Practice report: Freshmen go through Kentucky Basketball 101

With seven newcomers and an eighth in Hamidou Diallo who hasn’t yet played in a game for Kentucky, there’s plenty for Kentucky head coach John Calipari to teach. Friday afternoon’s session at the Joe Craft Center featured plenty of tutorials. All of that is to be expected.

Men’s basketball teams are permitted two hours of team skill instruction per week this time of year. Calipari’s goal here is to lay the groundwork of what they’ll want to do this season.

Coach Cal is still trying to figure out how he wants his ninth team at UK to play. Part of that is due to the sheer number of newcomers, and part of that is due to the unique composition of this group, which features a wealth of hybrid forwards who can handle the ball, shoot it from range and play inside.

Before reading the practice report below, please note that every single player is not going to be mentioned, especially because this practice featured more instruction than normal ones. At the end of the day, it’s one practice, or one snapshot if you’d like to call it that, in the grand scheme of things. Everybody isn’t going to stand out every practice and not everything is going to be worth mentioning. Just because someone isn’t mentioned in this report doesn’t mean they played poorly.

Please note that all observation and opinions are only that of Metz Camfield.

  • The guys all appear to be in great physical shape. Redshirt sophomore forward Tai Wynyard looks more trimmed/toned – still built like an ox, but trimmed. Fellow sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel looks like he’s beefed up some. I’ve been told he’s actually lost weight, but he’s added plenty of muscle. Much of the credit for this should go to strength and conditioning coach Rob Harris and assistant strength and conditioning coach Cameron Bird. The guys have been waking up early and staying late in the gym throughout the summer and it shows.
  • The freshmen, for the most part, look big. Coach Cal, as has been well documented, believes Kevin Knox can play as a guard. Well, that’s a big guard.
  • It was interesting to see in the early warmup drills that Knox was, in fact, working out with the guards. Fellow freshmen PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt worked out with the forwards during this time.
  • Friday afternoon’s practice began with basic instructions and philosophies of Coach Cal. This included how he wants them to play (positionless) and where they should be trying to get the ball. The key will be how the players read off each other. Obviously, with so many newcomers on the team who haven’t played together, this may take time. That’s what these practices are for.
  • It was great to see Bam Adebayo back on campus. He remains one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure of covering. Adebayo, of course, was taken 14th overall by the Miami Heat and enjoyed a strong NBA Summer League outing. It was fun to see him interacting with the newcomers and joking with them. Coach Cal always stresses that Kentucky basketball is a family, and that certainly was apparent during practice Friday. Adebayo did not practice with the team during this session.
  • One of the big things with this team will be consistency. After a few minutes of shooting, Calipari stopped practice and stressed the importance of being consistent. His message was simple: Concentrate on every single shot and every single move, engraining that in your head in the process. Calipari said he would see players making five straight 3s and then airball two in a row. “You don’t have to make every shot,” he said, “but when you miss, I want people saying, ‘Dang, that looked like it was good.’ Everything we’re doing – concentrate.”
  • Hamidou Diallo looks big. Listed at 6-foot-5, he looks filled out and the spring in his step is absurd. Photographers and videographers will have plenty of work with him this season.
  • Quade Green is a competitor. No doubt about it. On missed shots he would clap his hands in frustration or work on his shooting stroke afterward. He didn’t want it to happen again. He sprinted hard in every drill he did, leaving his shirt a darker shade of gray shortly after practice began. Offensively, he hit a number of jumpers, floaters and difficult layups.
  • Coach Cal is not a fan of bounce passes, and it makes sense when you think about it. The strength of this team is its length and its height. Why level out the playing field with a bounce pass?
  • Play of the Day: Gabriel caught a beautiful lob from Brad Calipari in a transition drill and threw down an absolutely vicious dunk. The play made Adebayo leap out of his seat screaming in approval.
  • Gabriel was much more assertive and aggressive going to the rack. One of the older players on the team as a sophomore – that’s really weird to type – Gabriel looked like he was playing with more of an ownership.
  • Close second for play of the day came when Green tossed a nifty lob between two defenders to Nick Richards, who caught it with two hands and threw it down. Richards is fun to watch. He’s 6-11, runs the floor great and is quick off his feet.