Newcomers Bring Unique Gifts to Backcourt

Malik Monk is a student of basketball, working hard to understand the ins and outs of the game he loves.

But when it comes to picturing what a Kentucky fast break will look like this season, he sees things in very simple terms.

“Pass, pass, pass, lob, dunk,” Monk said.

No complicated Xs and Os are needed for a Wildcat team that projects to be athletic even by the lofty standards of a typical John Calipari team, led by dynamic freshman guards Monk and De’Aaron Fox. In fact, Monk says not even dribbles are necessary when the Cats are running.

“We don’t need any,” Monk said. “Rebound – (Isaiah) Briscoe might get the rebound – Fox running, pass it up to me, I’m running to the corner, Fox passes it up to me and I just throw it up. Somebody will catch it.”

The exact recipe might vary from break to break, but likely not one basic tenet, the same tenet John Calipari applied to an open-floor terror he coached when UK won the national championship in 2012.

“Malik maybe played like Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist), which is if he’s ahead, give it to him,” Calipari said. “If you don’t give it to him, you’re coming out.”

Fox is similarly exceptional in his physical gifts, specifically his otherworldly speed. That makes UK even more dangerous on the break, but only if the 6-foot-3 point guard uses it.

“His pace of game is too casual at times,” Calipari said. “Like, my thing is, there are times he can look as fast as John Wall. John Wall knew that was his number one weapon and he used it all the time. Probably too much. De’Aaron hasn’t figured out that should be his number one weapon. It’s a weapon he’ll use every once in a while, but it’s really hard to run that fast all the time.”

Of course, the usefulness of that weapon isn’t limited to the fast break. That’s why Coach Cal sees so much potential for this group to do half-court damage with the dribble-drive.

“It fits the way I play, Isaiah plays, Dom (Hawkins) plays, Malik plays. We all get most of our stuff off the dribble,” Fox said. “That’s what we’ve done since we’ve been in middle school. I think the dribble-drive the way Cal teaches it, it helps all of us. And it doesn’t matter the position we’re in. You’re almost pretty much doing the same thing at all three positions, so it just helps us all.”

Regardless of the offense UK runs, Fox will have the unenviable task of following Tyler Ulis in leading it from the point-guard position.

“He was extremely consistent,” Fox said. “What people saw was the way he led the team at 5-(foot)-9. People didn’t think that he was going to be able to do it and he did an extremely good job at it. That’s one thing I want to take away from him. Just being able to run a team like that, not too many people have that skill.”

The good news is Fox won’t have to carry the load all by himself. In addition to Monk, Fox has Briscoe, the sophomore who played off the ball last season after starring in high school at the point.

“People are always going to be on their heels,” Fox said. “You never know what we’re going to do. Just playing with him and Isaiah, we got guards that can really create for each other. We can all create for ourselves and I feel like it’s going to be hard to stop all three of us. If you’re stopping all three of us, your defense is just elite. I don’t feel like many people in the country can stop all three of us.”

And even if they can, Coach Cal doesn’t want it to matter. With a roster full of guards Calipari termed “maulers,” he expects to field a team that breads its butter on defense.

“Let’s be a team that, alright even if we don’t shoot it well or we don’t execute well we can still win the game,” Calipari said. “That’s what I think we’ll do with this team. I told Tony Barbee, I said, ‘Maybe back to my UMass, which was about 70 percent defense.’ ”

That might not excite some players, but don’t count Fox among them. He knows what good defense can lead to.

“The strength of this backcourt group is defensively we’re able to get up under people,” Fox said. “We’re going to have a lot of fast breaks.”

You already know what happens then.

“Pass, pass, pass, lob, dunk.”