Kentucky, Ohio State Battle in CBS Sports Classic
Kentucky is 9-1, its only loss coming on the road against UCLA, now ranked. The Wildcats are coming off a solid win over a veteran Arizona State squad and took down highly rated Duke a month ago.
|Kentucky vs. Ohio State|
|Sat., Dec. 19 - 3:30 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | OSU
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||OSU|
John Calipari, however, doesn’t talk like the coach of a top-five team.
“We’re a ways away,” Calipari said. “We haven’t figured it out. We’re still trying to figure out, how do we really want to play?”
It says a lot about both UK’s ceiling as a team and recent history as a program that Calipari feels that way about a team that could hardly be classified as struggling, but his point stands. The Cats’ potential is far from tapped out as they prepare to travel to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a Saturday matchup with Ohio State (5-5).
UK has plenty of time to get there, but the coming weeks could be crucial to that process.
With the fall semester drawing to a close and classes out of session, the period affectionately known as “Camp Cal” has begun, and a couple days earlier than usual to boot.
“Well, we’ve already started, which I’ve never done,” Calipari said. “I did back in the day when I was nuts, but normally I wait. But this team needs to start now and start refocusing. Needs to get extra work in. But we’ve started. We’ve started doing it twice where you’re practicing but you have another 30-40 minutes doing some conditioning stuff on the side. We’re doing—a lot of it’s individual, what they need.”
Tyler Ulis, a sophomore, has already been through Camp Cal once, but he expects his second experience to be markedly different from the first.
“I feel like it’ll be a lot different because with last year’s team we had so many guys,” Ulis said. “We played 10 guys and we had toughness (so) we didn’t have to do this, but this year we’re so young and we have a lot to work on.”
Counted among that youth is Skal Labissiere. The freshman is the most high-profile camper of Cal’s, and the only one of the overnight variety.
Labissiere, like his team, has dazzled at times with his talent, but his struggles have been even more pronounced of late. He is averaging just 4.5 points over his last four games, most recently going scoreless and fouling out in 13 minutes against aforementioned Arizona State.
In pondering how to help his talented big man as he made a trip to his former UMass stomping grounds this week, Calipari thought of Marcus Camby, who was National Player of the Year as a Minuteman before going on to NBA stardom.
“When you’re a big kid and you’ve not been through this and you don’t have a whole lot of weight and it starts to overwhelm you and it starts to play on you, Marcus went through that,” Calipari said. “It took him the good part of two years, and then in his third year he was in his own and did his thing.”
Labissiere’s timeframe is a bit more compressed, which is why Calipari had him stay overnight earlier this week. Calipari has an improvement similar to the one another of his pupils made within one season in mind.
“We’re trying to do a little bit what we did with Josh (Harrellson) where he’s doing extra training before, and it kind of buries you,” Calipari said. “So he will probably take that step back before he starts taking those steps forward, similar to Josh. He’s going to do fine.”
The physical component is important, but not nearly as much so as the mental one.
“It’s hard,” Calipari said. “A lot of it is mental, so you do things to make it tough where he has to convince himself I can do this. It’s a will you have to have. I can do this vs. I can’t do this.”
Ulis, like Calipari, believes Labissiere will get there.
“I feel like he’s confident,” Ulis said. “It’s just, it’s hard. He’s gotta fight for us as a team and he’s going to get there. I feel like he’s working hard at it, he’s doing his best and he’ll be fine.”
Now there to help Labissiere in his growth is Tai Wynyard.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Auckland, New Zealand native arrived on campus Thursday and projects to provide a physical presence in practice and, if Calipari elects not to redshirt him, in games as well.
“He was so excited,” Calipari said. “He was hitting his leg. We hugged. He was happy to be here. He flew overnight, you know, to get here. It’s just, you know, he just wants to be a part of it. I don’t know what that will mean right away or what it will mean this year. But, you know me, if he’s going to help us win he’ll be on that floor.”
Wynyard’s midyear addition changes UK’s team dynamic, but that doesn’t concern Calipari.
“Well, the good news is that we have no team chemistry yet, so we’re still trying to figure out who we are,” Calipari said. “It may prolong it. But, if it helps us, if he gives us a physical presence and he’s able to go in there and bang and changes who we are and what we’re about and puts guys in better positions, then he’s going to have that opportunity.”
Wynyard is a blank slate, and the same can be said about his new team.
“We’re literally, like, trying – offensively, defensively – we’re trying different things,” Calipari said. “They’re trying. I keep telling my staff, ‘They’re listening.’ We just hope we’re telling them the right things because they’re listening and trying. There’s no push-back. There is the will, the drive, the inner strength, the mental toughness, that is lacking in most young teams is lacking in this team to this point.”
Calipari on the Verge of Win No. 200
Now in his seventh season at Kentucky, John Calipari is just one win shy of 200 career wins at UK. Currently at 199 wins, Calipari is on track to reach 200 victories at UK faster than any other head coach. Rick Pitino, currently the fastest to 200 wins at Kentucky, captured his 200th Wildcat win during his 249th game. The legendary Adolph Rupp reached 200 during his 250th game.
With one more win to reach the milestone, Calipari has coached in 238 games at Kentucky. If Calipari can win No. 200 against Ohio State, he will become the second-fastest Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 200 victories at a single school (Clair Bee at LIU-Brooklyn achieved the feat in 231 games).
Calipari would also become just the 11th head coach in Division I men’s basketball history to have at least 200 victories at two different schools while becoming the fifth coach at Kentucky to reach the 200-win plateau.
He’s currently the only coach in NCAA history with at least 189 victories at three different schools.
Wynyard Joins Wildcats
With the 2015 fall semester now complete, 2016 fall signee Tai Wynyard has enrolled at the University of Kentucky a semester early and will join the Wildcats immediately.
Wynard, a 6-foot-9 forward, graduated from his hometown school in Auckland, New Zealand this month. He was a part of the World Select Team that edged the USA Junior National Select Team at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit. He is a physically imposing forward who does his best damage around the basket.
It has not been decided if Wynard will use the spring semester as a redshirt opportunity or if he will suit up for the Wildcats this season.
Murray Third Wildcat to Earn SEC Freshman of the Week Accolades
Jamal Murray was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday after averaging a team-best 16.5 points, a guard-best 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in wins over Eastern Kentucky and Arizona State last week.
In the win over EKU, Murray posted an impressive line of 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He followed up that performance with a team-high 17 points, five assists and three boards in the victory over Arizona State. With two 3-pointers in both games this week, Murray became the first player in Kentucky history to make at least one trey in each of his first 10 collegiate games.
It’s the first weekly SEC honor of Murray’s career and the fourth such award for the Wildcats this season. Ulis previously won SEC Co-Player of the Week honors while freshman forward Skal Labissiere and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe have both picked up SEC Freshman of the Week this season.