Practice Report: Wildcats put in work during second day of UK Pro Day

One day after the Kentucky men’s basketball team got its first taste of playing at Rupp Arena on national TV with the fourth annual UK Pro Day, the Wildcats went through a normal practice on Monday in front of the same NBA personnel.

While UK Pro Day was a great experience for each of them, the structure of the event was much different than a normal practice. Monday saw the Cats go through a regular practice and further establish the foundational elements they will use throughout the entire season.

The offense focused on their pace of play and timing, while the emphasis of Monday’s practice for the defense was playing without fouling.

Before reading the practice report below, please note that every single player is not going to be mentioned. 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 all observation and opinions are only that of Metz Camfield.

  • It was interesting to see Coach Cal coaching his team how to rebound the ball. On the surface, this seems like it would be filed under the “Shouldn’t they know how to do that?” department, but you have to keep in mind that on a team this young, many of the players have established habits that they could get away with in high school and in AAU ball. At Kentucky, Calipari must establish new habits, especially in these early stages of the preseason. Coach Cal wants his guys to rebound the ball with TWO hands and both arms fully extended. After they grab the ball, he wants them to jerk it down with an attitude, but to not bring it too low where it can get knocked away in the paint. After that it’s about vacating the paint themselves or finding an outlet.
  • Rebounding in a game is different than rebounding in practice, but there were more than a few “whoa” moments in Monday’s practice where a Wildcat skied up to grab the loose ball. Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo each had strong rebounds that come to mind. On a team with this much length, you’d have to figure rebounding should be one of this team’s strengths.
  • Coach Cal continued to emphasize – as he has all season – that a team with this length and this athleticism cannot throw bounce passes. “Everybody here is 6-9. Why would you ever throw a bounce pass?” Calipari asked his team rhetorically. “We throw lobs. Make this easy for each other.”
  • Quade Green told in August that he’s a cross between a pit bull and a great dane on the court. Pretty spot on self-analysis, if you ask this writer. He’s feisty like a pit bull and has the heart of a big great dane. He’s the smallest player on the floor at 6-foot, but he commands respect from his teammates every day in practice with how hard he goes, how much he communicates and the ownership that he takes in all situations – both good and bad.
    • Side note: Green has a heck of a floater.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander offers Coach Cal so many opportunities. He’s 6-6 with a 7-0 wingspan and has the ability to see the floor well thanks to his background as a point guard. With his measurables, it’s not crazy to think Gilgeous-Alexander will spend at least some time guarding the other team’s three. He had a few deflections in the limited four-on-four work the team did on Sunday during UK Pro Day.
  • Sacha Killeya-Jones had a beautiful one-hand finish at the rim off a lob. He was also singled out as a player for the other bigs to watch during one drill where they worked on their footwork/lunging. Coming off a freshman season in which he played just 6.4 minutes per game, Killeya-Jones looks like a player who knows he has an opportunity to make a mark for UK at the five.
  • Nick Richards, who didn’t start playing basketball until a much later stage in his career than most other players, is showing great growth. In a closeout drill, Richards displayed his footwork and quickness so well that Coach Cal had to stop practice. “Look how far Nick has come in just three days.” Richards is the tallest player at the team at 7-0 with a standing reach of 9-2.5. As Calipari said, if they can hit a shot over Richards with his arms extended and with his athleticism, you tell them it’s a heck of a shot.
  • Wenyen Gabriel has done a great job of bringing energy in practice each day. The sophomore “veteran” of the team, Gabriel spent the summer at home regaining his confidence and transforming his body. It also seems he has taken the vocal aspect of his game to another level. “Wenyen, you’re so much better than you were a year ago it’s not even close,” Calipari said.
    • Gabriel splashed 10 3-pointers in a row from the left wing during the five-minute shooting drill.
  • One-on-one rebounding drills are always one of the most fun things to watch. They’re intense, they’re physical (no fouls) and they’re highly competitive. One-handed rebounds don’t count and if the ball hits the ground it doesn’t count. The first player to win three rebounds wins. Loser does a 10-second run. There were some battles in this drill Monday.
  • Kevin Knox has one of the more effortless strokes you’ll see. Knox was a full step outside of the 3-point arc for much of Monday’s five-minute shooting drill was draining a good number of shots with a simple flick of the wrist. He’s fun to watch shoot the ball and it has to be exciting for Coach Cal to know he has a 6-9 weapon who can do that.
  • Practicing hard and continuing that mentality and effort in a game is imperative. After going through one particular defensive drill Monday, Calipari said as much to his team. “Most of you haven’t gone this hard in practice before and never for this long. We have to carry this over.”
  • It’s a blast watching Green and Gilgeous-Alexander go after each other. There’s a height difference there, but they both push each other and play hard in practice. During four-on-four work, they would both pick each other up and defend full court. Green was right on Gilgeous-Alexander and deflected his pass out of bounds on one possession. On the next possession, Gilgeous-Alexander picked his pocket near midcourt for the turnover.