Practice report: Cats focus on Dribble Drive

John Calipari still had 35 minutes left of skill instruction with his team this week, so he got the guys together again on Tuesday and had his team scrimmage for most of the practice. was once again courtside to take a few notes and observations. Check out Monday’s practice report here.

  • Calipari has said on a couple of occasions this offseason that he wants to do more controlled scrimmaging with his guys. Essentially, he wants to get them on the court in a game setting to let them run and learn on the fly. If he sees something he wants to point out or correct, he’ll blow the whistle and teach, but he wants to get into as many game-like situations as fast as he can this year. That was most of the structure for Tuesday’s 35-minute practice.
  • Now, just because the players had the freedom to play like they were in a game situation doesn’t mean the whistle around Coach Cal’s neck stayed silent. Far from it. Early in the practice, the Cats couldn’t make it through a possession without Calipari stopping them. They were sluggish for the first five or 10 minutes, but that will happen from time to time, especially early in the season when the guys are still trying to get accustomed to the daily expectations and playing shape. “Let’s go, guys,” Calipari said. “Wake up!” On another play where the Cats seemed to be going through the motions, he shouted, “Would you like me to call a play every time down the floor? I can call the game for you. Or would you rather play basketball?”
  • Two things stuck out in the five-on-five. One, this team could play a lot more Dribble Drive this year. Two, Cal seems to wants to play faster and press more. It would be silly for me to say both of those are certainties for the season after a 30-minute scrimmage in late September, but there is no doubt there is more emphasis at this time of the year on picking up the pace and playing the Dribble Drive than there was the last couple of seasons. The two teams pressed the entire practice, and when the offense broke the press, Calipari wanted them driving straight to the basket and looking for opportunities to score. I almost get the impression that Coach Cal wants other teams to press. If you give these Cats a numerical advantage on the break, it’s game over. The length and speed of this team could also make for one of the scariest full-court presses in the country.
  • After the slow start, Monday’s most impressive player got the Cats rolling with a nice drive that set up his teammates for any an easy layup. Calipari stopped the play to convey his approval. “I’m going to be honest, that was pretty good,” Coach Cal said. “You know who is making it good? Marcus Lee. Marcus Lee knows I’m hitting that pass and then I’m flying through. Exactly what I want to see.”
  • With each practice, I’m beginning to find the uncertainties about UK’s 3-point shooting – what some believe could be a similar pitfall to the 2009-10 team – to be baseless. Andrew Harrison is an above-average 3-point shooter for a point guard. His twin brother, Aaron, can certainly stroke it. Jon Hood hits when he is open. So does Jarrod Polson. Derek Willis is a very underrated shooter. And even Julius Randle can sink the 3-ball. But the guy who I’m beginning to believe could be the best 3-point shooter on the team is James Young. From what little I’ve seen of him so far, he has been extremely consistent in hitting the open long-range shot and nearly as good with a hand in his face because of his length. You can see he’s put a lot of time into his rhythm and follow-through.
  • The Harrison twins have a lot to process right now as guards – that’s always the case for a Calipari-coached team because he puts so much responsibility on them – but there are times you see the special potential they have. They understand lanes, passes and how to get to the basket. That much was clear when Aaron Harrison drove past his brother with his left hand, got Dakari Johnson to commit and then threw a well-timed lob pass to Cauley-Stein for the dunk.  It’s also apparent they are going to make an impact in the paint. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, they both have the size to take smaller defenders inside and post them up.
  • Because of the recruiting rankings, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that Willis won’t contribute with this group, but I wouldn’t be quick to jump to conclusions so quickly. Calipari was impressed with Willis after he showed off his range and touch on Tuesday. He’ll need to bulk up as the season gets closer to make a major impact, but he could give the Cats some points off the bench. “Now that we’ve got a little structure, he’s doing better than you all thought,” Coach Cal said after Willis banked in a runner. “He may get pushed around, but the one thing he can do is what? Score the basketball.”
  • Willie Cauley-Stein is definitely developing some post moves, particularly a jump hook. It just looks so much more natural and consistent this year. Quite frankly, he hardly knew how to shoot one 12 months ago. The more repetitions he gets, the higher that ceiling goes for him. He just needs to get more consistent with it. There are still times where he leans away to avoid contact.
  • Dominique Hawkins has a pretty nice floater, which will come in handy for a shorter guard who needs to pull up in the lane sometimes. I can also see him turning into a pesky defender because of his speedy and overlooked upper-body strength.
  • Let’s not forget Jarrod Polson and what he did last year. As disappointing as 2012-13 was, Polson was terrific. He was arguably the best story of the season. From former deep-reserve to game-saver in the Maryland game, Polson grew to be an important part of last year’s team. Will his minutes go down this season? With the number of bodies, that’s likely, but his value should stay the same.  It’s obvious watching him in Tuesday’s scrimmage that he can not only hang with all these talented youngsters, he can be effective. Like Jon Hood, he’s a seasoned veteran who knows what to expect. Talent may be more important than experience in Calipari’s system, but that doesn’t mean veterans are afterthoughts. Polson’s leadership and daily competition with the guards in practice will play an important role this year.
  • Based on the number of guys he has at his disposal, Coach Cal doesn’t mind if his guys play a little physical. And he doesn’t mind it in practice as long as it’s clean physicality. He stopped the scrimmage near the end to tell his players to get in each other defensively and to welcome the contact. “If you don’t think guys are going to foul and get up in you, you’re crazy,” Calipari said. “Everybody is trying to survive and carve their own piece. You can either accept it or you fight back. Dudes are fighting for their lives. This is an all-out battle here. After it’s over, we all pat each other on the back and tell each other good job. This team is built to compete.”
  • Calipari was on Dakari Johnson about playing harder on Tuesday, and it’s easy to see why. When he gives maximum effort, he is an absolute terror inside. For all the physical attributes Cauley-Stein possesses, when Johnson got the message from Calipari and turned it on, Cauley-Stein had a tough time slowing him down. On one play, Johnson essentially bulldozed Cauley-Stein out of the lane with a textbook block out, grabbed the ball with his two giant paws and went right back up for the two-hand slam. “That’s how I want you to play,” Calipari yelled as Johnson sprinted back on defense. “It’s your choice whether you want to play that way or not.”
  • After the slow start, the scrimmage ended strongly with a nice bam, bam, bam sequence from Andrew Harrison, Hood, Cauley-Stein, Lee and Polson. Andrew Harrison drove it down the right lane and hit Hood on a backdoor cut with a bounce pass. Hood drove baseline, kicked it to the far corner to Cauley-Stein, who then gave it up to Lee on the wing. Polson shouted from the other wing that he was open, Lee found him and Polson drained the 3. It all happened in about three seconds. “That’s how we play basketball,” Coach Cal said. “They attacked, they drove, they passed, they scored. That’s how we play. This (system) was designed for players who don’t mess around with the ball.”
  • At the end of practice, Calipari told the guys he was pretty pleased with how quickly they are picking up the basics of the Dribble Drive. “For not having a lot of structure, there is a lot of structure in what we’re doing,” Coach Cal said. “You’ve got to be in the right spots and know where you’re going for this to work.”
  • Alex Poythress was out of Tuesday’s practice again with an injury. He is expected to return to practice soon.