Podcast of practice reports from the Leach Report (starts at the 19-minute mark)
There’s a great myth among college basketball fans that Midnight Madness – or in UK’s case, Big Blue Madness – is the first time a coaching staff can practice with its team.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Although the middle of October – Oct. 12 this year – is the official start of the college basketball season and the first time coaches can practice with their team for the full 20 hours a week, it is by no means the first time coaches can get their players together for instruction.
This summer the NCAA allowed coaches to work with players enrolled in summer school for eight weeks, up to eight hours a week, including two hours per week of team instruction (i.e. practice). After that, coaches are allowed two hours a week of individual skill instruction (four players per group) until the middle of September, when they can then practice their entire team together for two hours a week until the middle of October.
Last week that window officially opened for coaches across the country, which means it’s the first time Calipari has had his entire 2012-13 team together for a practice since Nerlens Noel walked on campus.
CoachCal.com was at Monday’s practice to watch the one-hour workout. Below are the notes from the practice.
- I certainly wasn’t the only one observing Monday’s practice. Approximately 20-plus coaches from the NBA and college were courtside to watch Coach Cal work out his team. The staffs were on hand for Calipari’s annual coaches’ retreat, where Calipari invites his basketball fraternity to watch practice and talk basketball.
- The players may have changed from last year but the warm-up drills remain the same. Every practice begins with full-court layup drills. First, each player will dribble the full length of the court in a dead sprint for a layup and then back the other end. The next drill will add a man to the mix and they’ll fly to both sides of the court passing back and forth to each other. Finally, the warm-ups will conclude with a three-man drill that ends in either a layup or jump shot. Because Calipari de-emphasizes the use of the bounce pass in his system, you will never see the ball hit the floor in the two- and three-man layup drills.
- After warm-ups, Calipari split his team into front-court (Willie Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress) and back-court players (everyone else). Orlando Antigua worked with the big men while John Robic focused exclusively with the guards. The big men practiced catching the ball and finishing around the basket. The guards ran through dribbling and layup drills. As always, Wiltjer made just about every hook shot while Cauley-Stein looks to have much better form from his first summer workouts.
- Because we haven’t done a practice report with Noel on the floor yet – he was finishing up a couple high school classes during UK’s summer workouts – a few words on him: The 6-foot-10, 228-pound forward is an impressive athletic specimen. His elite-level athleticism and jumping ability has finally convinced me that he can be just as good of a shot blocker as Anthony Davis (I know that sounds crazy, but I’m starting to think he could be in the ballpark). He also possesses quickness that few other big men have. His offensive skills have a ways to go, but he’s already shown significant improvement on his hook shot since his first skill instruction session nearly a month ago.
- One thing Noel is still trying to grasp is the importance of running full speed all the time. A couple of times Calipari got on him for not running at full speed to the basket. The other players have heard it time and time again, but it may have been the first time Noel has heard Calipari say, “Our feet are moving fast and our minds are moving slow.” Calipari compares it to moving like a duck. While the duck’s feet are moving like crazy below the water, the duck sails smoothly above the water.
- Cauley-Stein continues to finish first or second in sprints, often dueling with the much smaller Archie Goodwin. I don’t know if he didn’t do it in high school, but he’s certainly using his skills as a wide receiver on the football field to help him on the basketball court. When he flies, it’s like he’s sprinting past a cornerback on a 50-yard go route.
- Goodwin could be a great defender very quickly. He has really bought into playing defense and has the footwork and speed to be a shutdown perimeter defender. Few people will pick Ryan Harrow’s pocket this season, but Goodwin got him a couple times when he was matched up one-on-one with him. He also doesn’t give up. After Julius Mays crossed him over at half court and blew past him, Goodwin shifted his speed into another gear, sprinted back and rejected Mays from behind. Mays turned around and smiled at Goodwin because he thought he had all day to get his jumper off.
- I’m going to have a feature on the improvement of Jarrod Polson later this week, but a quick word on how far he’s come: With a drill-deciding possession on the line, Poythress guarding him and Noel waiting near the basket, Polson drove past Poythress and banked in a lefty layup for the game-winner. Calipari was impressed, but he also told Noel he’s got to come over and block that shot. “Nerlens, they’re saying you’re the best shot blocker in the country so block some shots,” Calipari said. Noel would respond with several rejections later in practice.
- Speaking of blocked shots, Cauley-Stein is not only fast, he’s developing shot-blocking instincts. After months on the practice floor, he’s learning tendencies and when to swat a shot out of the air. Standing at 7 feet, he’s always had the size to block shots, but he’s just now scratching the surface of what it takes to be a big-time college shot blocker.
- Thousands of layups later, there is a noticeable difference in the team’s ability to finish in the lane in traffic. Everyone from Harrow to Poythress, Polson and Jon Hood are finishing with proficiency around the rim when the trees are in their face. Mays’ finishing ability impressed me the most. His biggest strength is his ability to knock down shots, but he finds ways to score against much bigger players. I suppose that’s years of playing college ball. On a team of youth, he could be the wily veteran.
- Hood is doing everything he can to get on the floor this year, and Calipari is noticing. “He wants to play this year,” Calipari said after Hood sunk a floater in the lane. “He knows if I get to seven or eight feet I can make these, so he slowed down and played to his strength and shot the floater. The floater forces the big man to come out. Great job, Jon.”
- Goodwin is fearless. I said it in the previous practice report, but I’m going to say it again: He is going to make more SportsCenter highlights than any other player on this team because of his ability to rise up and finish over defenders. When he decides he wants to finish at the rim, it’s like he’s rocketing off the floor. On one play he elevated right over Noel, just narrowly missing a vicious dunk. The more I watch him with his skill level and mindset, the more I think he could be this team’s leading scorer.
- Practice ended with a five-on-five drill that was essentially a 10-minute scrimmage. Without Noel on campus this summer, the practices the last two weeks are the first time they’ve been able to go five-on-five.
- Mays knocked down several shots from the perimeter during the scrimmage. He still looks to be UK’s best perimeter threat.
- Noel and Cauley-Stein were matched up against each other and had some pretty impressive battles. Neither hit a ton of shots, but I think both of their high school coaches would be shocked at how far their post moves have come. Like Davis told Calipari when he played Noel in pickup ball a few weeks ago, Noel needs to work on sitting in the post and sealing off his man. A couple of times Cauley-Stein snuck behind him and poked away the entry pass.
- Poythress was his usual self — strong around the basket, dominant at the rim but still trying to grasp his role in Calipari’s offense. Part of the dilemma is it’s still unclear where Poythress is best suited to play.
- Make of it what you will, but Polson was the lead point guard for the white team, opposite of Harrow. Twany Beckham played more as a shooting guard/defensive stopper.
- After practice, the coaches stayed courtside while Calipari talked and answered questions about his practice and system. Calipari joked with the coaches that he’s not sure they can play the two big men together (Noel and Cauley-Stein) after seeing them miss so many shots in the five-on-five, but he said they should be long and good defensively. He said he still doesn’t know how this year’s team will play. There were a few on-court demonstrations from the coaching staffs in attendance at the retreat before everyone headed to dinner to digest food and more hoops.
Coach Cal’s visit, speech punctuate Madness campout