Mulder: Ulis made key difference in my hot/cold shooting in Blue-White

In the first half of the Blue-White Game,  Mychal Mulder looked like the dead-eye shooter Kentucky imported from junior college.

Then in the second half, he didn’t make a shot.


“A lot of shooters go through that, someone who predominantly shoots the ball,” Mulder said Friday.

Mulder made three three-pointers in the first half Tuesday. Then he missed all six of his second-half shots with three coming from beyond the three-point line.

To explain the difference, Mulder cited the nature of Blue-White in which players can switch from team to team as coaches experiment. The big difference, he said, was playing with Tyler Ulis in the first half.

“Playing with Tyler was a lot easier than trying to create my own stuff,” Mulder said.

Ulis can make such a difference for many players, Mulder said.

“He helps us tremendously,” Mulder said. “He makes my job, specifically, so much easier. He puts the ball in my hands when I’m ready. (That applies to) not just shooters, but everybody.

“Tyler is a great point guard, probably the beset in the nation. We expect a lot from him, and I think he provides a lot.”

Cal to Skal: Show more competitive fight

You could say Cal wants Skal to play with a scowl.
There’s no confusion about what Kentucky Coach John Calipari wants from star freshman Skal Labissiere. In a word: fight! Not in the sense of fisticuffs. Calipari means he wants Labissiere to be more assertive on the court, to play more aggressively, to show more competitive fight.
“Oh, I hear that every single day,” Labissiere said after UK’s Blue-White Game Tuesday. “Every single day. ‘Fight, Skal!’
“I’m trying to get used to it. It’s a different level here.”
A pleasant, inviting smile on his face, Labissiere defined what he believed Calipari meant when calling for fight.
“Just showing more effort out there,” he said. “More heart. It’s not even about scoring. It’s about establishing myself in the paint and being a presence down there.”
A talented big man bursting with potential. A call for a more determined effort to translate potential into production. Kentucky has been here before. In fact, there are many precedents, most recently with Karl-Anthony Towns last season. Like Labissiere a player projected to be a possible overall No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft, Towns went from novice back-to-the-basket scorer to low-post anchor. UK fans will recall Towns repeatedly posting up for scores in the hotly competitive region final game against Notre Dame last March. This from a player whose early-season wish to be indulged led to the affectionate nickname of Karl Kardashian.
“Early in the season, Karl wasn’t there yet,” Tyler Ulis said. “He wasn’t fighting. . . . As the season went on, he started dominating games. We started playing through him.”
Ulis suggested that Kentucky has a similar idea for Labissiere to become a low-post presence who commands defensive attention, thus creating opportunities for teammates.
“We’ve got to keep in mind that Skal is there,” he said. “I try to get him some touches. When Skal’s got the fight, we’re going to be playing through him. We can’t wait for it.”
When Calipari has talked about fight, in connection with Labissiere or the team in general, he usually volunteers an explanation of what he meant. The UK coach seems intent on stamping out the possibility of listeners thinking he’s inciting violence.
“Before you have to guard a guy, the opponent, you’re playing him before he catches it,” Calipari said after the Blue-White Game. “A shot goes up on a rebound, you’re moving before the ball hits the rim. If there’s a 50/50 ball, you’re getting that ball. You’re diving on the floor. You’re making an extra effort. . . . You fight for position.
“We’re not doing any of that right now.”
Of course, it’s late October, not late February. There is no pressing deadline for Labissiere to make a Towns-like change from caterpillar to butterfly.
“I feel I’m getting better,” Labissiere said. He had 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Blue-White Game.
When it was noted that Labissiere was no metaphorical black hole, that he showed a willingness to pass the ball from the low post, Calipari said, “At this point, I would rather he be the black hole. I just want him to get comfortable scoring.”
To foster that comfort level, Calipari said that when he used the much-discussed three-guard lineup in the second half, he asked Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe and Ulis to keep Labissiere involved.
“Figure out how we get Skal in on this,” he said he told the trio. “We need to get him the ball inside. And that kind of took away from the free flow.”
A reporter asked Ulis if Labissiere knew how good he could be as a basketball player.
“I think he does,” Ulis said with a knowing smile. “Everybody understands how good he can be. And I understand how good he is now. Once he fights, he’s going to be a problem” for opponents.
“Once he gets that fight,” Ulis said, “he’s probably going to be like Karl.”

Willis: ‘It still hurts, but it’s all good’

Kentucky forward and Kentucky native Derek Willis expects to play in Tuesday night’s Blue-White Game. He said the finger he injured earlier this pre-season is almost fully mended.

“It’s doing fine,” he said Monday. “It still hurts, but it’s all good. I’m been playing and practicing.”

When will Willis be 100 percent? “Probably a week or something, hopefully,” he said.

Willis, who has played sparingly in his first two UK seasons, acknowledged that the injury had been a setback.

“I do think it set me back a little bit,” he said. “Now, it’s like I’m getting back in the swing of things. It’s all good.”

Teammate Alex Poythress suggested Willis is a different player this year.

“He’s more confident,” Poythress said. “He’s shooting it really well. Just doing things we know he can do. I don’t know. It’s just in his mind he doesn’t do it sometimes. We all know he’s got the ability and the talent to do that.”

UK Coach John Calipari said that Willis had become more mature.

“Just growing up as a person,” Calipari said. “Knowing who you are (and) what you’re about.”

Cal: Blue-White Game a needed dress rehearsal

With Kentucky’s program built on a foundation of one-and-done freshmen, the Blue-White Game serves as a much-needed dress rehearsal, Coach John Calipari said Monday.

“I just want them to get out in front of people and see who plays well in front of people,” he said of Tuesday night’s Blue-White Game in Rupp Arena.

Calipari said he might experiment with different lineups and strategies in the annual scrimmage.

But the main idea will be to get the players from quasi-game experience.

Calipari said he had coached players in the past who looked good in practice, then did not play well in games. The reverse had also been true, he said.

After saying Kentucky was the most inexperienced team in the country, Calipari said, “We need to just a game in front of people. That’s what we need.”

Cal: Less is more for Poythress, Willis, UK team

Kentucky Coach John Calipari shared with reporters Monday some advice he’d given Alex Poythress and Derek Willis: Less is more.

Instead of working on (and fretting about) many facets of their games, Poythress and Willis should seek to master one specific skill. Then, the players can move to another skill, he said.

Poythress, who expects to play in Tuesday night’s Blue-White Game, the skill to concentrate on improving is rebounding, Calipari said.

“Lead the nation in rebounding,” the UK coach said as if speaking to Poythress. “Be a beast . . . Focus on one thing.

“Then we rebuild the rest of the stuff.”

Of course, Poythress is continuing a comeback from surgery last December to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He declined to put a percentage on how close to 100 percent he is in the recovery.

Poythress defined “beast” for reporters.

“I know, by far, I am the strongest on the team,” he said. “Just use my strength to my advantage.”

Calipari suggested that there was no need for concern about Poythress’ rehabilitation. Poythress missed three or four recent days of practice because of a bruised knee.

“He’s doing fine,” Calipari said. “He’s got to get back in there. Demonstrated performance is going to build his confidence and self-esteem.”

The skill to concentrate on for Willis is shooting, Calipari said. Willis and Calipari said the shooting is much improved.

“When he lets it go, you think it’s going in now,” Calipari said. “Don’t do a thousand things. . . . Don’t show the whole repertoire. Build from there and expand your game.”

Calipari expanded the less-is-more theme to the team. He said Kentucky players should concentrate on two main areas:

— Playing with more competitive fire.

— Improving the assist-to-turnover ratio.

“That’s all we’re working on right now,” Calipari said.

Texas A&M coach does not believe Pitino knew, but . . .

The allegations of prostitution rocking Louisville’s program led to a pointed question at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days Wednesday. That question: What did the coach know and when did he know it?
Like it or not, several SEC coaches reminded reporters that NCAA rules hold head coaches responsible and accountable for what happens in a program.
“We can’t know what’s going on,” Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. “The programs have gotten so big and staffs have gotten so big, to say I know everything in my program would be a lie.”
Kennedy offered qualified support for Louisville Coach Rick Pitino saying he was unaware of prostitutes being part of the Cardinals’ recruiting efforts, as alleged in a new book written by a self-confessed madam.
“I respect Coach Pitino and I don’t believe he knew what was going on,” Kennedy said. “Unfortunately, it’s our job and we’re paid a lot of money to have the responsibility of knowing what’s going on in those type situations.”
After a pause, Kennedy added, “And I would like to think I would have known that.”
Kennedy used the example of televangelist Billy Graham to explain how careful coaches must be. Graham made sure to always be accompanied by another person/witness and kept the door open whenever he met with a woman.
“We have to do that in a different way in everything we do,” Kennedy said. “Because we’re in . . . a high-profile position. You’ve got to be sensitive to (things) I don’t think Adolph Rupp was worried about years before.”
Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the NCAA began holding coaches accountable — what became known as “strict liability” — in 2008. That’s when the NCAA punished Memphis for playing Derrick Rose even though the player had been declared eligibility. The NCAA retroactively ruled that Rose had cheated on a college entrance exam.
Coaches need to discuss the fairness of this standard, Calipari said.
“Are we OK with that?” he asked. “. . . Say a coach who has done it right, a god-fearing man, and something happens in the city of one of his players with the fmaily and an agent. He’s now responsible and accountable. And that’s a stain on his career? Should it be? Should he be called a cheater?
With resignation in their voices, several of Calipari’s SEC coaching colleagues, said the rule was the rule when asked about Louisville’s situation.
“The rule is the rule, and the rule says we are accountable,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. “I don’t know how many presidents, CEOs and managers can know everything. That is a standard that doesn’t exist in most other places.”
Added Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland: “That is the rule, Anything that happens in the program that would be deemed inappropriate, I am held responsible. It doesn’t matter what I think. That’s how it is.”

Lee: Cal ‘the best’ at figuring out a team approach

One of John Calipari’s basketball mantras in the pre-season is to say he must devise an approach that works for each Kentucky team. It’s a task complicated by UK’s revolving door philosophy that makes for largely a new cast of players each season.

Marcus Lee vouched for Calipari’s skill in this area.

“Cal is probably the best at figuring it out on the fly,” Lee said at the SEC Media Day Wednesday. “He does it every year with a new team. He has to figure out. We can’t play the same way every year because he has different players.

“So it just takes time to feel each other out and feel how we should play together.”

This year’s challenge might be larger than last season because Kentucky has fewer veteran players, Tyler Ulis said.

“He’s doing a lot more teaching than he did last year,” Ulis said of Calipari . “Last year, guys were back, so they understood what he wanted, and we came on pretty quick. This year, he has to do a lot more teaching with new guys. We don’t know how we’re going to play yet.”

One constant is super-sized expectations. Even though seven UK players from last season’s team are going to either the NBA Draft or NBA free agency, the Cats are ranked No. 1 (along with North Carolina) in the coaches’ poll going into this season.

“That’s what’s expected at Kentucky,” Lee said. “You’re expected to come out and be the best and do the best you can. If at the end of the year, you have the opportunity to do greater things, you go ahead . . . that’s what you’re supposed to do here.”

Lee tries, discards methods to improve as free throw shooter

If this is going to be the Year of Marcus Lee, as Kentucky Coach John Calipari has suggested, the junior forward will have to dramatically improve as a free-throw shooter.

Lee made only 36.6 percent of his free throws in his first two seasons. Last season, he made only eight of 25 (32 percent).

When asked at SEC Media Day Wednesday about improving his free-throw accuracy, Lee said, “It’s just like every other part of your game. You have to work at it and you have to figure it out.”

Lee suggested that he’s done extensive experimentation to find a way to be a reliably accurate free-throw shooter.

“I had to test a whole bunch of different ways and figure out what works  best for me,” he said.

Lee suggested that there’s no one way that works for all shooters.

“For everybody it’s different,” he said. “It’s just finding a way for you to control your mind and calm yourself down to get ready to shoot the shot.”

Media vote favors Kentucky to win the SEC title

For the 11th time since 1999, the media has voted Kentucky the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference championship.

LSU freshman Ben Simmons was the choice of the media for SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. Simmons becomes just the second freshman chosen as preseason player of the year by the media, joining Kentucky’s Julius Randle in 2013-14.

Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis was among players to receive votes for Player of the Year. Other players receiving votes for SEC Player of the Year were Florida’s Dorrian Finney-Smith, Texas A&M’s Danuel House and Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones.

House, Jones, Simmons and Ulis were each All-SEC First Team selections along with Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere and Ole Miss’s Stefan Moody.

Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for a five-player All-SEC Team. Ties were not broken.


Pelicans coach: Anthony Davis can be one of the best players . . . ever

In assessing how good former Kentucky All-American Anthony Davis can be, his NBA coach suggested historically good.

“Obviously, I think he can be one of the all-time great players who’ve ever played in this league,” New Orleans Coach Alvin Gentry said before the Pelicans played the Sacramento Kings in Rupp Arena Saturday night.

Gentry cited Davis’ size (listed at 6-foot-10) and speed (relative to other players of his size), plus one other less obvious attribute.

“His knowledge of the game,” Gentry said. “That’s where people really don’t understand. He’s got a really good knowledge of the game for a 22-year-old.”

It’s easy to forget Davis is only 22, and would be a NBA rookie if all college players stayed in school four years.

Gentry mentioned another intangible.

“He’s just all about the team,” he said of Davis. “He’s all about winning. Usually with the great ones, that’s the first thing they think about: the team.

“When you add all those things together, barring an injury, he can be one of the best all-time great players to ever play this game.”

Gentry likened Davis to Kevin Garnett.  “Who is one of the all-time great ones,” he said.

One reason Davis figures to be better than ever this coming season was reflected in his broader shoulders and noticeably muscular upper arms. Davis has been on 15 pounds.

When asked about a stronger-looking Davis, Gentry smiled and said, “He was pretty good as a skinny guy, wasn’t he?”

Gentry has talked about Davis being more of a three-point shooting threat this season. This led to a runaway reaction.

“Everybody took it to we were going to make him Steph Curry,” the Pelicans’ coach said. “We’re not going to have him shoot 15 threes in a game or anything like that.”

Kentucky fans were to get an in-the-flesh look at the new-and-improved Davis Saturday night.

When asked how many minutes Davis would play in a relatively meaningless (except for the location) pre-season game, Gentry turned playful.

“It all depends,” he said. “If Coach Cal (UK Coach John Calipari) would have bought my dinner last night, I’d have definitely played him a lot of minutes. Now, I’ve got to decide, OK?”