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Coach Cal's options, challenges on display at Blue-White Scrimmage

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Willie Cauley-Stein blocks a Derek Willis dunk attempt during Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein blocks a Derek Willis dunk attempt during Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The record-setting 15,035 fans who attended Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage entered Rupp Arena buzzing about Julius Randle. They couldn't wait to watch the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron. They were eager to see what all the James Young hype was about.

But as they left the building, just as many were talking about the two-handed dunk freshman walk-on EJ Floreal threw down on Randle in the second half.

The same went for the Wildcats themselves, who immediately reacted with smiles and plenty of friendly jabs at the all-world freshman forward that don't figure to stop anytime soon.

"E.J. put a helmet on him, so that will be a picture in the hallway," John Calipari said, referencing UK's tradition of making dunked-on Cats pose for a picture in a football helmet.

"That was crazy," Young said. "Nobody expected it. For EJ to do that, I think it was mind-blowing."

Randle has been on the giving end of a number of those kinds of dunks, and was on a couple of them en route to a 21-point, eight-rebound performance in leading the Blue team to a 99-71 victory. But turnabout, especially in the eyes of his teammates, is fair play.

"That's exactly what 'Drew said," Randle said. "He said basically karma. He said, 'It's about time the tables turned on you.' "

With this team, table-turning is a regular occurrence.

Derek Willis might have the misfortune of guarding Randle most days, but the Kentucky native "with no conscience whatsoever," according to his coach, won't hesitate to pull up for a 3 in Randle's face on the other end of the floor. He did on Tuesday, matching Randle point for point with 21 on five made deep balls.

Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins might be victimized from time to time by the physicality and size of their opposites on the Blue team, the Harrison twins, but they won't back down either.

The result is a team with talent at every spot.

"It just means everybody can play," said Young, who poured in a game-high 25 points to go with seven steals. "Coach Cal did a great job recruiting everybody and everybody can play. Coming from the bench and the starters, our whole team can play."

On the heels of a season in which a lack of depth had a lot to do with a disappointing NIT finish, Calipari set out to build a team that would have no such issues. He ended up with an eight-player freshman class many already talk about as among the best all time to go with four experienced scholarship returnees.

Now he has an entirely new set of problems, but it's one he hardly minds having to deal with.

"We've got to figure out how we're going to do this," Calipari said. "We've got to have a little plan about it, and then everybody has got to buy into what we're doing and their roles on the team."

The 12 players who saw double-figure minutes during the Blue-White Scrimmage all, to borrow a phrase from Calipari, "belong." All seemed more than capable of playing a significant role on a team that advances deep into March.

"When you looked at what we did, you kind of got a picture of while you've got this guy, this guy, that guy, but what about Derek Willis?" Calipari said, wheels seeming to turn. "Where does he fit in here? I mean, and then you look at, well, what about Marcus Lee; he's pretty good too, now. And then you look at Dominique and say, wow, I'm not going to play 11 guys. So there's a little bit of a dogfight."

Calipari is already beginning to figure out the best way to coach his way through that dogfight, and it begins with letting it play out it game-like scenarios. The Cats have already scrimmaged more than any team Calipari has had, but now he'll begin throwing some wrenches at his team.

The idea behind it all is to define winning and losing and, just as importantly, the consequences that follow.

"So I may give one unit a 12-point lead, and we're playing for real," Calipari said. "Now, you're down 12, do you want to win or lose? You're up 12, do you want to win or lose? What are you doing? Whoever loses runs. We're going to do that from here on in. I need that competitive spirit."

Competitiveness may define UK's practices, but it's tempered by a quickly developing closeness. The Cats may go head to head daily with eventual playing time on the line, but malice is completely absent.

"Most people think we're just a selfish team, but that's not it at all," Young said. "We look for other people before we can score ourselves. Coach Cal really drills that into us and we've just been working on it every day."

That was plain to see on Tuesday night.

Young attempted a scrimmage-high 16 shots, but seven of his teammates joined him in taking 10 or more shots. All told, nine Cats scored in double figures.

"It's just saying that we're coming together as a family," said Aaron Harrison, who had 19 points and six assists in spending extended time at point guard as Andrew sat out the second half with a knee contusion. "If you're around guys so much, you get to know how they play and stuff. So we just want to win and we just feed each other on each other's strong suits and we're starting to mesh."

That bond will be tested as UK begins to face actual opponents, which will happen for the first time on Friday in an exhibition vs. Transylvania.

Calipari has said throughout the preseason that he has a team full of players capable of going off on any given night. He reiterated that following the Blue-Shite Scrimmage, saying as many as eight Cats could put up 30-point games. With that kind of talent, each player will have games in which he takes a backseat as a teammate fills it up. How the Cats cope with that will go a long way toward determining their success.

"They really like each other, but we've got a whole season," Calipari said. "We've got to get dinged up a little bit. Like I said, you can't compare how you're playing to somebody else. Just be the best version of yourself."

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