Jay Bilas sees Towns-or-Okafor as a debate about how to play

The debate about who should be the first pick in the NBA Draft Thursday might become a referendum on how basketball should be played.
Of course, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are widely considered the only players who might hear their name called when the Minnesota Timberwolves make the first selection. Each unwittingly represents the future and past, respectively, of the game.
Towns, the former Kentucky player, is seen as the versatile big men whose perimeter skills better fit “small ball,” a more wide-open style that the Golden State Warriors used to win the NBA championship earlier this month. Mix one championship and the usual over-reaction to anything/everything. Viola! A geomagnetic reversal. A traditional “big” clogs the speed lanes.
Okafor, the former Duke player, is the low-post scoring presence who has given team a historical heads up — literally and figuratively — on the competition (George Mikan in the 1950s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s and 1980s, Shaquille O’Neal in the 1990s and Tim Duncan in the 2000s).
A consensus of self-appointed draft experts predict that Minnesota will pick Towns.
But Jay Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft, wondered aloud about that.
Speaking on a telconference Monday, Bilas asked two pointed question. “If we’re saying the game has changed, then why aren’t these other guys higher up in the discussion for the No. 1 pick?” he said.
Bilas meant highly-regarded “small” players like guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay or a wing like Justise Winslow. Why are these players not in the speculation for the first or even the second picks?
Then Bilas added, “If we’re saying the game has changed, and that’s why you’re not taking Jahlil Okafor No. 1, why take him in the top five?”
Call him a “traditionalist,” one of UK Coach John Calipari’s polite putdowns for those who question his vision of the present and future, but Bilas made it sound that he would pick Okafor while wondering if he sound have selected Towns.
“I’m actually torn on who’s the best overall,” Bilas said. “Okafor. You don’t see a scorer like him in the low post very often.”
Bilas acknowledged that draft analysts question Okafor’s ability to defend, especially pick-and-roll action or even as a rim protector.
“Towns is more versatile,” Bilas said. “He’s good at everything. There’s nothing we can’t tick off as attributes  he’s not good at. . . .
“But I tend to lean a little bit to Okafor because he’s a dominate low-post scorer. Towns is not dominant in any one area. Maybe he will become that. But Okafor is the superior low-post scorer.”
That Okafor did not display low-post dominance in the latter stages of the NCAA Tournament, Bilas said the Duke big man was hampered by an injury.
If he had to make the Towns-or-Okafor, future-or-past decision, Bilas said he would canvas his pro team’s talent evaluators.
“I’m leaning one way,” he said. “But I wouldn’t argue with anyone who would have a different view than me. Both of them are going to be really good. The question is who’s going to be better.”

UK returning to Bahamas in 2016 to play Arizona State

Kentucky will return to the Bahamas in the 2016-17 season to play Arizona State, UK announced Monday.

UK will play Arizona State on Nov. 28, 2016. The game will be played in the 3,800-seat Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort. The game will fulfill a two-year deal with Arizona State, which plays at Kentucky this coming season on Dec. 12.

“We are thrilled to return to the Bahamas in 2016 to play Arizona State,” UK head coach John Calipari said in a news release. “The Bahamas bring back a lot of good memories for our team. It was there we built the foundation for our unforgettable 2014-15 season. I have a ton of respect for Coach Bobby Hurley and believe he’s going to take Arizona State to the next level. A great opponent coupled with a beautiful setting after the holiday weekend should make this an unbelievable trip for our fans.”

Kentucky hasn’t played Arizona State since the 2002 Maui Invitational.

 

Of course, UK played in the Bahamas last August. Six exhibition games served as a tuneup and experiment with the platoon system of substitutions.

 

Cal scoffs at questions about Cauley-Stein’s offense, desire

Kentucky Coach John Calipari scoffed at the NBA questions about Willie Cauley-Stein’s lack of offensive polish and desire to improve.

Calipari suggested Cauley-Stein’s offense can begin improving quickly and dramatically.

“Those teams will zero in on that in one summer, and he’ll begin to change,” Calipari said.

Speaking on a teleconference Thursday, Calipari noted that Cauley-Stein did not concentrate on basketball until he arrived at UK. Cauley-Stein’s background as a high school football player is well know.

Calipari noted how he watched Cauley-Stein play whiffle ball. “He was pretty good,” the UK coach added.

“A lot of these kids have been groomed since they were six years old,” Calipari said. “Well, Willie really started playing when he came with us. . . .

“He’s better than you think and (NBA teams) can mold him into what you want him to be. . . . He’s one of those guys who will do the things that get a team over the hump.”

Cauley-Stein possesses “the feet and hands of a 6-3 super athletic guard,” Calipari said. “Which means he can guard all five positions.”

NBA teams have questioned Cauley-Stein’s desire to improve. No doubt that was one reason Cauley-Stein insisted he had no interest in art, never mind evidence to the contrary in his three seasons for UK.

Calipari noted that he had coached only three “gym rats:” Derrick Rose, Brandon Knight and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

“Willie, he plays,” Calipari said. “He loves to play.

“But Anthony Davis wasn’t, like, a gym rat, and he’s OK. So I think it’s been overblown. It’s almost like you’re trying to pick something out that he’s not.”

Cal promotes UK’s ‘position-less players’ during NBA Draft teleconference

During a Thursday teleconference previewing next week’s NBA Draft, Kentucky Coach John Calipari promoted his program’s focus on producing “position-less players.”

Of course, seven UK players have entered this year’s NBA Draft, which will be held next Thursday.

Aim to enhance versatility makes players more attractive, Calipari said.

“Our goal is not just to help guys get in the league,” he said. “We want guys to become All-Stars. . . . Our goal would be to say, ‘Hey, half the NBA All-Stars started with us.'”

Calipari held up Karl-Anthony Towns as an example.

“If he had his druthers, he would have been a two-guard,” Calipari said. UK insisted Towns be a post-up player.

“He had no real post game,” Calipari said. “You know, we forced him. Like I told him, ‘You’re going to be a post player who can play out on the floor.'”

Now, Towns is widely projected as the first player taken in this year’s draft.

Calipari called Towns the type of player that “never gets traded.

“And there’s only a few of those in the league. And he’ll be one of them.”

Ex Cats will be busy appearing at various basketball camps

Former Kentucky basketball players will be busy this summer appearing at various camps, it was announced Tuesday. No need to fret. They will be free to attend or watch the NBA Draft on June 25.

Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein and Andrew Harrison will be part of the inaugural Big Blue ProCamp Tour stop in Cincinnati on Aug. 1-2. The camp will be staged at the SportsPlus facility.

Aaron Harrijson, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns will be part of the Big Blue ProCamp Tour stop in Louisville on July 30-31 at HOOPS Louisville.

Each of the camps is open to boys and girls in grades one through 12. Cost is $199. Registration and more information is available at BigBlueProCamps.com.

All seven of the UK players who entered this year’s draft (the six above, plus Dakari Johnson) will appear at the Kroger John Calipari ProCamps, which will be held July 30-31 and Aug. 1-2 at UK’s Memorial Coliseum/Joe Craft Center.

This camp is open to boys and girls entering kindergarten through 12th grade. Cost is $199. Registration is available at ukathletics.com/camps.

 

Randle camper a winner before first ball is bounced

Before the first basketball was bounced at Julius Randle’s three-day camp, there was a clear-cut winner.

Paxton Bloyd, 6, was a cancer survivor.

When he was 5, Bloyd was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma Stage 4. He underwent eight months of chemo therapy.

“We consider him cured,” father Cheslee Bloyd said Monday as the Randle camp began at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington.

The camp and Paxton’s cancer has been a family affair.

Mother Jamie Bloyd led an effort that resulted in legislation that enables Kentuckians to help in the fight against childhood cancer. Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, allows Kentuckians to check a box on their state income tax that designates a donation to pediatric cancer research.

Meanwhile, the Bloyd family attended the Randle camp in full force. Besides Paxton and his parents, younger sister Ansley, 4, watched from the sidelines. Also present was Taylor Bloyd, a baby girl born Friday at Central Baptist Hospital.

Before he took the court, Randle held the baby in his arms and posed for pictures. Taylor, who arrived at eight pounds and 20 1/2 inches long, slept through the whole thing.

Randle to stage camp in Lexington next week

Former Kentucky basketball standout Julius Randle returns to Lexington next week to play host to a three-day camp for children. The camp, which is for boys and girls ages five to 14, will be Monday through Wednesday at the Kentucky Basketball Academy.
“It’s an opportunity to give back to the youth,” Randle said Thursday. “I always enjoy working with the youth. It’s a great way to interact.”
Randle stressed that the camp is not all fun and games. He wants the campers to learn the basic fundamentals of basketball.
“That’s the main thing for me,” he said. “(Learn) how to play basketball. It’s not just one on one, but how to play with each other.”
Cost of the camp is $249. Camp promotion touts “18 hours of elite instruction,” plus autograph and photo opportunities with Randle.
When asked to explain the elite instruction, Randle said, “Basically, everything I do I want it to be authentic.”
Andrew Thomas, who is Randle’s marketing agent, said the former UK star did not want the camp to be “just a day care.” Randle wants the campers to gain a better understanding of how to play basketball.
Randle, who led UK to the 2014 Final Four, hopes to stage a similar camp in Los Angeles in early August, said Art Lowe, who runs the Ohio-based International Sporting Group. Randle was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the seventh pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. He broke his leg in a game in late October and missed the rest of the season.
About 45 to 50 spots remain available for the camp at KBA, Lowe said.
More information can be obtained by calling KBA at 859-219-9272 or by going to the websites isgcamps.com/Julius-randle.

ESPN extends Dick Vitale’s contract through 2017-18 season

ESPN extended the contract of Hall of Famer Dick Vitale, the all-sports network announced Tuesday. The deal means Vitale will continue calling games on ESPN’s various channels through the 2017-18 season.

The 2017-18 season will be Vitale’s 39th on ESPN for Vitale.  His first came  on Dec. 5, 1979. He worked the first major college game on ESPN: a DePaul victory over Wisconsin. Since then, he’s called more than a thousand games.

 

“Dick continues to connect with fans by demonstrating an incredibly successful combination of exuberance for and knowledge of the game he loves,” John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production and Programming, said in a news release. “He is a one-of-a-kind personality and the passion he brings to everything he is involved with continues to have an enormous impact.”

Vitale expressed thanks for the extension.

“I am so proud to be part of the ESPN team,” he said in a news release. “They have become my second family and have been a vital part of my life. It has been nothing but pure happiness working with the beautiful people at ESPN and I can’t thank them enough as they’ve been responsible for so many of the glorious days I’ve had in my life.”

Cal to Hawkins, Willis: Expect to play next season

First, you must believe. Then you must work to convert faith in self into playing time.

That’s the message Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he delivered to infrequently used Kentuckians Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis.

“Don’t come here (in 2015-16) not expecting to play,” Calipari said he told Hawkins and Willis. “You expect to play. And then you make that happen. You fight for that spot. You improve your skills.”

Then Calipari acted out a two-way coach-player conversation about making more playing time a reality.

“‘Well, if I just had more time,'” Calipari said a player might suggest.

To which, the coach responds, “No, you’d just be bad for more time. It isn’t about more time. It’s you earn your minutes.'”

Calipari said he didn’t mean to single out Hawkins and Willis. He was talking abaout any player who wanted more playing time.

“‘Well, if I just got more time,'” this player might say.

“Really?” Calipari said. “What would you be now? O-for-12, now?”

The player would respond, “Well, you know, I wouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

To which, Calipari would respond, “Really? Or would you just make twice as many mistakes?”

Calipari said Willis has matured in his first two UK years.

Now, Willis “should not feel anxiety,” the UK coach said. “(He) should be able to come back and lead a group of  young players who are pretty good.”

Kentucky’s reliance on so-called one-and-done players can put a stigma on players who stay more than one season, Calipari acknowledged.

“He and Dom are on like a normal college path,” the UK coach said of Willis. “I mean, first couple years, you don’t play a whole lot. You try to bust through your third year. And you’re trying to make sure your senior year you’re fulfilling your own dreams.

“But they’re on a normal path. For some reason here, it doesn’t seem normal. But it’s normal.”

Cal talks about how UK helped elevate stock of players in NBA Draft

Putting on his salesmanship suit, John Calipari discussed Thursday how this past season helped several Kentucky players elevate their stock in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Calipari acknowledged for the first time publicly that Karl-Anthony Towns resisted the coaches’ request that he focus on being a low-post player.

“We forced him to do stuff he didn’t want to do,” Calipari said. “Like ‘you’re going to get in the post and you’re going to be tougher, because that’s what (NBA teams want to see).'”

Not coincidentally, Towns is widely projected as the first player to be selected in the June 25 NBA Draft, Calipari said.

Trey Lyles, who is widely  thought to have played out of position as a small forward for Kentucky last season, “added value” by showing perimeter skills, Calipari said.

Of Devin Booker, Calipari said teams that advanced the furthest in this year’s NBA playoffs were leaders in three-point shots made.

“Obviously, it says if you have a good three-point shooting team, you have a chance to be one of the last five teams standing,” Calipari said.

Three other UK players are not considered certain first-round picks: Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison.

“Got good reports on Dakari,” Calipari said. “Got great reports on Andrew.”

Of Aaron Harrison, Calipari said, “Somebody’s going to look at (him) and his size and ability to make big shots and play with courage and they’re going to pull the trigger on him, too.”