jack took every advantage that came from defenses sagging on Robey and Phillips and then being spread out by Macy too. That left cutting lanes that were just perfect for the way Givens played the game. You could see him figuring out where the lanes would be if you watched close. He was very, very good at it.

      Young has a chance to be one heck of a player. But then most of this team does. Heck all of them do. I keep expecting Hood to have a breakout year. It might be hard this year but the guy can play some ball. Too many injuries have made it hard for him to shine like he could. This team is so loaded with talent it’s going to be hard to get those second and third team guys in the game much even though we have already seen they have talent. Willis, Hood, Floreal, Hawkins, and Young are all great players who would start for almost any program in the country with the exception being UK.

      I really think this will be a fun season.

  8. Phillip Barker

    Willie coast to coast-Jackie Gleeson’s….OHHHHHHHHHHHHH!, How sweet it is!
    Julius Randle -”It’s a bird, no, it’s a plane, nooooo, it’s Super Man!
    James Young-Dickie V’s…He is SPECIAL!
    Derek Willis-”Who was that masked man?…don’t know, but he left these Silver Bullets”
    Dekari Johnson-Sade’s “Smooth Operator”!

  9. Gene T.

    Viper, good call. I hadn’t until you mentioned it. Both left handed, and good shooters. Young is taller and more athletic. If he is close to Goose or better watch out! Can’t wait to get this team going.

  10. PatCat

    Good comparison, Viper. That thought crossed my mind last night.
    One thing no one has mentioned in these posts is how under control the Harrison twins are. Andrew was playing hurt, but I don’t think I saw a moment when either of them were out of control. Just very, very smooth players.
    It’s going to be a fun year.

  11. Little Baron

    40-0 is in the realm of possibility. Obviously a very high goal…
    But #9 looks better every day!

    Great comments from liking the KY guys among the McD’s to t
    Willis, the guy behind the mask. Willis is just yet another example of the amazing a Uluru if Calipari to recognize talent, potential & develop it!

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