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Men's basketball practice notes and observations

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Ole Miss Web 09.jpgHad the privilege of watching the men's basketball team practice Monday at the Joe Craft Center as the team gets ready for its three-game, three-day exhibition series in Windsor, Ontario, which will begin Aug. 15.

It was my first time watching this year's team and I was only able to stay about an hour for the hour-and-a-half practice, but I thought I'd provide some notes (all my opinion, of course) from what I saw Monday:

- First of all, this won't be last year's team in any way shape or form - good or bad. This is simply a different team made up of different players. For one, this team isn't as big. It's not lacking on height by any means, but the team is thinner (that's what happens when you lose two beasts like DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton). The team is also much quieter. There are not nearly as many eccentric personalities. Every guy, at least in the hour that I watched, seems to go about their business quietly. Again, don't know if that's a good or bad thing. 

- Had to remind myself on multiple occasions that this team is basically starting over again. I had become accustom to seeing some of the same drills so much and saw such steady improvement from last year's team that you forget most of those players are gone.

- Big hurdle for the freshmen early on will be adjusting to the speed of the game, as is the case with freshmen any year. As head coach John Calipari told his players, he wants their "feet moving fast but (their) minds running slow."

- About midway through, the team worked on a rebounding drill and getting out on the break quickly. Calipari wasn't pleased the effort the first few times. "One thing you're going to learn is it's a man's game," Calipari said. "You either battle like a man or you battle like a child." As Caipari said, guys were not trying to offensively rebound, nobody was looping in transition and then senior forward Josh Harrellson threw it off a guy's foot. "You've got to be kidding me," Calipari said. The players got the message. The next time around they executed to near perfection. Junior guard Darius Miller went up and grabbed a rebound aggressively and quickly moved the ball in transition before hitting freshman guard Doron Lamb off a curl. Lamb followed by draining the trey from just right of the top of the circle.

- Speaking of Miller and Lamb ... both were very impressive. Miller looks more confident, assertive and even physically bigger. During one sequence, Miller got the ball in the post from about five feet out with his back to the basket, turned, bounced and dropped the short jumper in. Later, he drove in between two guys and tried to throw down a one-hand tomahawk slam. I can count on two hands how many times I've seen Miller make moves as aggressive as the ones I saw Monday.

- Lamb ran the other point guard opposite of freshman sensation Brandon Knight. Lamb looks to be very athletic and is my early choice for most overlooked player of the freshmen. During one drill, Lamb drove past Knight with a nasty crossover that had Knight literally going in the complete opposite direction. Lamb was open from about the free-throw line in until some congestion under the basket, so he pulled up with a little floater as he was on the move. Calipari loved it. "Hey," Calipari shouted, "you shoot 10 of those a game." Lamb continually showed the ability to hit the mid-range jumper.

- It was obvious from the start that Enes Kanter is skilled with the basketball. Very polished moves when he gets the ball on the post and a strong finisher above the rim. Fans will hope he can take the place of Cousins, but the fact of the matter is he is a different type of player. He could be just as good as Cousins, just in a different way.

- Senior forward Terrence Jones, like Kanter, won't necessarily be in the mold of last year's big men. A little thinner, swifter and can dribble with the ball (not to say last year's guys couldn't). Jones brought the ball up in transition a couple of times and looked pretty good overall.

- During a one-on-two transition drill, Jon Hood ran it to perfection on the very first try. "I love it, I love it," Calipari said. Hood took it right through a bump at half court and went for the one-handed dunk. He missed it, but Calipari loved the effort. One, it was a drill the Cats had a tough time adjusting to last year and two, it looked like a more aggressive, more assertive Hood.

- Early on, Calipari is emphasizing the same attacking mentality that we saw in last year's practices (i.e. stressing transition buckets). If the players have the layup, he wants them to take it with no hesitation. Junior guard DeAndre Liggins ran that philosophy to perfection during one two-on-two drill. Kanter, who was on his team, was behind him, so Liggins took his man one-on-one, much to the pleasure of Calipari. "We could come down and set 10, 20 screens, but which way would you rather play?" Calipari said, referring to the up-tempo style. "If we play this way, you respect one another and give the ball up if somebody else is open."

- Didn't watch a ton of Stacey Poole or Brandon Knight. I think Poole's length could surprise people on the wing and he kind of reminds me of Miller in the sense that he can play guard or forward. Knight wasn't having a stellar practice, but no worries about one of the nation's top point guards.

- Jarrod Polson still looks like a kid in high school, but the kid has some speed. He probably won't contribute much this year, but he will likely be a key reserve a couple of years down the line. After I left, I heard he threw down a nasty dunk, so maybe I should take back what I said about him looking like a kid. At 6-foot-2, he would certainly tower over me.

- Harrellson definitely looks to have embraced a leadership role and looks to be in the best shape of his career, but I can't see him breaking the starting five. He will have increased minutes but I'm not sure if they will be significant. Just my opinion, though.

- The talk among the local scribes is the improvement of Liggins. For the first time in his career, Liggins is playing the same offense, and it's starting to show. Liggins appears to be 10 times more comfortable this year and could be poised to make another giant leap, similar to the one he made last year as a vital bench player.

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Is there any possibility Kanter will play this year or in future for U.K? It just doesn't seem fair to penalize such a talent.

Fred hollis

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  • fred hollis: Is there any possibility Kanter will play this year or in future for U.K? It just doesn't seem fair read more
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