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By EJ Floreal (Follow on Twitter)
What's up Big Blue Nation? How are you all doing?
I know I'm still hearing about it, so I have to start out talking about that dunk in the Blue-White Scrimmage. If you watched it, I actually stuttered. I was kind of nervous to back-cut because I thought that maybe Willie would make a good move and then I'd just be in the way, but I went and back-cut. He threw me the ball and by that time I was just thinking, "I'm going to dunk it at Rupp."
When I went up, I didn't know who was in front of me. I actually thought it was Dominique or something so I was like, "I'll be fine." But when I landed, it kind of seemed like everyone breathed in and then exhaled. Usually I scream after a dunk but I couldn't scream. I was just in shock when I saw it was Julius and Aaron was over there, eyes wide open. Alex couldn't believe it. KP (assistant coach Kenny Payne) looked right at me and he was just smiling. Hoody went crazy.
I've dunked on some people, but no one that big, not like a 6-9, 250-pound dude. I didn't expect that at all. When I came to the ground, I didn't know if I should mug or flex or something, so I just looked shocked. Just watching the video and seeing people's reactions on the court and on the sidelines and even the fans, you could just tell that everyone was really shocked.
After the game, we all talked to Julius about it except for me. I kept my mouth shut because I knew he would come back at me the first opportunity he got. Andrew was giving him the most. He was talking so much. He kept telling me, "You should be going crazy. Stop trying to act all humble." I kept saying, "It's just a play, it's just a play." They were all looking at Julius like, "Rise and shine, Ju." He kept smiling. He couldn't really do anything because it did happen, but he just smiled and shook his head a lot.
Just in the locker room, KP and the other coaches were giving him a lot of stuff because him and Coach Payne are really close. Coach Payne was just like, "How does it feel to be on the other end?" Julius brought up when Coach Payne got dunked on by Rex Chapman way back when. They kept going back and forth. Cal actually acknowledged it in the postgame meetings. He was just talking, saying, "You've been doing really well, you're going to get more opportunities. You've just got to wait your time." That was good to hear because I've been working hard.
I came here because I wanted to be challenged and so far that's what I'm getting. Something that I am really excited about doing every day is the one-on-ones before practice. If you watch, I don't back down from any of them. I've gone against Julius, Aaron, James, Marcus, Dakari, Willie and I haven't backed down against any of them. I go out there and compete and I've won a couple. Any opportunity they give me in practice, I try to make the most of it. Even in a game, like you saw when I got in against Transy, I immediately got a steal and got a bucket.
I need to talk about that play too, because I've heard a lot about it. I got the steal and I knew right when I got it, "I'm going to dunk, I'm going to dunk, I'm going to dunk." I tried to take off really hard so I could completely fly, but I guess I stepped wrong. I just stepped in a hole. I couldn't extend to dunk it, so I just had to lay it up and get the two points.
My phone was blowing up and everyone was just like, "Why didn't you dunk it? I know you could have dunked it. You could have freaked it, top 10. What were you doing?" I talked to Tod and I was like, "Should I make a public service announcement?" I asked Marcus too. They were like, "Just do it for the fun of it."
My knee buckled on the fast break or else I think everyone knows I woulda dunked that....if I culd of had that one back...still fun tho !-- EJ Floreal (@BouncyE_24) November 2, 2013
I made a general public statement of what happened on Twitter and then people started responding that we would rather have two points than a mistake anyway. It was all fun. I wish I could have dunked it. That would have been cool, my first dunk in a game uni, but I got the two points so I'm not really that worried. Hopefully I get another chance soon.
I'm excited for the regular season to get started on Friday, but at the same time it's kind of hard just knowing that I won't get as many opportunities with the better competition we play. But I'm excited. Even if I'm on the bench, I want to learn everything I can. Especially that Michigan State game, being able to watch Andrew and Aaron go at it with Keith Appling and Gary Harris and seeing our bigs battle, just gaining experience from everything. I'm excited just to be able to be a part of this and learn everything. Not many people get the opportunity to be around this many great elite players and this many great coaches, so I'm just trying to take advantage of it.
I came here to improve, so any chance I get that's what I'm doing, whether it's working out with Julius and Coach Payne or Dakari and Coach Payne or just by myself shooting with one of the managers. If I don't have like a night class or a lot of homework to do, I'll try to get in the gym and just work on stuff that I really have to work on. I try to get workouts from the coaches to do by myself. I try to have a manager come and do it with me.
Away from basketball, I think a lot of people know me and James are close. Something people don't know that I haven't really said yet because I don't think a lot of people would believe it is James is actually my distant cousin. People always thought we were related because my grandma's maiden name is Young, so we just looked it up last week and we happened to be distant cousins. It's a long, long way, but it's still pretty cool. It's a small world. I guess that might be a reason why we're so close and share so many interests. We kind of hit it off from the start.
When he first came for media training, we were talking and bonding and laughing. Right after that I went to his room and we started playing video games, and ever since that we've been really close with each other. He might be my cousin, but James is terrible at the NBA game we play. I beat him three times in a row and then he wanted to play soccer and hockey games and he beat me, but nobody plays those games. So congrats to James. I'd have to say Dominique is the best at the basketball game because he's the smartest player. He just exploits your weaknesses.
It's been fun hanging out with all the guys, but me, Tod and Marcus, us three are really close. We've actually been to Tod's house to eat dinner, and we go to the movies too. We always like to be around each other. We'll always be joking around. We gave ourselves a nickname but I'm not going to say what the nickname is.
I guess I'm close with Marcus because of the Cali bond. I knew him before, not really as well as now, but we knew of each other. We played each other a couple times. We always go out and get food or we'll go watch movies. He won't go watch scary movies with me, which sucks because I love scary movies, but we'll go see like comedies and cartoon, kid-ish movies because everyone else thinks they're too grown to watch those.
Anyway, I can't wait for the season to start. I'm really excited. I hope I can dunk on some more people like Julius. Just kidding with you, Julius.
For more than a decade, the eRUPPtion zone has given Kentucky a unique home-court advantage in Rupp Arena. UK students have made it their home, but it hasn't always been that way. Here's the story of John Astle, the first fan to ever set foot in the eRUPPtion Zone.
With his brother Andrew recovering from a bone bruise in his knee, duties at the point fell primarily to the elder of the two twins in practice and Kentucky's first exhibition. Through that process, Aaron Harrison has gained a newfound appreciation for his brother's role.
"Playing the point guard, (Calipari) definitely says something to the point guard every play," Harrison said. "He tells you to attack and you have to get every other player involved, so it's really difficult when you're not used to it."
That magnitude of that adjustment was on display against Transylvania, as Harrison managed just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting to go with his two assists. Sensing Harrison's unease at the unfamiliar position, Coach Cal inserted Jarrod Polson into the starting lineup, shifting Harrison back to two-guard.
Harrison flourished in his return to shooting guard.
"It was really relaxing," Harrison said. "I got to run the floor a lot more. I'm not worried about getting the ball up the court, but playing point guard is a learning experience. I just feel more comfortable running the wing right now."
Harrison scored just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in UK's 95-72 win over Montevallo in Rupp Arena in its final exhibition, but added seven assists and six rebounds against zero turnovers. He made cameo appearances at the one -- much like he will once his brother returns -- but spent the majority of his time off the ball.
Ironically, moving back to the wing brought the point guard out of the 6-foot-6 freshman, both on the floor and in his postgame comments.
"I mean, the guys finished the balls that I threw to them," Harrison said. "They weren't really tough passes. They were probably tougher shots to make than passes, but I guess they made me look good in the stat sheet."
Even so, UK's offense ran far from seamlessly without its full-time floor general. The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers and had just 14 total assists, though they shot 36 of 62 (58.1 percent) from the field.
"It's like, OK, we're playing without our quarterback," Calipari said. "Now, the good news is his backup looks just like him. But he's not him."
Calipari's words underscore the fact that, regardless of Andrew Harrison's health, Aaron Harrison will be called on to spell his brother. For that reason, having to step up in the short term will likely benefit both Harrison and the Cats down the road.
"I'm starting to get the feel of getting the other players involved and making sure I'm still attacking but getting other players involved," Harrison said. "And that's the biggest deal for me: balancing those two out."
With a more effective Harrison, UK turned in a markedly better performance than in its first exhibition after an exhausting two-day "break" between games.
"We beat them up pretty good this weekend," Calipari said. "They had a lot of practice this weekend, and so I got to their legs a little bit. But that's fine. I thought we played better than we did last game, and that's all I'm asking."
The Cats will ultimately be measured by how they play in March and April, not November, but the games start counting on Friday when UK takes on UNC Asheville. That injects a bit of urgency into UK's development.
"The biggest thing I can tell you is we've got a long way to go, but we've made strides," Calipari said. "We're not a good team right now. We've got a nice collection of guys, but we're not a good team."
Calipari didn't say it, but it's difficult for that collection of talent to mesh without that player who will ultimately lead it. The hope is that Andrew Harrison will return to practice on Wednesday following an off day and be on the floor for the season opener.
"Andrew knows what to do and we all know Andrew knows what to do," Aaron Harrison said. "He's a great player. Just like I said before, I have much more respect for what he does on the court playing point guard and we're all excited to have him back really."
The Transylvania head coach, preparing for his team's exhibition against Kentucky, hooked his computer up to the big screen in the conference room and got ready to study.
It wasn't film of UK's Blue-White Scrimmage that he had queued up. Instead, it was a live stream of a John Calipari press conference.
"When you all were at press conference," Lane told the media assembled for his interviews after UK's 76-42 win over Transy, "I was over in my conference room with my computer and him on the big screen listening to him and he was giving me the scouting report that I knew I was getting ready."
Facing a supremely talented team with size, athleticism and depth, Lane knew his only option was to make life as hard as possible for the Wildcats. The visiting Pioneers did just that in staying within single digits of the nation's preseason No. 1 team for the much of the second half by burying six 3-pointers and playing a compressed zone defense.
As frustrating as it may have been, it was just what Coach Cal knew his team needed.
"Brian did exactly what we wanted Transy to do: played really hard, spread the court, kept coming at us, made 3s, sagged on defense, and were physical," Calipari said.
The game plan is one many UK opponents figure to use the rest of the season. Few teams, if any, will be able to match the Cats player for player, so they will instead try to take Kentucky away from its strengths.
On Friday night, the Cats allowed it to happen. The only reason why was they didn't play with the urgency Calipari expects of them.
"The biggest thing that's learned is energy and effort trumps talent," Calipari said. "It just does. It always has, it always will."
Even the members of UK's nine-member freshman class have been around long enough to see the angry side of Coach Cal, but he was particularly vocal in the halftime locker room.
"He got on us a lot because a lot of people, all of us really, our energy level wasn't up," said Dakari Johnson, who had nine points and eight rebounds in just 17 minutes. "I think at the start of the second half our energy level picked up. We've just got to keep that energy level throughout the whole game."
UK rode that wave of energy to a 23-4 run to open the second half and held Transy to 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) shooting over the final 20 minutes.
"I mean, we just pressured the ball more and we just played harder," said Julius Randle, who tallied a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds on just nine shots. "And when we got the rebound we just pushed it and we were kind of able to break open that lead, but we should have been like that from the beginning of the game."
But even the second half was not without its blips.
After Marcus Lee -- who provided a burst of energy in his nine second-half minutes -- hit a short jumper extend UK's lead to 64-34, Calipari inserted Randle, Johnson, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress and James Young. Transylvania promptly scored six unanswered and Calipari called timeout to make a five-for-five substitution to bring back in Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dominique Hawkins, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson.
In his four years at Kentucky, Calipari hasn't often used line-change-style substitutions, but he's not afraid to do it now that he has the bodies.
"If we get that kind of effort, that's exactly what will happen," Calipari said. "They'll all come out."
Within 35 seconds, Cauley-Stein came up with a steal and passed ahead to Hawkins, who fed Hood for an alley-oop that was the highlight of the evening.
The takeaway is clear: The bench is once again Calipari's ally, and he won't be bashful about using it.
"That's a pretty firm message," Randle said. "It's true because we have so many players that came here to win and if you're not trying to win basketball games and compete and play hard then you don't deserve to be on the court."
Though he may have been among the five players replaced in the aforementioned timeout substitution, Randle doesn't need the bench as a motivation. He delivered a handful of plays that made Calipari's comparison of the freshman forward's motor to that of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seem not so farfetched.
In fact, he plans to take it upon himself to reinforce what his coach is trying to teach.
"A lot of the stuff I gotta do is by action," Randle said. "I kind of lead by example, but I've gonna have to be more vocal with our guys and just kind of get on guys when they're slacking because we can't afford that. The season's next week, so we can't afford stuff like that."
That's spoken like a player who has completely bought in to what Calipari is saying.
"He's not going to get onto us about something that's unfair to us," Randle said. "Everything he's talking about is fair and he's getting onto us for the right reasons: because he wants the best for us."
The idea is for the Cats to take Randle's lead and flip the old energy-beating-talent adage on its head and combine the two sides of it. That starts with two practices each on Saturday and Sunday before UK's final exhibition on Monday against Montevallo.
"Now, talent that trumps the energy and effort, and they do both, like they come out, then you dominate play," Calipari said.
Randle believes it's just a matter of time.
"It's hard," Randle said. "It's tough. Mentally you gotta fight it, but we're all mentally tough to fight that type of stuff. It's first time we've been asked to play like this. We'll outgrow it and all of us will step up."
Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Jarrod Polson
Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Jarrod Polson