Vaught's Views: Kentucky shows glimpses of potential, but Calipari knows Cats have long way to go
Kentucky¿s forward Nerlens Noel goes in for a first-half slam Wedneday during the Blue-White game at Rupp Arena. UK¿coach John Calipari said his team has a long way to go to be as good as he thinks they can be by the time the postseason rolls around. (Clay Jackson / October 25, 2012)
For everything that looks good, something has to look bad. Throw in players switching teams and the 89-88 victory by the Blue meant very little.
What did matter is how players played together and what they did at times individually.
“Can you see how far we have to go?” Kentucky coach John Calipari asked the 12,000 fans at the Rupp Arena scrimmage after it ended. “We have good guys, good players that want to get better. But you see now why I said whoever picked us in the top five needs to be drug tested. You have an idea now.”
True, Kentucky is not going to be a top five team when it opens the season against Maryland in Brooklyn or a few days later when it plays Duke in Atlanta. However, by March that could be different.
The Wildcats have athleticism and speed. They have shot blockers. They have players that want to improve.
So what stood out on the positive side for UK¿about the Blue-White Game? To me, there were several things.
n Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein was not a five-star prospect, but he probably should have been. He was as good as Calipari had been saying — and that sometimes is hard to do. He had 14 points, 12 rebounds, five blocked shots and two assists. He ran the court every bit as fast as Calipari said he would, but he also hit several nice turn-around bank shots that showed far more offensive skills than he’s been given credit for having.
“I did alright. I played pretty hard the first half and then I got extremely tired. In the second half my legs were kind of dead. Overall I did alright,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was more of a practice than just a game. So we knew he (Calipari) was going to come in and critique us when he had to. We have only been working on defense for a week. I know we have a practice tomorrow and it’s a whole defensive practice.”
n Senior transfer Julius Mays is both a scorer and shooter. He’s going to be a huge key for the team with his outside shooting ability. He had 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range, in the first half before going 0-for-4 in the second half. But when he wasn’t scoring in the second half, he still contributed with four assists and three rebounds.
He also showed his potential leadership after Calipari got on freshman Archie Goodwin for not passing to him when he was open on a fast break. Mays put his arm around the freshman as they walked back to midcourt and said something that made him smile.
Calipari said Mays could bring the same things that Darius Miller did to last year’s national championship team.
“He'll make an open shot. He's better with the ball (than Miller). You'll see him. He'll push it really hard. He's really strong, really heady. It's just Darius was bigger, but he brings the same kind of stuff,” Calipari said.
n Junior guard Jarrod Polson played like a player intent on finding a way to get on the court — even if it is only for short periods — this season.¿He hit open shots, drove inside, played defense, went to the boards and seemed to do everything Calipari wanted. He had 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and one steal. The UK coach even admitted he outplayed Ryan Harrow, the projected starting point guard, in the first half.
“Played good. Played really hard, played confident,” Calipari said of Polson. “Talked, verbalized with his team. Knew in that first half that he was going to get shots for Willie, and he was going to get shots for Julius, and that's what he did and the other guys kind of played off of it.”
Now, the negatives. For those, let Calipari point them out since he’s the one coaching the team.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 28 points and was 11-for-18 from the field, including 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Sounds good, but Calipari was not impressed with his defense.
“Kyle's going to have to defend better. Jon Hood had his way with Kyle. So now we'll have to figure out, does Kyle guard the 5 (center)? Do these other guys guard the 4s (power forwards)? Is that how we play? I don't know yet,” Calipari said.
He said Harrow played “okay” after scoring 20 points and dishing out six assists.
“Just has to be more aggressive. Has to be more vocal. Has to have more intensity to his game,” Calipari said. “He can't be cool. He can't act like the other guy's not playing. All those things. You know, he can do that, but he's going to be forced to because you have no choice now.
“I think he's a better player than that and he needs to be. But he is. He's played better in practice. This is the first time he's played in front of people with uniform on now (after sitting out last year as a transfer). He was okay. It wasn't bad.”
Actually, that’s about how Calipari felt about the team’s performance.
“Everybody sees we're not as good as everybody's trying to say we are, and I'm good with that. We are where we are. It's October 24th, and we're playing like it's October 15th. I mean, we scrimmaged 12 minutes,” Calipari said. “The biggest thing is no one got hurt. I'm so happy. Now we can go on with our practice.
“I think this shows our team that we've got to be a great defensive team. We're not right now. We don't play the ball real good. We stopped playing on the weak side. We don't rotate. When a guy goes to lead, we don't help him. There is no help the helper right now. Everybody's playing their own man. You can't play defense that way. But, again, it's all freshmen. They just don't know. But they're trying.”
And in the weeks and months ahead, count on Calipari having his team “trying” even harder to do the things he wants.