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Barry "Slice" Rohrssen is a man of many talents.
On top of being a respected coach and recruiter, Rohrssen has famously dabbled as an actor, starring alongside the likes of Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey.
Nonetheless, one subject escaped him in school.
"You know, for some people, even like myself, chemistry was the hardest subject," Rohrssen said.
The same is true, though not in quite so literal a sense, for the Kentucky basketball team. The Wildcats, set for the second of two exhibitions on Sunday at 7 p.m. against Georgetown (Ky.), are still in the process of figuring out exactly how they fit together.
John Calipari knows UK, at least to start the season, will operate in a two-platoon system. Last Sunday, the Cats dominated Pikeville by sharing time in two groups, the first featuring Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns and the second Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson.
Whether those platoons remain the same is still a question mark.
"It's Friday now and we've still got two more days and maybe three more practices to go before that," Rohrssen said. "So it could change; it could be the same."
In that victory over Pikeville, all 10 members of the two platoons played at least 16 minutes, and none more than 20. The system calls for that kind of balance on paper, but the coaching staff doesn't expect for it to play out that way when the season heats up.
"It's still to be determined," Rohrssen said. "I think Cal might've spoken to you guys already; he said it's not communism. That was kind of his phrase about it, where those that will produce are going to get more time or find themselves with the opportunity for more time."
Taking on the in-state Tigers, boasting a 3-0 record and a No. 8 ranking in NAIA Division I, will arm UK with 40 minutes more of data to evaluate the platoons. Just as importantly, it's another chance to adjust to the game-day routine.
"One of the things that's nice about college basketball is you get a chance to get out there, simulate game days, go through a shootaround or a walk-through in the morning the day of a game, have your pregame meal with your team, just to get in a rhythm and get comfortable, and especially for the new guys," Rohrssen said. "... So it's good to get some of those exhibitions under your belt, and this will be another step towards our improvement."
Booker getting better
The 6-foot-6 guard averaged just 5.2 points and shot 34.4 percent from the field, but Rohrssen pinpointed Booker as the freshman who has improved the most since.
"Well, one guy that's really improving rapidly and on a day-to-day basis is Devin Booker," Rohrssen said. "He's really made some very good strides since he's been here on campus, like most of the freshmen."
Those strides were apparent last Sunday, as Booker scored 16 points and had three assists in 16 minutes of UK's exhibition win over Pikeville, leading the second platoon in scoring in the process. Booker did his damage in a variety ways, showing the dead-eye shooting for which he's known in hitting 2-of-4 3-pointers, but also running the floor and scoring at the rim.
"He's just finding things a bit more comfortably now, getting up and down the court a lot quicker, using some of his athleticism," Rohrssen said. "He moves well without the basketball. He's releasing his shot a lot quicker."
Rohrssen talks recruiting
When he first committed to using the two-platoon system in the preseason, Coach Cal said it could represent a "watershed moment" should it work as planned.
By making it work, he said UK could change the face of college basketball just like in 2010 when five Wildcats were drafted in the first round by proving so many talented players could coexist and succeed both as a team and individually.
But for now, UK is sticking to a more familiar script on the trail.
"Recruiting, these guys have been very receptive," Rohrssen said. "It's nice to be ranked No. 1 in the polls. It's a nice way to have a conversation, go into somebody's home."
Pitching the platoons, according to Rohrssen, is premature. Could UK have a similarly constructed roster with 12 players deserving of time next season? Sure. Is it a guarantee? No.
"I mean, that's to unfold next season," Rohrssen said. "If we're talking about this season, Kentucky is very well received no matter where you go and who you speak with it. It's nice to have that royal blue UK on your chest when you're walking into a high school or a home."
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics
With the NBA a week into the 2014-15 season, several former Wildcats have dominated national headlines throughout the league.
First, Julius Randle entered his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the most disturbing fashion imaginable. After logging just 14 minutes of play in the season opener against Houston Randle went down with a broken tibia in his right leg.
Randle's injury will leave him out of action for the remainder of his rookie season. But after being selected as the seventh overall pick in last June's draft the power forward is expected to play a significant role in rebuilding the Lakers back up to a championship level franchise.
Randle being carted off the court on opening night stole the attention away from what was a very strong outing from Terrence Jones, who has now solidified himself in a starting role for the Houston Rockets next to All-Star center Dwight Howard. Jones posted 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Lakers and has shown no signs of slowing down through week one.
Jones has been the answer for what was a failed experiment last season in Houston when the Rockets attempted to play Howard and 7-foot center Omer Asik side-by-side in the frontcourt. This offseason Asik decided to go elsewhere and he ended up in New Orleans where he combined with All-Star forward Anthony Davis on opening night for 40 points, 34 rebounds and 14 blocks as the Pelicans defeated the Magic 101-84.
Davis came into the season with sky-high expectations and after a near triple-double in game one, and a 30 and 15 outing in game two, the 6-10 star is more than living up to his No. 3 player ranking by ESPN.
Another ultra-talented big man having his way in the Western Conference is fifth-year pro DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have been mediocre at best during the first three years of his career, but after winning a gold medal this summer in the FIBA World Championships in Spain with Team USA, Cousins - now 24 years old - seems more than ready to change the culture in Sac-town.
The Kings' week one schedule was arguably the most difficult in the entire league as they faced off against three Western Conference playoff teams from a year ago, recording a 2-1 record in those games. Most recently Sacramento began a two-game road trip on Sunday with a gritty win over heated rival the Clippers at Staples Center. It was a statement game for the 6-11 center as he finished with 34 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. If Boogie can combine consistent contributions like this with his goal of just five technical fouls this whole season, it will be impossible to keep him out of the All-Star game in April.
Two former Cats who are considered to be locks to represent the eastern conference in the All-Star game are point guards Rajon Rondo and John Wall.
Rondo's availability for the season opener was in question all entire offseason after suffering a hand injury, but the Celtics' floor general has not missed a beat in his first two outings. Averaging just shy of a triple-double after the first week, Rondo is among the league leaders for point guards in several statistical categories, a feat that is not likely to change as the season advances.
John Wall has posted a double-double in each of the Wizards' first three games. That sort of production will almost certainly continue as Wall carries the load for his young team during the first several weeks of the season without backcourt running mate Bradley Beal. Washington is looking to build on last season's playoff run and Wall will be the centerpiece for whatever success the Wizkids enjoy in 2014-15.
Wall's former Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe was a hot topic this offseason as experts debated whether or not he was worth the max contract he desired. In the end, Bledsoe was able to reach a five-year deal worth $70 million. Now in his fifth year in the league, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound guard has set out to shake off the injury woes that have defined his career to this point and drag his team in Phoenix to a playoff appearance in the West for the first time since 2010.
Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Kentucky has 19 ex-players on 16 different rosters. Cat Scratches will provide a unique inside look at former UK fan favorites, as well as a detailed TV schedule and updated statistics as the season moves along.
Stats through games on Sunday, Nov. 2)
Rajon Rondo, Boston - 8.5 PPG, 10 APG, 8.5 RPG, 2 SPG
James Young, Boston - Earned a DNP in season opener, scored six points in six minutes in game two
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte - 11.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG in three starts
Nazr Mohammed, Chicago - DNP for the Bulls in week one
Jodie Meeks, Detroit - Out 8 weeks with a back injury
Terrence Jones, Houston - 16.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG
Julius Randle, LA Lakers - scored two points in 14 minutes off the bench before sustaining a season-ending leg injury on opening night
Tayshaun Prince, Memphis - 4 PPG, 2 RPG in 18 minutes per game
Brandon Knight, Milwaukee - 19.7 PPG, 9 APG, 6.7 RPG
Anthony Davis, New Orleans - 28.5 PPG, 16 RPG, 6 BPG, 2.5 SPG
Darius Miller, New Orleans - DNP for the Pelicans in week one
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia - 7.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.3 BPG in three starts
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix - 12.7 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.3 RPG
Archie Goodwin, Phoenix - 2.5 PPG, 1.5 APG in 10 minutes per game
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento - 23.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG
Patrick Patterson, Toronto - 4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG in 21 minutes per game
Chuck Hayes, Toronto - grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes in his only appearance in week one
Enes Kanter, Utah - 8 PPG, 3.7 RPG in three games as a starter
John Wall, Washington - 21.7 PPG, 11 APG, 4.7 RPG, 3 SPG in more than 37 minutes per game
Week two TV schedule
This week's nationally televised games featuring former UK players:
Tuesday: Houston (Terrence Jones) @ Miami 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV
Wednesday: Indiana @ Washington (John Wall) 8:00 p.m. on ESPN
Thursday: San Antonio @ Houston (Terrence Jones) 8:00 p.m. on TNT
Friday: Memphis (Tayshaun Prince) @ Oklahoma City 8:00 p.m. on ESPN
Saturday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis, Darius Miller) @ San Antonio 8:30 p.m. on NBA TV
Sunday: Philadelphia (Nerlens Noel) @ Toronto (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV
With all the talent on the floor in practice and the reduced workload on the Wildcats playing in a two-platoon system, Coach Cal said games would be easier.
With one exhibition in the books, he might be right.
"When Coach says the practices are way harder than the games, it's true," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "You really felt it tonight. Like, I feel like I was fresh all the time."
Cauley-Stein and the Cats looked it too.
With no player on the floor for more than 20 minutes and 10 playing at least 16, Kentucky overwhelmed NAIA foe Pikeville in a 116-68 victory in front of 21,036 at Rupp Arena on Sunday night. Karl-Anthony Towns led UK with 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting in just 18 minutes and the Cats racked up 29 assists and shot 65.3 percent as a team.
"We played really well," Towns said. "The team did a really good job. I'm really happy with the assist totals, really. It shows we're moving the ball. Such a talented team, you don't expect a lot like that. We did a great job as a team. We ran the floor, we contested a lot of shots, but we have a lot of things we need to work on. That's what we're going to start back on tomorrow."
The performance led Pikeville head coach Kelly Wells to declare UK "the most talented team in the country" and potentially the most talented in program history, but the visiting Bears hung around in the early going. When K.K. Simmons buried a jumper at the 14:04 mark for two of his game-high 28 points, Pikeville pulled to within 22-18.
Against this Kentucky team, with its mass substitutions every four-to-five minutes, it simply wasn't sustainable. By the end of the first half, UK led 67-40 on the strength of a 21-0 run.
"What you saw is Pikeville came out of the gate and they were flying, and then each sub I made, each time by the third sub and then the fourth sub, all of a sudden you see them missing eight straight shots," Calipari said. "They were making every shot for a while. We left them open and they made it. And that's the whole point of what we're trying to do. Play fast, don't be in a hurry, though we're playing fast."
Fast may be an understatement.
Running off of turnovers generated in both the press and half-court, missed shots and even makes, the Cats scored 26 of their 36 fast-break points in the first half. On the strength of all those easy baskets, UK scored 1.523 points per possession and took, on average, just 8.88 seconds attempt its first shot.
Cauley-Stein has been through everything from a first-round NIT loss to a trip to the national championship game, but he's never seen anything quite like this.
"Way faster, just because the platoon system you can play up and down and you don't have to worry about getting extremely tired or slowing the ball down and playing a half-court game," said Cauley-Stein, who had 10 points and six rebounds. "Now you've got five in, five out every four or five minutes that you can just run and run and run. You just wear people down."
Sunday's exhibition was played with an experimental 30-second shot clock, but UK rarely needed those extra five seconds. The game featured 80 total possessions, nearly 14 more than last year's national average and three more than UK's 2013-14 season high.
"If we can score quick, we will," Calipari said. "If not, let's create a good shot."
Good shots were all UK got, especially in the first half. The Cats shot a blistering 27 of 33 (81.8 percent) from the field in the first 20 minutes.
"They don't ever settle," Wells said. "They don't settle. I've never been a part of a team where we gave up 80 percent field goals in the first half. They don't settle for anything but dunks and layups. You and I make a conventional bounce pass and chest pass and every time they're throwing lobs and we look like middle-school kids out there at times because they're just so big."
Among UK's historically tall frontcourt, Dakari Johnson (13 points), Poythress (12 points) and Trey Lyles (10 points) joined Towns and Cauley-Stein in double figures. The Cats also held a 49-25 rebounding edge and outscored Pikeville in second-chance points by a margin of 35-15.
Devin Booker (16 points on 6-of-9 shooting) was the only UK guard to crack double figures, but Andrew Harrison may have been the most valuable player. The sophomore point guard scored five points on just two field-goal tries, but piled up nine assists against zero turnovers in a performance Coach Cal called "ridiculous."
"Andrew was excellent," Towns said. "He was really taking control of the game as a floor general. He's improved so much since last year. I think everyone can tell the difference in his game from last year to this year. He's a true leader on the court too."
Harrison is setting the tone for a UK team embracing a new platoon system. The result of that system, even though its original purpose is to allow 12 players deserving of playing time to see the floor, is a faster style of play that figures to fluster even the most talented opponents.
"Having a platoon system really makes us--allows us, actually, to expend more energy at given times and then regain a lot more quicker," Towns said. "I feel bad for the players last year having to regain all the energy back in about a minute timeout. This time they get to maybe rest for five-and-a-half, five minutes and really get their legs right back under them."
So, what does UK, which has a week off before a second exhibition next Sunday against Georgetown (Ky.), do for an encore to a lightning-quick debut?
"For us, we still have to push the tempo a little more," Towns said. "I think it was a little too slow. I think we would like it a lot faster, but that's a good start."