Booker: ‘Re-loads’ gun and shoots holes in Alabama’s defense

Frequently after he makes three-point shots, freshman Devin Booker raises three fingers on his right hand. He then slides his left hand up and down his right arm once or twice.
That gesture was on display in Kentucky’s 70-48 victory at Alabama Saturday.
Booker, who led UK with 13 points, said he learned the gesture from two players for the Golden State Warriors: role model Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.
“They say it’s re-loading their gun,” Booker said.
Continuing his hot shooting of late, Booker made four of seven shots (three of six from three-point range). That made him 30 of 50 (20 of 28) in the last seven games.
When asked how hot he feels as a shooter, Booker said, “It’s just, you know, it’s like I’m shooting in the ocean, now. It’s really coming easy for me.”

Cal: Why is everyone caught up in UK platoons?

Although Kentucky has promoted its so-called platoon system of substitution since a trip to the Bahamas in August, Coach John Calipari asked Thursday why there was so much fuss about platoons.
“I don’t know why people are caught up in exactly what a platoon is,” he said at a news conference.
This came in response to a question about what exactly a platoon is.
Initially, Calipari touted the novelty of five-man substitutions. Such a system would enable UK to provide playing time for 10 players. The roster includes nine McDonald’s All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein.
From the beginning, Calipari reserved the right to break from five-man substitutions. “It’s not Communism,” he said.
Yet, Comrade Calipari has insisted that he was using platoons even when he substituted one or two players rather than five.
Many observers said Kentucky could afford to use five-man platoons against weaker opposition, but when the competition stiffened, the Cats would abandon the platoons.
Calipari more or less said that Thursday.
“I’m coaching the game,” he said.
Calipari acknowledged that he uses substitutions to reward and punish just as non-platoon coaches do.
A one-hand rebound by Marcus Lee? “He’s out,” Calipari said.
“A guy jogs the court. He’s out.”
Karl-Anthony Towns shoots a “step-back three” and “tip-toes” backward. “He’s out.”
The so-called platoons can also be a reward. If a group holds the opposition to six or fewer points in its turn on the court, the group can stay in the game a bit longer.
“I’m just trying to do what the team needs and what’s good for these kids,” Calipari said.

Jay Williams: UK basketball this season is ‘reality TV’

No matter how many opponents Kentucky blows out, ESPN analyst Jay Williams expects this season to make UK Coach John Calipari sweat.
That’s because Calipari will have to balance a team goal of achieving at a historic level with so many individual players aspiring to advance to the NBA.
“One of the most difficult jobs in all of basketball,” Williams said of this balancing act. “All of basketball.”
Speaking on an ESPN teleconference Wednesday, Williams used his own experience as a highly-decorated prospect to explain what he meant.
“You have nine McDonald’s All-Americans, who came with something,” he said of this season’s UK roster. “What I mean by that is when I was a player, I came (to Duke) with somethingn. I came with a mother, a father, an AAU coach.
“I came with people yapping in my ear, trying to tell me how I needed to be better in order to achieve my overall goal, which was trying to be a dominating college basketball player and be an guy who eventually makes it in the NBA.”
The rub of team and individual player aspirations became clear during the break between semesters. Calipari called for players to work toward adding components to their offensive games, the implication being such enhancements would help improve NBA Draft profiles.
Coincidentally or not, the strength of Kentucky’s team — its defense — declined. Going into the 86-37 rout of Missouri Tuesday, the Cats talked about regaining the collective identity as a defensive team par excellence.
“As Cal is trying to figure out what makes the team great, he’s trying to balance how to keep everybody actively engaged,” Williams said. “It’s going to be an on-going thing for Cal throughout the entire year.”
Williams envisioned “1,000 questions” about such topics as offensive rhythm (shorter minutes hurts offensive flow?), Andrew Harrison or Tyler Ulis at point guard, more touches for Karl-Anthony Towns, Dakari Johnson as low-post weapon and more minutes for Trey Lyles.
Calipari’s task is to maintain players’ eagerness to be “defensive juggernauts” while keeping each Wildcat (and those yapping people) assured about an NBA career.
“It’s going to be fascinating to watch,” Williams said. “You talk about reality TV. Kentucky basketball is reality TV.”

Jay Williams: UK needs leader; SEC will prepare Cats for NCAA

Former Duke basketball star Jay Williams said Kentucky’s process “as a young basketball team” will include finding a leader.
UK is looking for “that bravado of a leader,” Williams said on a ESPN teleconference Wednesday. “You don’t see very many teams with a bona fide leader.”
Williams, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, said Karl-Anthony Towns, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis have big upsides.
Of Towns, Williams said, “There’s no doubt in my mind he’s a guy who can go off for 30 in a game.”
Williams said the Southeastern Conference has enough good teams to help Kentucky prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
Only a few weeks ago, several ESPN analysts voiced assurances that with a victory at Louisville, Kentucky would be undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament. SEC coaches and players have cited such a dismissive attitude as a source of inspiration against Kentucky.
“I don’t think that was a slap in the face of the SEC at all,” Williams said. Rather, it was “a testament to how good Kentucky is.”

Cal credits return of platoons for 86-37 victory over Missouri

Kentucky Coach John Calipari credited a return to using 10 players — the so-called “platoon system” of substitutions for the 86-37 victory over Missouri on Tuesday.
Since Alex Poythress suffered a season-ending injury to his left anterior cruciate ligament, Kentucky had used only nine players, except during the cartoon-like rout of UCLA.
To restore a 10-man rotation, Calipari started Dominique Hawkins against Missouri. Trey Lyles moved from the first platoon, or blue platoon, to the white platoon.
“I thought our defensive intensity, because of the platoons, was back to where it was,” the UK coach said. “No one got hurt (with fewer minutes). Everybody helped themselves as a player, and they helped our team.
“The only thing that gets in the way is the ego.”
Calipari said he set a goal for each platoon.
“If you give up more than six points, you were out,” he said of each segment of the game. “So you weren’t going to get your full minutes.”

Hawkins: ‘I definitely think I earned another start’

At a team meeting Sunday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari told Dominique Hawkins that he would start against Missouri.
“My jaw dropped,” Hawkins said after UK’s 86-37 victory over Missouri on Tuesday. “The next day it actually hit me that I was starting, and I needed to prepare for it.”
Hawkins helped set the tone for a dominating defensive game for Kentucky by pressuring Missouri guard Keith Shamburger, who had made five three-pointers and scored a season-high 21 points at Auburn on Saturday. Against Kentucky, Shamburger made only one of six shots and scored four points.
Hawkins, a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball who led Madison Central to a state championship, acknowledged being “kind of nervous” about starting. He had not played in UK’s last three games, or in four of the previous five.
“I thought if I start off bad, I’ll never get a chance again,” Hawkins said.
When asked whether he tought he had earned a chance to start again, Hawkins answered quickly and confidently.
“I definitely think I earned another start,” he said.
While acknowledging the on-ball pressure applied by Hawkins and Tyler Ulis, UK Coach John Calipari made no promises about starting Hawkins again. UK plays Saturday at Alabama.
“I don’t know if I’ll do it next game,” Calipari said. “I may not.”
Perimeter players Stefan Moody of Ole Miss and Danuel House of Texas A&M hurt Kentucky last week. Each scored 25 points against the Cats.
When asked about sitting and watching Moody nearly beat UK a week earlier, Hawkins said, “Definitely, in my head, I felt I could guard him.”
Hawkins had been a defensive container, if not a stopper, for Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
But this season, Hawkins played in only eight of UK’s first 15 games. He played a total of four minutes against the more competitive opponents: Kansas, Providence, Texas, North Carolina, Louisville, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
“It’s really hard to stay patient,” he said.
Hawkins did not rule out having to again be patient.
When asked whether this was a one-time start, he said, “I really don’t know. Coach, he just surprises me most of the time.”

Cats acknowledge defensive slip, but don’t call offensive tweaks a ‘distraction’

Kentucky players noted Monday the need to re-focus on the team’s signature strength: Suffocating defense.
“We’ve got to remember what we always came out and started with,” Marcus Lee said. “Once we found out what we’re good at. We had to stick to it. That’s what we’re trying to go back to.”
During a Southeastern Conference teleconference earlier in the day, UK Coach John Calipari talked about the team losing its “swager” and its focus, as evidenced by two overtime victories last week.
But Lee mildly disagreed.
“I’m not saying it was lost,” he said of UK’s swagger. “It was just re-directed.”
That was a reference to the semester break, when Calipari urged players to add offensive skills. This would help keep the players “engaged,” he said.
“We took time to get better,” Lee said. “Now, we have to go back to what we’re good at.”
When asked if he was talking about the effort to become more diversified as offensive players became a “distraction,” Lee balked.
“It was not a distraction,” he said. “We as a team, you have to focus on something you need to change. So as we were focusing on it, we kind of forgot (about defense).”
When a reporter suggested that sounded like a distraction, Lee said, “No. You can’t call it a distraction. Because when you hear the world ‘distraction,’ you heard something bad.
“This was all things good happening, and good things making us better. It’s good things building us up. We just have to remember how to add it to what we’ve done so we can be better.”
Assistant coach Kenny Payne, who substituted for Calipari at the regular day-before-the-game press conference, neither confirmed nor denied that the individual focus was a distraction.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” he said. “I can’t speak on that.”
But, Payne added a moment later, Kentucky’s calling card should not be offensive diversity. He called defense the “key” to the Kentucky team.
“We are a defensive team,” he said. “That’s what we are.”

Cal: No Ulis-for-Andrew Harrison change at starting point guard

When asked whether he was considering moving Tyler Ulis to the first unit and making Andrew Harrison the point guard on the second unit, Kentucky Coach John Calipari answered immediately and definitively.
“No. No. I’m good,” he said.
Calipari reminded listeners on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Monday that he had to remove Ulis from the game against Ole Miss last Tuesday.
Then on Saturday, Ulis made a big shot in the second overtime against A&M while Harrison struggled.
“Everybody is watching spots of this, spots of that,” Calipari said. “I’m watching a full body of work. I’m fine where our team is.”

Cal: UK benefits from close games, but ‘enough is enough’

Kentucky Coach John Calipari apparently thinks there can be too much of a good thing.
During the Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday, Calipari said No. 1 Kentucky can benefit from last week’s overtime victories against two unranked opponents: Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
“You don’t want to go through a season where you’re never in a close game,” he said, “because you don’t learn about your team. You need to be down 10 or 12 (points) and see how they respond.”
That said, Calipari added, “But enough is enough. We’ve had enough of these games, now. Let’s get some games that are a little bit easier for us.”
Calipari suggested there won’t be an abundance of easier games. Kentucky plays Tuesday against Missouri in Rupp Arena.
Calipari said UK’s defense was not at its best against Ole Miss and A&M. He also said that Kentucky is no different in terms of facing adversity.
“Every team, right now, has issues,” he said. “All I can tell you is I’m happy I’m coaching this team. I believe I have the best team in the country with the best players.
“So we have some things to figure out. We’ll do it together.”

Cal: Andrew Harrison ‘as good a point guard as there is in the country’

Kentucky Coach John Calipari voiced a staunch defense of point guard Andrew Harrison on Thursday.
Harrison, who follows Derrick Rose, John Wall and Brandon Knight as Calipari point guards, has been the subject of much UK fan grumbling. A six-turnover performance at Louisville on Dec. 27 fueled a new round of criticism.
“I think he’s as good a point guard as there is in the country,” Calipari said. “He has up-and-down games like any other player.”
Calipari mentioned how Harrison can improve. The UK coach said he wanted Harrison to play faster and play with more energy.
“He’s capable of that,” Calipari said.
Calipari suggested that Harrison is transitioning his style of play. As a McDonald’s All-American in high school, Harrison could “jog” and “bully” his way around the court, the UK coach said. “Can’t play that way anymore.”
As a UK player, Harrison must take advantage of smaller defenders by getting in the lane and shooting over them or lobbing passes over them, Calipari said.
Playing for Kentucky brings an overreaction to the good and bad, Calipari said.
“He’s at Kentucky, which means he goes one-for-eight, ‘he stinks,'” Calipari said. “He went eight of nine, ‘He may stink. Let’s see the next game.’ What?!”
Calipari said criticism is something high school stars seldom, if ever, hear. Calipari said he would prefer to take the criticism.
“I’m old,” he said. “I’ve been killed. You shoot me, it goes through a bazooka hole. I can take it.
“These guys, this is the first time anybody’s ever questioned them as a player or as a person, their character.”
Calipari vouched for Harrison.
“Andrew’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached, … and that’s why I’m always going to be with him,” the UK coach said. “He’s for the team. He wants to get better. This is all new to him.
“I’m with him. He’s my point guard.”