Brian Lane, his Transylvania team just having frustrated Kentucky with a closer-than-expected game on Friday night, asked the contingent of reporters in front of him when UK’s next exhibition game was.
“I feel sorry for that team because you will see a much more energized (team),” Lane said.
Lane tried to backtrack just a bit and say it wasn’t as though UK didn’t play with enough energy, but it was clear he saw what everyone else in Rupp Arena witnessed: Kentucky didn’t play up to the colossal expectations placed before them this preseason. The Cats, as John Calipari said so time and time again afterwards, lacked energy and effort.
“We had a lot of non-competitive guys out there,” Calipari said. “They’re just going to have to learn. This was a great lesson for them.”
What: No. 1 Kentucky vs. Montevallo
When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Monday night, as the Cats tune up for the regular season with a final exhibition game against Montevallo, everyone will get to see if the message sent by Coach Cal was received.
It’s still very early in the season, but the players hinted in interviews after the Transylvania game that halftime was the angriest they had seen Calipari so far. To his credit, it seemed to work as UK opened the second half on a 21-2 run.
“His big pet peeve is playing hard,” freshman forward Julius Randle said. “We just got to play harder on defense and on offense, run the floor, talk and just compete. If we do that, we’ll be fine. But we’re young. We don’t really get it right now. We stopped a lot, but we’ll be fine in the end.”
Randle led UK with 16 points and 12 rebounds in UK’s first exhibition game, but even he couldn’t escape Calipari’s ire. Coach Cal wanted more consistent energy from Randle, and Randle was one of five players who were mass substituted for in the second half when effort was lacking in the eyes of Calipari.
Randle, as the anointed “alpha beast” of the team and one of the most heralded players in college basketball this year, said he’s got to take it upon himself to make sure his teammates’ energy level is consistently high.
“I feel like I’m that guy,” Randle said. “A lot of the stuff I got to do is by action. I kind of lead by example, but I’m going to have to be more vocal with our guys and just kind of get on guys when they’re slacking because we can’t afford that. The season’s next week, so we can’t afford stuff like that.”
One player fans could see more of Monday, especially with the health of freshman Andrew Harrison, who sat out Friday with a bruised right knee, still in question, is senior Jarrod Polson. If Andrew Harrison can’t go again, Calipari said he may give Polson more minutes to allow Aaron Harrison to slide over to his more natural position as the shooting guard.
“I thought Jarrod was good,” Calipari said. “All that Jarrod did was run really hard and push the ball. We had absolutely none of that in the first half. We didn’t get a breakout. There’s (a) difference between running and sprinting. We have a lot of guys that running has always been good enough, and ‘This is me.’ You can’t be on the court then. You know, it’s OK, but you can’t be out there.”
Polson, who scored five points in 18 minutes, was the lead guard of the five-man rotation Calipari subbed in late in the second half Friday.
Record: 20-10 last year
Head coach: Danny Young (246-107 at Montevallo)
Player to watch: Troran Brown (18.7 points, 5.8 assists last year)
Series history: First meeting
“That was kind of different,” Polson said. “Cal had never done that before really. It’s kind of fun to be in two different groups. I feel like that’s kind of the groups we’ve been in in practice. That second team that was in there for awhile, we had been playing with each other all season long in practices so we were really comfortable with each other and I think that helped us.”
And if the message about more energy and effort wasn’t received by four practices over the weekend, that second group could take on a more prominent role in the final tune-up of the preseason.
“At the end of the day, he has our best interests,” Randle said. “He’s not going to get onto us about something that’s unfair to us. Everything he’s talking about is fair and he’s getting onto us for the right reasons: because he wants the best for us.”
As Cal assesses rotations, Willis forcing himself into mix