Kentucky Faces Stephen F. Austin in Season Opener Friday
And they’re off.
In a state that loves its horse racing and its basketball, those three words together are as exciting as any. For the 2016-17 Kentucky men’s basketball team, they’re appropriate to describe the breakneck pace at which the Wildcats will play this season, not to mention how their schedule starts.
“We probably did overschedule,” Coach Cal said Thursday afternoon. “You talk about some of the teams that we're playing and even your first game is against a team that's been to three NCAA Tournaments back-to-back-to-back who will come in here with the idea of their beating a young team.”
|Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky|
|UK||2016-17 Team Stats||SFA|
|.246||Opp 3PT FG%||.429|
Friday’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin (0-0) will pit two teams looking to answer questions after losing plenty of firepower from a year ago.
The Lumberjacks of the Southland Conference have competed in three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, advancing to the round of 32 in two of them and coming up a last-second tip-in by Notre Dame away from the Sweet 16 last year. However, Stephen F. Austin lost its top three scorers from that team, including Thomas Walkup, the conference’s player of the year and an honorable mention All-America selection by the Associated Press.
“They got veteran players,” Calipari said. “Even though they've lost some players, the players that are gonna play in that game all were in the NCAA Tournament the last couple years.”
Kentucky, on the other hand, is looking to replace more than 75 percent of its scoring and 70 percent of its rebounding from last year. The Wildcats had a nation-high three players drafted a year ago, another player graduate, two transfer to other schools and another drop basketball altogether. It’s not that the process is new for Calipari and the program, but it is nonetheless difficult.
“When (coaches) have the same guys back for two, three, four years, you have an idea of what that team looks like and you have an idea of what they’re going to play like,” Coach Cal said. “Here, it’s totally different. When you have a new team every year you’re guessing early and then it organically rolls into what it should be.”
The question for Coach Cal isn’t only how many players he will play, but who. Many of those questions will begin to be answered Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Calipari said he believes he has a rotation of eight to nine players, and can go deeper if he needs to. Much of that is going to vary from game to game and opponent to opponent. And as is the case with any team at any school, the Wildcats will evolve as the season goes on, which will also cause changes to personnel and style of play.
“This team is a fast team,” Coach Cal said. “We should be a great defensive team. We’re not right now. We should be a great shot-blocking team. We’re not right now.”
Two players whose minutes may vary from game to game are forwards Isaac Humphries and Sacha Killeya-Jones. In practice, Calipari has experimented with playing Humphries alongside freshman forward Bam Adebayo, who Coach Cal has repeatedly singled out for his high motor.
By playing so hard, Adebayo has already carved out minutes for himself on the floor. In order to establish more versatility in the frontcourt, Humphries, who has played the center position throughout his career, has expanded his game to learn the power forward position.
“Playing with Bam is great,” Humphries said. “We’re both really big, we both can dominate inside and we’re kind of interchangeable. He can come out, I can go in, I can come out, he can go in. It works well.
“Just playing on the perimeter is the biggest difference. The 5 in our system is very around-the-basket orientated. Come out and set screens, stuff like that, which is what I’m very comfortable with. But learning how to get open on the perimeter, dribble on the perimeter, stuff like that is the biggest difference.”
Humphries playing alongside the beastly Adebayo would give the Wildcats a formidable frontcourt duo. A sophomore, Humphries checks in at 7-foot, 255 pounds. Adebayo, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Team selection by both the media and head coaches, is 6-10, 260 pounds.
“I would be intimidated if I walked out and saw myself and Bam,” Humphries said. “I think we look very tall, but I think the way we play also is intimidating. Bam is really energetic and super aggressive. He’s very strong. Between the both of us, I think that size is going to be really important.”
In addition to shedding nearly 15 pounds from his freshman year, the Aussie worked on his face-up game over the summer and said he is both more confident and comfortable with his mid-range shot. Offense, however, isn’t the question that Coach Cal has when he plays the two bigs together.
“You’ve got two really good passing big men, and they’re big,” Coach Cal said of Humphries and Adebayo. “Now you’re 7-foot, 6-10. Both of them are skilled. Bam can play out on the floor defensively as well as anyone on the team, so that’s why they can play. It’s more defense. Can they guard the guys they have to guard? I think they can.”
The Hall of Fame coach will get his first glance at how they play together, in addition to a number of other player combinations, on Friday.
“I'm just anxious to get started,” Calipari said. “I'm there and it's like OK, another season we're starting. And the next time I turn around we'll be going somewhere for Christmas. Then I'll come back and the next time I turn around it'll be the conference tournament. Then the next thing, I turn around – it's just how it goes. It's starting against a really good opponent.”
UK Leads the Nation with 24 Players on NBA Opening-Day Rosters
The Kentucky men’s basketball team, the nation’s most prolific NBA player-producing program, once again leads the country with 24 players on an opening-day NBA roster. Duke came in second with 19.
Of the 449 players in the NBA to start the 2016-17 season, approximately 5.35 percent played college basketball at UK. Kentucky’s NBA dominance is best represented in Phoenix and Sacramento, where a combined seven Wildcats now play at the highest level of the game.
Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis are all part of the 2016-17 Phoenix Suns roster, while former UK stars Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins and Skal Labissiere call Sacramento their home. Two other franchises – the Charlotte Hornets (Aaron Harrison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and the New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones) – opened the season with two Wildcats apiece.
Archie Goodwin signed withe Pelicans earlier in the week to bring the current total to 25 players, making it now three teams with three or more Wildcats on a roster.
Using figures compiled by spotrac.com, Kentucky players’ current contracts alone are valued at more than $659 million. Caliparicoached players only (which includes Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans but not Jodie Meeks or Rajon Rondo) have nearly $751 million in current contracts. In just the 2016-17 season alone, UK players are slated to make more than $172 million. Calipari-coached players only will make more than $183 million. Over the course of their careers, Calipari players have generated approximately $1.2 billion in total NBA contracts.
Kentucky Picked to Win 48th SEC Title
The Kentucky men’s basketball program finds itself in familiar territory under the direction of eighth-year head coach John Calipari. UK is faced with replacing more than 75 percent of its scoring and 70 percent of its rebounding, yet a select panel of media voted the Wildcats to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions. Should Kentucky achieve that standard, it would mark the fifth regular- season title under Calipari and the program’s 48th overall.
It’s the 12th time since the 1998-99 season the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite. UK was picked to win the title a season ago and did not disappoint, sharing the crown with Texas A&M. Calipari has directed his teams to regular-season SEC crowns in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Each school selected media members that cover their team and additional media from across the nation were selected by the conference office to comprise the voting panel. Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for two All-SEC teams.