Every year they’ve been different.
Whether you’re talking John Wall, Brandon Knight or Marquis Teague, all of John Calipari’s Kentucky guards have brought a little something different to the table. In that respect, whoever plays point guard for UK this year – Ryan Harrow or Archie Goodwin – will be no different.
But the biggest difference this season, perhaps the thing that stood out the most during Kentucky’s 93-61 season-opening exhibition win over Northwood on Thursday, is that it might not be just one-man point guard show this season.
While Wall, Knight and Teague were the guys at the point over the last three years, Harrow and Goodwin could split time at the one pretty evenly if Thursday night was any indication. Yes, Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight played some minutes at the one over the past few seasons when the starter needed a spell, but Thursday showed that Coach Cal has two players capable of playing significant minutes at the point-guard position.
And that’s a good problem for Calipari to have.
The mixing and matching of Harrow and Goodwin was part of a broader experiment of lineups Calipari used with his entire team on Thursday. Coach Cal used more than a dozen lineups in the first of two exhibition games the Cats will play.
“What day is this? Thursday. So in a week we’re on national television and we’ve got to figure out what in the heck (we’re going to do),” Calipari said. “Are you going to play 72 lineups against those (first two teams). I don’t know. I’m trying to figure this team out.”
As promised, Calipari used his twin-tower lineup of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on a couple of occasions, but his best lineup Thursday night was one of his smallest. While Northwood hung around early in the game, in part because of some sloppy UK turnovers, Calipari went with a combination of Harrow, Goodwin, Julius Mays, Alex Poythress and Noel, resulting in a 9-0 run to stretch what was a 14-13 lead to 23-13.
After that run, Northwood would never get closer than seven, allowing Calipari to do a little more mixing and matching.
Noel, playing much looser after tweaking his back in the Blue-White Scrimmage, posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds to go along with four blocks. Making 8-of-9 shots from the field, Noel was active on both ends of the floor for the Cats Thursday night.
“You may look at one lineup and say, this one is better,” Coach Cal said. “I may not like that starting lineup. You can’t start that way, so maybe we start different, and then you just rotate. And I’m telling you, it does not matter who starts, it’s who finishes the game, so maybe a starting lineup is different for us.”
But in a game where most people were excited to see Cauley-Stein and Noel play together, the combination of the two lead guards was the most productive.
Goodwin and Harrow combined for 37 points and 10 assists, performances that led Calipari to believe UK is a little further along than he expected.
“I will tell you that we were better than I thought we’d be,” Calipari said.
Goodwin, albeit wild sometimes, electrified the crowd with his speed and crossover moves en route to a team-high 22 points, while Harrow used his quickness and crafty handles to 15 points. The speedy duo combined to go 13 of 19 from the floor, including 12 for 14 from the free-throw line.
Harrow’s game was particularly encouraging after what Calipari described as a disappointing Blue-White Scrimmage.
“Ryan, in spurts, played how he’s got to play for us – in spurts – and then he reverts, and then it’s OK to get beat or hung up on a screen or stop playing,” Coach Cal said. “It’s just like I told them after, I’m just not settling for that.”
Harrow said Calipari talked to him – more specifically, yelled at him – to play more consistent defense.
“He’s not really concerned at the offensive side,” Harrow said. “He’s more concerned with me being energetic and never stopping on defense.”
It was only last week, Harrow said, that he learned to listen to what Calipari is telling him and not how loud his voice is.
“If you all saw him on (ESPN’s) ‘All-Access,’ he could be talking like this and then all of a sudden he’s like, ‘Ahhhh!!!’ ” Harrow said. “You’ve just got to deal with it because he’s just trying to get the best out of you.”
Harrow was a practice player last season as he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules, but Calipari’s coaching can be a little different when you’re moved to playing the most important position on the team.
“He barely yelled at me last year, so all of this yelling now kind of threw me for a loop, but that’s the type of things you have to expect when you’re the point guard of this team,” Harrow said.
Harrow, as the first Calipari point guard with previous college experience since 2007, is assumed to be the odds-on favorite to receive most of the minutes at point guard this year, but Goodwin showed Thursday night that he’s capable of playing the lead spot as well.
If nothing else, he adds a dynamic element that few other point guards possess. Not only can he score, he’s fast, he’s explosive and he’s quickly developing a keen sense for when to give the ball up to his teammates.
“I would just say it’s a matter of me continuing to improve myself playing the two guard and the point-guard position, looking for my teammates because I know looking for them will make my game a lot easier because they will have more focus on them and then it will make me easier for me to find different angles to drive and shoot,” Goodwin said.
After lofting up 22 shots in the Blue-White Scrimmage, Calipari was pleased with Goodwin’s efficiency Thursday, but his five first-half turnovers were a result of him playing too fast and “out of control.”
“You can play fast but don’t be in a hurry,” Coach Cal said. “When he plays fast, he hurries, and there’s stuff he’s learning. I’m all over him.”
Goodwin calmed down and posted a turnover-free second half. The freshman showed signs of his developing vision with two sweet passes to Noel in the second half that led to back-to-back dunks. The 6-foot-4 guard finished with five assists on the night.
“He’s a good player,” Calipari said.
Three other UK players reached double-figure scoring, including Noel. Widely regarded as an offensive project – just as Anthony Davis was at this time last year – Noel showed more than just glimpses that he possesses the skills to be an elite-level player that his No. 1 recruiting ranking would indicate.
The player charged most with “replacing” Davis made an impressive debut, posting a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Noel also blocked four shots while committing just two fouls.
“What’s happened is he and Willie have made each other better,” Coach Cal said. “They’re both better because they go against each other every day.”
Overall, Calipari seemed happy with his team’s first performance against a different squad, but he admitted he’s exhausted from all the yelling he’s had to do with his young players. Because his team is starting from scratch, Coach Cal wants to see who can take his coaching in the heat of the battle and who can’t.
“This is really scratch,” Calipari said. “This is scratch-scratch.”
Lanter officially a walk-on
Not even two weeks ago, few people knew who Tod Lanter was.
In a short time span, Lanter has gone from a relative unknown to a practice player and now a walk-on. UK Athletics made the news official Thursday just before Kentucky’s exhibition game against Northwood.
Lanter, the son of former UK walk-on Bo Lanter, was in uniform and sat on the bench during Kentucky’s 93-61 win. He played the final two minutes.
“I knew this is what I worked for, but I did not think the opportunity would be there,” Lanter told CoachCal.com last week. “When you look at a program like this especially, you’re always going to have seven studs. Those players are always going to come here, but most teams have 12 to 13, 14 guys. Where’s the rest of them? Why not me? They need somebody. They need talented players that can challenge the rest of them and give 100 percent and be there every day. I always thought why not.”