Poythress stars as UK wins opening game in Bahamas

I was at the G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium earlier today to watch Kentucky beat reserves for the Puerto Rico National Team 74-49.

In a glittering display of talent and depth, Alex Poythress was UK’s star of stars. Unlike the sometimes desultory performer of previous seasons, Poythress was an active contributor in many areas. He jumped center, scored around the basket, ripped a rebound from a Puerto Rico player’s grasp and once knocked a driver to the floor rather than concede a layup.

“He does things I can’t coach,” UK Coach John Calipari said of Poythress, whose combination of athleticism and bulk stand out on a team with plenty of ingredients.

A crowd of about 1,200 (no official attendance was announced) filled about half of the gym’s seats. With no air conditioning, it seemed a good idea to spread out in a gym that had two rows of chair-back seats and 16 rows of bleachers behind each sideline.

Kentucky, now 1-0 on its six-game trip to the Bahamas, plays again Monday (1 p.m. tip) against the Club Champagne Chalons-Reims, a team that will play in France’s top division next season.

In the first half Sunday, Kentucky faced an opponent eager to compete. Only 73 seconds into the game, referee John Hampton called a technical foul on Manuel Narvaez, who excessively taunted Dakari Johnson after blocking the UK big man’s shot.

But UK took the lead for good with about eight minutes left.

HALFTIME: UK 38, Puerto Rico 31.

NUMBER: UK got to the line more: 12 free throws to the opposition’s five. UK also played to its strength: 21 two-point shots, eight three-point shots.

FIRST HALF

Observations: 1. Poythress jumped center even though Johnson was the tallest starter, by far.  Poythress easily won the tap. 2. If this trip carries lasting memories, it might be because of Andrew Harrison’s fake staggering a Puerto Rico defender. While the defender had to gather himself to prevent from falling, Harrison sped by and fed Poythress a pass for a dunk. 3. Calipari substituted five at a time. There was no falloff in performance.

SECOND HALF

Observations: 1. The second team (Tyler Ulis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis  and Marcus Lee) started. A 7-point halftime team ballooned to 13 barely two minutes into the half. 2. Puerto Rico’s sudden ability to drive for layups displeased Calipari. He called time with 14:32 left when no one contested a Puerto Rico player’s one-man fast-break to a layup. Later, Calipari clapped in approval when Poythress’ contest of a drive left a Puerto Rico player sprawled on the floor. 3. UK scored the game’s final nine points. Four different players scored as Puerto Rico lost heart.

Final score: Kentucky 74-Puerto Rico 49.

Conclusion: Nothing happened to move anyone away from the assumption that eight McDonald’s All-Americans make Kentucky a team to be reckoned with. The scary thing to remember is Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles did not play.

 

Fourth impressions from UK’s Thursday practice

In the week leading to the trip to the Bahamas, Kentucky Coach John Calipari invited the Kentucky media corps to attend this week’s practices. UK asked reporters not to cite specifics from the workouts. But opinions were fine.

Following first impressions from Monday’s practice and second impressions from Tuesday’s practice and third impressions from Wednesday’s practice, here are fourth impressions from Thursday’s practice:

– Calipari will draw a line in sand. Not subject to negotiation are such basics as diving for  loose balls, sprinting the court (especially “bigs,” who can out-hustle opponents) and getting defensive rebounds

– Alex Poythress made only three of six free throws in a (very) controlled scrimmage. But getting to the foul line so many times showed a high level of activity and his teammates’ willingness to look for him along the baseline.

– Derek Willis doesn’t always exude confidence when he goes up for a shot.

– Lot of talk Wednesday about how much Andrew and Aaron Harrison have changed. But there are constants. Aaron can still shoot from the perimeter. With the scrimmage coming down to a final possession, Andrew drove  to contact to get to the foul line. He made one of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left to tie the score at 27-27.  Like Ara Parseghian in 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State game (google it, kids), Calipari settled for a tie and ended scrimmage.

– UK coaches had to like the several times offensive rebounding created second, third, fourth and fifth opportunities.

– Prettiest play of the day? Maybe Marcus Lee’s touch pass from post to post that got Dakari Johnson a dunk.

– UK’s “tower outage” continued. “Bigs” Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles watched another workout, this time leaning against a wall behind a baseline.

– A crew from Fox Sports 1 watched the practice and shot video. Reporter Reid Forgrave said we should look for a Kentucky basketball story on Fox’s various channels, probably sometime after the Bahamas trip and before colllege football begins.

UK press conference, Wednesday practice produce third impressions

In the week leading to the trip to the Bahamas, Kentucky Coach John Calipari invited the Kentucky media corps to attend this week’s practices. UK asked reporters not to cite specifics from the workouts. But opinions were fine.

Following first impressions from Monday’s practice and second impressions from Tuesday’s practice, here are third impressions from Wednesday’s practice:

– Cal said freshman Karl-Anthony Towns is “way better than I thought when I saw him in high school. . . . In high school, you saw him and (thought) he’s got a ways to go. Well, what I’m seeing (in early UK practices) is a very active player who’s skilled and runs better than I ever thought he’d run.”

– Cal said freshman Tyler Ulis has learned that because of his size (5-foot-9), he needs to take the initiative by picking up farther up the court and reducing the chances of opponents taking advantage of his size.  Think of how UConn’s guards pressured UK in the 2014 national championship game. “Up on us so we didn’t get a running start,” Calipari said.

Of Ulis, Calipari said, “I don’t see his size being a factor, but I imagine it will at some point. But I haven’t seen it to this point, and he’s playing against huge guards right now.”

– There’s no more room for additional national championship banners along the wall behind the men’s court at the Craft Center. The eight banners run hang along the length of the gym. There’s space for more along the wall behind a baseline nearest the office windows that look down on the court.

– Ex-Cat Jon Hood shot around after practice.

– Calipari can teach how to improve a seemingly good moment. For instance, when a 7-footer runs the court in transition and takes a pass for a dunk over a helpless guard, Calipari might blow his whistle. In a game, the guard might not be so helpless. He might get in position to take a charge. Better to pass upcourt to a wing, who can then lob a pass for a 7-footer to dunk with impunity.

– Full disclosure: A Calipari press conference preceded practice.  So several impressions listed above came from the press conference, and not from practice.

Cal on Bahamas priorities: Improve, familiarize more important than winning

Besides recruiting bonanzas and winning a lot of games, another strand linking John Calipari’s five previous seasons as Kentucky coach is his attempt to temper, if not defuse, the desire to not only defeat but dominate all opposition. So no big surprise Wednesday when he downplayed the importance of victories when Kentucky plays exhibition games in the Bahamas Aug. 10-17.

“Guys come here because they want to develop as players,” Calipari said.  Players also want to enjoy the experience of playing cohesively with other highly-skilled teammates.

Ideally, he said, UK players shift attention to winning after those two greater priorities are met.

“That’s the order,” Calipari said. “Not the other way around.”

Sophomore-to-be Andrew Harrison offered a mild protest. He suggested winning was a constant priority.

“Because I feel every time we step on the court, we try to win,” he said.

A smiling Calipari offered a plausible reason why Kentucky should not assume it will win the six games in the Bahamas. The opponents are professionals: The Dominican Republic National Team, reserves from the Puerto Rican National Team and a team from the highest pro league in France.

Of the presumably savvy vets UK will face, Calipari said, “Some as old as 37 (or) 38.”

That sounded pretty long in the tooth for a basketball player, but Calipari made the trip sound like going to school rather than the Caribbean.

“Which means probably shouldn’t win any games,” he said seemingly trying to suppress a smile. “I want it to be about development.”

Calipari suggested that his attempt to arrange professional opponents meant much stronger competition than usual. By contrast, UK’s trip to Windsor, Canada, in August, 2010, was designed to offer only token resistance, he said.

“Let’s talk about the downside,” Calipari said of the trip to the Bahamas. “It just makes our season really long.”

So, he said, Calipari said he would let assistants coach some of the games. He also talked about making five-man substitutions, playing “platoons” and six-minute segments of playing time.

Calipari suggested that the players might want as much playing time as possible. He said this UK team was unusual in the sense of players who want to play together as much as possible.

Usually, he said, a team will have one or two players “doing their own thing,” or a “goof ball” who look to do other things.

“These guys play just about every day they can play,” he said.

Second impressions from UK’s Tuesday practice

In the week leading to the trip to the Bahamas, Kentucky Coach John Calipari invited the Kentucky media corps to attend this week’s practices. UK asked reporters not to cite specifics from the workouts. But opinions were fine.

Following first impressions from Monday’s practice, here are some second impressions from Tuesday’s practice, which lasted about two hours:

– The Cats look slim and trim. Players like Willie Cauley-Stein, no wide body anyway, look sleek. Dakari Johnson, something of a bulky low-post presence last season, looks noticeably trimmer.

If you insist on bulk, Alex Poythress still combines muscle with athleticism.

– Any hopes of Cauley-Stein and freshman Trey Lyles playing in Bahamas continue to fade. Neither participated in the practice, although WCS took shots from the high post before the workout.

– If opponents play zone defense, Kentucky will need perimeter shooting. Dunking, which figures to be a signature weapon given Kentucky’s height, might not be available. So can Kentucky keep defenses honest with outside shooting?

A controlled (very controlled) 25-minute scrimmage featured eight jump shots and six dunks. The first five jumpers were made by five different players. Fans will like freshman Devin Booker’s soft touch.

– During pre-season practices last year, UK Coach John Calipari talked a lot about effort. I’m trying to remember if he brought up the subject Monday or Tuesday.

– Prettiest play of the day? I’d give the nod to freshman Tyler Ulis. He caught the ball in transition and made an immediate cross-court pass that the fast-breaking Booker caught in stride and drove for a dunk. Nice to see a player thinking a play or two ahead and not trying to decide what to do with the ball once he catches it.

– Referees worked a portion of the scrimmage. They looked in mid-season form, especially when the call was an intentional foul on Louisville.

UK sets Big Blue Madness for Oct. 17

This year’s Big Blue Madness will be Oct. 17, the University of Kentucky announced Tuesday.

Tickets for the 2014 Big Blue Madness, which will be held in Rupp Arena, will be available on Sept. 20 beginning at 7 a.m. EDT at the Memorial Coliseum ticket windows and online at UKathletics.com and Ticketmaster.com.

UK asked that fans wishing to line up ahead of time at Memorial Coliseum for ticket distribution not do so earlier than 5 a.m. Sept. 17. The athletic department will provide portable restroom facilities, but the use of permanent, wooden-type structures; portable generators; and propane tanks or other open flames used in cooking is prohibited due to safety concerns, UK said.

UK also noted that alcoholic drinks and tobacco products are not permitted. UK reminded fans that selling sports tickets in excess of face value is illegal in Kentucky.

A limited amount of control cards will be issued to those camped out onSept. 19, beginning at 2 p.m. EDT, UK said.  Fans are encouraged to start lining up for Saturday morning’s ticket distribution between 4-5 a.m. on Sept. 20.  All fans must be present to obtain their control cards and only one control card per person will be accepted at distribution.  Based upon availability, control cards will not be distributed after 7 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20 and all persons with control cards must be in line by 7 a.m.

First impressions from UK basketball’s Monday practice

In the week leading to the trip to the Bahamas, Kentucky Coach John Calipari invited the Kentucky media corps to attend this week’s practices. UK asked reporters not to cite specifics from the workouts. But opinions were fine.

Here are some first impressions from Monday’s practice, which took up more than two hours:

– As eight McDonald’s All-Americans suggest, UK will be good.

– It’s no big deal that Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Trey Lyles did not practice.

– Freshman Tyler Ulis is not tall (5-foot-9), but he could have a big impact. He’s quick physically and mentally. He thinks ahead on offense (touch passes) and on defense (As Carly Simon once sang, anticipation). He looks ideal for Calipari’s drive-drive-drive offense.

– I like Marcus Lee’s mohawk haircut.

– Never mind the so-called “new rules” about hand checks on the perimeter and the block/charge.  If the NCAA bans the dunk or raises the basket, Kentucky faces a major adjustment. But . . .

– Freshman 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns can face up and shoot jump shots.

– It’s way to early to draw any conclusions. The first game is three months and 10 days away (Grand Canyon on Nov. 14). The first day of classes is three weeks away (Aug. 27).

– If you didn’t know better, you would not think Calipari is coming off hip replacement surgery. His pale legs took him all over the court. His was the lone coaching voice heard.

 

 

During Team USA workouts, Cousins, Cal reminisce about UK glory days

Sportswriter Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee was in Las Vegas this week for the Team USA workouts. She mentioned DeMarcus Cousins in her “Team USA notes” Thursday:
“After his coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, reminded media members that Cousins remains his wife’s all-time-favorite Wildcat, the Kings center was asked how he gained the affections of Ms. Calipari.
“‘I’m charming,’ he bellowed.
“Asked her first name (Ellen), he replied laughing, ‘Ah! You’re putting me on the spot.’ Following a pause, he added, ‘Mama! Mrs. Cal!’”
Voisin noted how the Team USA workouts drew an audience of such basketball people as Sacramento Kings’ general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone, NBA coaches Lionel Hollins, Steve Kerr and David Blatt, general managers Bob Myers and David Griffin, and college coaches Mark Few and John Calipari.
“After the three-hour session, Calipari, who has four of his former players participating – including Cousins – worked the gym like a politician on the campaign trail,” Voisin wrote. “He darted from (Anthony) Davis to (Derrick) Rose to John Wall, then caught up with (Cousins) while he was being stretched by a USAB trainer on a table in the far corner. The two chatted for several minutes, joking, reminiscing, playfully arguing over who was expected to pick up the dinner tab later in the evening.”

Cousins played for UK in 2009-10, Calipari’s first season as coach. A contender for a national championship, the Cats lost to West Virginia in the Elite 8.

James Young: If 40-0 talk returns, don’t listen

Former Kentucky wing James Young cautioned next season’s players from paying attention should talk of a 40-0 record resurface. For Young, 40-0 means 40 and uh-oh.

“Don’t listen to it at all,” he said Tuesday during a break in a UK summer camp session. “We kind of listened to it last year, and it kind of got to us. And we had an up-and-down season. Leave the media stuff alone and stay focused.”

Talk of an unprecedented 40-0 record  erupted last season as UK added a record six McDonald’s All-Americans to a team had boasted the return of two regulars: Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.

There was speculation that the six McDonald’s All-Americans gave UK the greatest class in the history of college basketball.

“It was just so big for everybody,” Young said. “It was just everywhere. It was the talk just about every time on ESPN and stuff like that. It kind of got to us. We were always listening to it and stuff like that. We had to block it out.”

UK lost to Michigan State in its third game. Ultimately, Florida, a veteran team, enjoyed the record-breaking success (the first 18-0 regular-season record in Southeastern Conference history), while Kentucky finished second while struggling to develop consistency.

When asked whether the 40-0 talk brought pressure, Young said, “I feel we did (feel pressure) a little bit, just to try to please everybody instead of worrying about basketball and just playing.”

After a disheartening loss at South Carolina late in the season, Kentucky got on a roll in the post-season. The Cats lost to Florida by one point in the SEC Tournament finals, then fashioned a NCAA Tournament run that included three game-winning shots in the final seconds and did not end until a loss in the national championship game.

When asked about Kentucky’s potential in the upcoming 2014-15 season, Young saw good things ahead.

“They have a great team,” he said. “They have a lot of ‘bigs’ they can roll to. … They have a lot of size, so I feel that’s going to mess a lot of people up. They have a great advantage with that.”

Young also lauded UK’s depth. The Cats added “only” four McDonald’s All-Americans this off-season.

The big men include veterans Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, plus freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.

While seeing success likely, Young tempered his enthusiasm.

“I feel they can do a lot of things,” he said. “I’m not trying to put no pressure on nobody, and do all that. But I feel they’ll do real good.”

Services for former UK great “Wah Wah” Jones set

The funeral service for former University of Kentucky athletic star Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones will be held at noon Friday at Lexington’s Immanuel Baptist Church, the Anderson, Laws and Jones Funeral Home in Harlan posted on its website Monday.

There will be two visitations from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Anderson, Laws and Jones Funeral Home in Harlan, which was Mr. Jones’ hometown, and also from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday at Immanuel Baptist Church.

The funeral service will begin at noon, immediately following the visitation.

There will also be a celebration of his life on Thursday from 3 to 8 p.m. at the UK K Club (1398 Sports Drive).

Mr. Jones, who turned 88 on July 14, died on Sunday. He starred for UK’s basketball and football teams. As a member of the Fabulous Five, he played on UK’s 1948 national championship team. He was also part of the 1949 national championship team.

Mr. Jones was an all-Southeastern Conference end in football.

Mr. Jones is survived by his children: Wallace “Wah” Jones, Jr. of Lexington, Vicki Jones of Lexington and Ira Dawson and her  husband, Bruce Dawson, of Louisville; his grandchildren: Brian Mains and his wife, Crystal of Louisville, Ashley Dawson of Louisville, Shawna Landers of Florida, Cara Canada and her husband, Brandon, of Louisville, and Corey Jones and his wife, Ashley, of Lexington; his seven great grandchildren: Taylor, Addilyn, Lucas, Ali, Carson, Amelia, and Reagan; and Judy Jones, mother of grandson Corey.  He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Frances Rich Jones of Harlan and his nephews Jeff and John Jones.

Condolences may be left at www.aljfh.com.