Confident Cats Ready for Long Road Ahead
The Kentucky Wildcats seemed at ease and comfortable in their own skin on media day. They were quick to laugh and quicker still to praise their teammates.
But more than anything else, these Cats are confident. They’re not a brash bunch, but they know they have a fun season ahead of them, provided they continue the work they’ve already started.
“I don’t think there’s a ceiling,” De’Aaron Fox said. “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
“I think we’re going to shock some people,” Bam Adebayo said.
For a team likely to be ranked in the top five of every major preseason pull to surprise would take something pretty special. Adebayo doesn’t shy away from that.
“It’s a us thing,” Adebayo said. “We’re all about our teammates. Most teams have their one player that everybody’s centered on. We have a couple of weapons.”
The weapons, indeed, are all over the place.
Adebayo, a physical specimen of a freshman, will be flanked in the post by the newly fit Isaac Humphries. Versatile freshmen forwards Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones add incredible length and athleticism to Derek Willis’ deadeye shooting. On the perimeter, UK has a three-headed monster of Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, not to mention an experienced senior in Dominique Hawkins.
The group is diverse in both skills and size, ranging all the way from the lightning quickness of the 6-foot-3, 187-pound Fox, to the hulking athleticism of the 6-10, 260-pound Adebayo, but what they all have in common is that self-assuredness.
“They have to have a level of talent or they wouldn't be here, but they also have to be comfortable in their skin,” Calipari said. “We're doing this together, and numbers don't matter.”
That concept – the same one that has carried UK to four Final Fours and sent 28 players to the NBA Draft under Calipari – is the starting point. From there, Coach Cal has a more specific vision for how this team will play.
“On offense, a team that tries to score within three seconds, and if not, is doing something to attack the rim or throw it to the post,” Calipari said. “If that's not there, probably some sort of pick-and-roll, or give it to somebody who can jump this high or get a jump shot off if you can't get something easy.”
UK’s hallmark, however, will be its defense, in both the opinion of Calipari and his players.
“As you see with this team, we should be known for defense,” Hawkins said. “We have the size, the length and the speed. Defense is what wins championships. If we have a great defense that’s what’s going to take us there.”
Defense, more often than not, is a passive exercise. The offense tries to do something and the defense reacts. Not UK’s though. These Cats want to be the aggressor.
“I would say we're going to be a mauling, helping, rotating, shot-blocking team,” Calipari said. “Probably picks the ball up the court because we can.”
“Just that we maul the ball and we’re all together,” Adebayo said. “Like, we can’t let one of our brothers get beat by somebody else. We all have to help.”
The will to do that is there, but executing is another issue. That comes with time.
“I'm going to be disappointed if in February this isn't the best defensive team, but right now we don't know terminology,” Calipari said. “We don't help each other. We don't understand what it means to even (play) pick-and-roll defense, post defense. What if they cross screen? We haven't done it yet. What about a UCLA cut? We haven't done it yet. How about your out-of-bounds play? We don't have them in yet. What if you need a 3 late? We don't have it yet. What's the jump ball? I hope they all get around that circle.
“We just don't -- when you start like we do, young, you've got to let them go and figure out who they all are, and then we go from there.”
There is much work ahead, but the Cats have time to get it done and, even more importantly, the desire.
“We all want the same dream so we just try to accomplish it together,” Monk said. “It’s easy to sacrifice if you have great players around you.”