10 Takeaways from Kentucky’s Televised Practice

The Kentucky Wildcats were on the court playing basketball in front of a nationally televised audience Sunday night, only they weren’t playing against an opposing team. 

They were practicing against themselves.

For the third straight season Kentucky had a practice televised live on ESPNU. Doris Burke, Seth Greenberg, Fran Fraschilla and Andy Katz were on hand to call the action, and approximately 90 NBA staff members representing all 30 teams in the league were on hand to watch and take notes. 

Three rows of tables were set up on risers along one side of the court with the ESPNU set placed at midcourt. Most of the teams will stay after Sunday’s practice to watch again Monday and see what the Wildcats do on an everyday basis in practice.

Below are 10 takeaways from the two-hour practice Sunday night. Please note that all observations and opinions are only those of Metz Camfield.

1. There are always some nerves every year with this event. The returners have competed in this event before, and the freshmen aren’t unaccustomed to playing on national television, but competing with 90 NBA personnel sitting along the sideline taking notes and no fans in the stands can be a bit daunting. It’s also always a bit weird during dead-ball periods of practice to hear the TV announcers talking about the players who are standing just behind them on the court. The players all seemed to loosen up and play more comfortably the longer the practice went on, which is to be expected.

2. There was good energy on the court with the players cheering each other on, clapping and giving out high fives. That’s always the case with a Calipari-coached team in practice – he demands it – but the energy was especially nice in practice on Sunday. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe was constantly talking and cheering on his teammates, whether he was in the drill or not. He certainly was not the only one.

3. The speed of this team was on full display. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are as fast as any two players in the country, and guys like Wenyen Gabriel, Derek Willis and Bam Adebayo have great speed for their size. With the energy as high as it was, everyone on the team was absolutely flying Sunday. When this group gets out in transition they have the potential to be absolutely devastating. Factor in how many of them can play above the rim and there should be plenty of highlights on the new video board at Rupp Arena.

4. In a 35-second drill where the players go back and forth between the left and right elbows, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder were the most impressive players I saw. The players followed that drill up by doing the exact same thing just outside the 3-point arc, shooting from the left- and right-elbow extended. In this drill, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe hit 12 of the 13 3-pointers he attempted in 35 seconds. After his shooting struggles last season, this was a welcomed sight to see.

5. In the 2-on-2 drills, the guards fed the post for the bigs to do work. Once the forward either made or missed the shot it then became one-on-one between the two guards. Needless to say, this was a very entertaining drill. Here’s what I saw:
  • Adebayo was going against Isaac Humphries. Defensively, Adebayo got the block the first time they went at each other. The next time, on offense, Adebayo hit a nice baby hook off the glass. They each had their moments, but Adebayo is just so quick and strong.
  • Sacha Killeya-Jones had a couple nice buckets with Tai Wynyard defending him in the post. Killeya-Jones has put on weight and muscle during the preseason, but still isn’t nearly as big as Wynyard. This was a good matchup for him, as it will likely be one he sees during the season.
  • Briscoe vs. Fox was a treat to watch in this drill on Sunday, and that’s been the case in each practice this preseason. They both have the ability to be shutdown defenders, and they are also both great finishers around the rim. Therefore, a drill like this, especially when the bigs are no longer in it, is quality TV.
6. Mychal Mulder looked good all evening and has been shooting it well in other practices as well. After not playing much his junior year, his first at the Division I level, it will be interesting to see how he does as a senior with a year of Coach Cal’s system under his belt. Mulder’s teammates found him consistently Sunday in the 3-on-2 drills and he was draining 3-pointers from the corner, wing and top of the arc. He also played with great energy Sunday. He was a vocal teammate, constantly cheering his teammates on and he routinely recognized his teammates after good plays.

7. Fox plays the game with great passion and enthusiasm. In the 3-on-2 drill he sunk a 3-pointer from the right elbow and let out a roar. Later, he caught a lob pass from Monk and threw it down, nearly hitting his head on the rim in the process. Again, he finished with a giant roar. Calipari likes his guys to play with that fire and emotion, and as the point guard it can only serve as a catalyst to help spark his teammates and give the team additional energy.

8. Monk is a scoring machine. His elite speed and athleticism allow him to get to the bucket with regularity. It’s a great weapon for him. Leave him open for an elbow jumper and you may as well turn around and get back on defense. He showed off a beautiful shooting stroke Sunday. During the team’s five-minute shooting drill he caught fire and hit 14 consecutive 3s from the right wing.

9. Derek Willis has shot the ball well and with more confidence this preseason after a breakout junior year. While he shot the ball well Sunday, it was not as good as I have seen him in other practices. Most importantly, he continued to shoot the ball with confidence and didn’t hesitate when he got it.. As he’s done all year, Willis stayed after the practice to get up even more shots.

10. The Kentucky guards are going to be a handful around the goal. Briscoe, Fox and Monk all finish very well through traffic and contact, and all three showed this again on Sunday. At one point Fox drove to the bucket during the 5-on-5 work at the end of the practice and was hammered by Humphries and still made the shot while screaming, “And one!”