Practice report: Building on early season concepts

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these practice reports, but given the days off in between games and the opponents that lie ahead, what better time for some notes and observations from Tuesday’s two-hour practice:

  • Since the last time you’ve read a practice report, the most interesting thing to note is the gradual development of the practice structure. John Calipari builds his team one practice at a time. Drills that were once the focal point of practice have now become the foundation and basis for more detailed sets. Like an architect constructing a building, Calipari has to build the ground floor first before he can get to the second floor, and he has to build the second floor before he can get to the third. The same concept has applied to the progress of practices.
  • Practice started with a drill to break a full-court trap. With two defenders trying to trap the ball handler from sideline to sideline, the player with the ball tried to beat one of the two guys on the dribble. For the drill’s purpose, eventually the ball handler would pick up his dribble and work on finding an angle for a passing lane with two defenders in his face. It would come in handy later on the press attack.
  • To work on toughness, the coaches brought out pads in practice about a month ago to get the players to play through bumps. In the drill they went through Tuesday, the player starts from underneath the basket, fights through one defender in the paint as he pushes him with a pad, gets the ball on the elbow against a pad-less defender, breaks him down on the dribble, passes off to the other wing, gets bumped as he shows for the ball at the free-throw line, receives the ball back at the top of the key, and then drives past the pushing of two defenders with pads. Sounds exhausting, right? It is. But it’s a great drill to teach toughness.
  • Outside of Terrence Jones, this isn’t a great post-up team yet, but the coaches are working with the big men to improve their low post games. In particular, the coaches focused on getting the guys to seal off their defender for a jump shot, as well as a quick, one-bounce move to the basket for a dunk. The key in both is feet positioning.
  • When the forwards went to a one-on-one post-up drill, it got very physical. Cal wants his player going through the defender and not letting the defender “get in them.” For example, when Anthony Davis was guarding Kyle Wiltjer, Calipari told Wiltjer he was letting Davis dictate his move instead of relying on what he does best (like going to his hook shot).
  • During the post-up drill, Calipari told the guys that they’ll have to beat their defenders on one move over these next couple of games. If they try to use two and three moves, it’s going to be too late.
  • A big point of emphasis with Davis is bending his knees and getting lower to the ground. With Davis’ wiry body frame, he’ll get pushed around standing straight up, so Calipari has been on him to stay low. It creates a lower center of gravity.
  • The play of practice was a block from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. When Eloy Vargas caught the ball on the baseline, all Vargas had to do was turn and dunk it. In that time, Kidd-Gilchrist dropped down from just inside the FT line to help on defense and stuffed Vargas on the two-hand dunk attempt.
  • Overheard frequently from Cal on Tuesday: “Why are you in a hurry?” Calipari wants his team to play fast but not at the risk of going too fast and turning it over. In order for opportunities to develop on the offensive end, you have to wait sometimes. “We want to play fast but we’re not in a hurry to score,” Calipari said.
  • The Cats worked briefly on getting back on defense as quick as possible. With two seconds on the clock, the players would go through a normal set, but the second the ball went through the basket, all five players sprinted back to the other side of the floor to their defensive positions – in two seconds. Think about that. It takes me more than two seconds to write this sentence. “Don’t act like you’re tired,” Calipari said. “What you’re doing is preparing for a war. If you can’t run that way, you sub yourself. You’re going to have to run that way if you want to win the next two games.”
  • The funniest moment of practice: To work on rebounding, managers attach a circular ring inside the hoop that blocks most shots and allows the players to get more rebounding attempts. Rarely do you see one out of 15 shots go through. Well, lo and behold, assistant coach John Robic nailed three straight. Fittingly, with Doron Lamb going through the drill, Robic threw up the 3 goggles.
  • After last game we heard Calipari talk about his team’s need to fight through screens better, so on Tuesday they briefly went over when to switch on screens and when to chase. Generally speaking, if it’s a tight curl Cal wants them to switch guys.
  • Nearly two months into practice, a good portion of the sessions are now five-on-five scrimmages with Calipari letting the guys play through different types of defensive looks. The Cats worked on playing against straight man-to-man defense, zone, the press and half-court trap.
  • I thought the guys handled both the zone attack and press attack really well. Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller did an excellent job of showing in the middle to disrupt the zone, and Teague did an even better job of penetrating it and distributing it. After a few early mistakes of leaving his feet, Teague ran right through the press. As mentioned earlier, Calipari wants him to slow down. “Any pass completed will lead to a basket, so it doesn’t matter how fast you complete it,” Calipari told his point guard.
  • Teague continues to be a focus of Coach Cal at practice because he’s so important to the offense. He’s on the cusp of being an elite guard, often times making spectacular plays, but Calipari continues to stress to him to make the easy play. He also wants him to be a leader. When a play broke down during one of the five-on-five drills, Teague took it upon himself to drive and throw up a wild shot. Calipari told him if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing, it’s his job to back it out and call a different play.
  • If you’re wondering if Miller has played his way back into the starting lineup, don’t look to practice for any hints. Miller and Doron Lamb alternated with the starters on multiple occasions. Calipari is hoping one of them emerges and grabs hold of the spot. “The best friend I have is that bench,” Calipari said.
  • Loved these three quotes from Cal:
    “There’s nothing I can say that’s going to build your confidence. You have to build your own confidence. It’s demonstrative performance!”

    “You’re standing straight up, you’re not running down the court – you’re jogging and then when you fumble the ball, you don’t think it’s a big deal. If that’s your mentality, I can’t play you. Every play matters.”

    “If you can do it against our guys in this gym, you can do it against anybody. But I can’t put you out there unless you do it against our guys.”

  • As he does so often, Miller won the five-minute shooting drills with 58 3-pointers. He edged Lamb’s 54 makes.
  • After practice, six of the guys stayed afterwards to work with the assistant coaches. Wiltjer, Miller, Davis and Vargas worked with assistant coach Kenny Payne and a student manager to fight through contact and finish around the basket. Robic and assistant coach Orlando Antigua stayed after to help Teague and Ryan Harrow make jumpers off the dribble.