Coach Cal's Experiment Begins in Exhibition Win
Following the Blue-White Game, John Calipari said he’d finally allow his three dynamic guards – Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk – to play together after he had split them up all summer and fall.
That led to the natural conclusion the three would start in the backcourt together the next time out, but Coach Cal threw a curveball in UK’s first exhibition against Clarion. Monk would start on the bench, with Fox, Briscoe, Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel filling out the starting five.
“Look, if I played those three together, the frontline rotation was going to be screwed up,” Calipari said. “So I did what I did.”
Of course Monk would get his opportunities, leading UK with 15 points in a 108-51 win, but the decision about the starting lineup and the rationale behind it served to illustrate the wealth of options at Coach Cal’s disposal. That was only reinforced as UK’s lead grew against Calipari’s alma mater.
Name the lineup combination and UK probably played it. Twelve different players saw the floor for at least nine minutes in front of a crowd of 20,099, six scoring in double figures. No matter who was running the point or manning the post, or whether it was a 6-foot-9 forward like Willis or the uber-athletic Monk at the three position, the Wildcats shared the ball to the tune of 29 assists and overwhelmed the Golden Eagles into committing 26 turnovers.
“That’s a really positive part about our team,” Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “We know if we go out there and play as hard as we can for four minutes, do everything you can, and then the next TV timeout or whatever happens, the next sub, whenever you need a break just put your hand up and you can get out, get a break, and go back in and play as hard as you can for as long as you can. It’s awesome having so much depth and versatility.”
That depth and versatility will make every substitution, every timeout and every starting lineup interesting, at least early in the season as Calipari doubles as a mad scientist.
“Coach told us yesterday and he’s been telling us he’s going to try different lineups, see how people play together,” said Killeya-Jones, who scored 12 points. “I think pretty much every lineup we had worked.
“It’s awesome. You get to play a bunch of different roles, get to play with different guards and everything. It’s just awesome to have that much versatility on the team.”
As the competition stiffens and the regular season begins, that won’t continue to be the case. Calipari’s early-season mantra has always been to “fail fast,” so he won’t be afraid of that.
“I think it’s going to go game by game, week by week,” Willis said. “Kind of see who’s playing well, who’s playing with the most energy, who’s being most efficient on the defensive end, stuff like that. It could change.”
Change to UK’s rotation is a certainty. What won’t change is the makeup of the team.
“I like the personalities of all the players,” Willis said. “That’s why I feel like we have really good chemistry. It happened really quickly. We can go as far as we want to take it. Our potential is super high. We just got some things to work on, but we’ll be fine, I think.”