Lots of news and tidbits to report from the Joe Craft Center, the site of the final practice of the season. The players and Coach John Calipari were available to the media for the first time since Calipari’s hiring two weeks ago. We’ll have updates and news as fast as I can type. Evan Crane is down at practice and will have some observations later on this evening. Bear with me – I’ll be going as fast as I can.
Final basketball notes
Posted at 7:45 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
The night is getting away from me, so I’m going to wrap it up here with a final few notes from today, the first media availability the men’s basketball team has had since the hiring of Coach John Calipari.
With the different interview process – unlike the previous systems, Calipari opens practices and prefers to do player and coach interviews right before practice – there was obviously a different feel today. When you consider the fact that it was the first time we’ve had the chance to speak to Calipari since the hiring, it was the final practice of the season and the start of the spring signing period, well, as you can imagine, it was a media circus. If you factor in the photographers, beat reporters and television crews, I’d say there were at least 50 media members there. When Calipari came out for his interview and saw the cluster of reporters, even he was a bit taken back.
The players seem to be enjoying themselves more than they were before. They’re more laid back, they love the system, spoke highly of their coach, and best of all, just seem to be having fun. In every interview I was in, I heard a player talk about how much fun they were having with each other. I’m not sure that was there at the end of this past season. “I want them to have fun,” Calipari said. “Right now, I understand where they are, what they’ve all gone through and now another coach coming through and a system they’ve never seen. If they’re responding, then I’ll get aggressive, but these guys are trying. As long as they’re trying, we’ll deal with it and go on.”
Calipari said they’ve made unbelievable strides in the two weeks that they’ve had practice together, although he admitted that the first practice worried him. “The first time I truly got ill,” he said. “I had to go inside after and I was ill. I was just like ‘Oh my gosh,’ because they just haven’t played this way. They haven’t played this fast. … They’re getting used to the way I coach and I think they’re enjoying themselves.”
More on the Dribble Drive Motion Offense: “Early on they struggled,” Calipari said. “A lot of balls bouncing off feet, hitting lights, getting blocked and missing layups, but that’s the normal process of this offense. Early in the year there are going to be a lot of turnovers.”
The team came out to Wednesday’s practice donning new “Witness” Nike T-shirts. The shirts (picture on right) are blue with white print. On the front they say “Witness” with a Nike swoosh. The back has the UK/UT date of Jodie Meeks’ 54-point game and printed below that was 1, 2, or 3 for all the ways Meeks scored in the order they came. UK actually printed them a few months ago, but they were never given out. Calipari approved distributing them Tuesday evening, so the team decided to sport the shirts, including Meeks, although he took a bit of teasing from his teammates for doing so. As of now, the shirts are not for sale to the public.
Miller shines in Calipari’s offense
Posted at 7:09 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Cinderella and Prince Charming. Peanut butter and jelly. Darius Miller and the Dribble Drive Motion Offense.
OK, so maybe that last one doesn’t roll off the tongue so well, but they go together just as well as milk and cookies. To say Miller and Coach John Calipari’s up-tempo offense has been a good match so far would be an understatement. They’ve been a perfect fit.
Through the first six practices under the newly hired coach, Miller has looked the most comfortable and most lethal in the dribble-drive system. Miller’s knack for taking it to the basket and his long, quick strides make him a perfect fit for Calipari’s system.
When Calipari was asked before practice Wednesday what he thought about Miller, Calipari almost seem stunned by his play thus far, even slipping in a “Wow,” during his answer.
“I think he’s really good,” Calipari said. “The best part of his game is he’s got a little floater. In this offense, that’s the one that sets you apart because now you can get to the rim, you can shoot the ball or if they come at you late, you can shoot that floater. I think he’s going to be terrific.”
He’s look every bit of it so far. In the three practices I’ve been able to watch so far, I’ve walked away believing Miller is going to be an immediate stud. Miller was already starting to shine late this past season, but now he’s making things look effortless. As Calipari said, he has a great floater in the lane and he possesses the ideal speed and size for the system.
That should bode well for the former Mr. Kentucky Basketball player, who said his eyes lit up when he saw what type of system they would be running.
“I feel real comfortable,” Miller said. “I like to drive to the basket. I think that’s one of my strong suits. … I think it’s a fun way of playing basketball, up tempo and getting out and running.”
Let’s not forget about football
Posted at 6:36 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
I wasn’t able to make it out to spring football practice this morning, but it looks like there were a few bits of news that happened today.
Wide receiver/quarterback Randall Cobb took his first full contact of spring practice on his surgically repaired right knee and appeared to be just fine. Also, freshman running back Coshik Williams sustained a bruised shoulder during Wednesday’s practice session and will be on a day-to-day basis.
Full details here.
Practice Report: Men’s Basketball
Posted at 6:18 p.m. EDT – Evan Crane, UK Media Relations
The first drill that the team did was a layup drill. The guys would run by a manager at the elbow before going to the basket and getting bumped by an assistant coach as they went to lay the ball in. Calipari kept stopping play and telling everyone to go “full speed and hard” instead of “half speed.” At one point he stopped the drill and told the guys that: “Guys, we want to make layups here. If you go to the front of the rim, don’t lay the ball in, dunk it. We are trying to learn how to shoot a layup.”
The team then did some 2-on-1 drills. They wanted to try to get an open layup, and coach would constantly yell, “get a layup” or “shoot a layup.” Several of the guys were trying to throw alley-oops, and Coach Cal said he likes that but they were not looking for the “ooohhs and aaahhhs” but was looking to win. He said, “We need to make more layups and if we do we will win more.” After about 10 minutes of that drill, Calipari ended the drill with, “OK, that’s enough of that drill guys. We have to get better, because we will do this a lot, and overall that was basically awful.”
I really thought DeAndre Liggins ran harder then I have seen him since he has been at Kentucky. This is his kind of basketball – fast tempo, up and down the floor – that he likes and he’s starting to do well in it. I was sitting by a media member who turned and looked at me and said, “He is a different kid.” I agree.
Following a 3-on-2 drill, the team did what was my favorite drill of the day. With a defender at half court, the offensive player would dribble the ball from one side of the court past the player at half court as fast as they could to get a layup. The drill is designed to get the player to see the floor and learn to dribble past pressure. Calipari was very pleased with both Jodie Meeks’ and Darius Miller’s efforts during this particular drill. At one point, he blew the whistle and started yelling, “Great jot, great job Jodie. That is how you do it.” He emphasized looking in the defender’s eyes because as soon as you do that, he said they’ll know which move to make. If there was one criticism of Miller it was that he looked to the floor too much when he dribbled.
Calipari kept telling the guys to “just play.” He would say, “Once we get the ball here, then we are one-on-one and Patrick, all you have to do is just play. You can go inside or outside whatever, just play.” Before one drill the team did, Calipari said “there were going to be balls flying everywhere and people bumping into each other and I am going to love it.” Right after the team ran the drill for the first time, Calipari said, “Great job. I mean, really great job. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we did a great job”
As soon as practice was over and the team broke the huddle, Calipari walked over to former UK Coach Joe B. Hall and the two hugged and exchanged words. There were other former players there, including Ravi Moss and Kenny Walker.
Cousins signs LOI to play at Kentucky
Posted at 5:38 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
It’s official: DeMarcus Cousins is a Wildcat.
Cousins, a senior out of LeFlore High School in Mobile, Ala., has signed a national letter of intent to play with the University of Kentucky, Coach John Calipari announced Wednesday.
The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds during his senior year in high school to earn Parade All-American honors. He’s rated the top power forward in the country, according to Rivals.com, and he played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland earlier this month as a member of the 2009 USA Junior National Select Team.
That brings Kentucky’s current signing class to three players. Kentucky Mr. Basketball Jon Hood and Daniel Orton signed during an earlier signing period.
Calipari addresses roster, recruiting
Posted at 5:14 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
With the final day of practice now having come and gone, now begins the time to start thinking about the roster for next season.
Who comes? Who goes? Who will leave? Who will stay?
On the first day of the signing period and the last day of practice this season, many of those questions are still up in the air.
In terms of the current UK roster, nothing is for certain. Speculation has arisen since the hiring that of Kentucky Coach Calipari as to who would and wouldn’t remain with the team.
Calipari has said from day one that he didn’t know much about the current crop of UK players and that he would need some time with them to see who could fit in the system. He’s said before and during their practices that if the players can’t dribble, then they probably won’t fit in his Dribble Drive Motion Offense.
Now that he’s had several practices with the team, Calipari has a better gauge than he did two weeks ago, but the roster still remains very much in question.
“I’m just trying to figure out everybody,” Calipari said. “My comment when I talked to all of them is, a lot of them say they want to be professional. Well I said, ‘You have to play then. You’ve got to see this style and figure out if you can play in this style. If you can’t, then we need to help you where you can go somewhere where you can play. And if I believe you can’t play, I’m going to tell you.’ ”
That doesn’t mean players are going to be booted from the team. There is a sentiment that if the players don’t fit into the system right away that they’re immediately gone.
That has not been the case. Through the six allotted practices, every player, scholarship and walk-on, has been at practice except for Michael Porter, who decided to leave the team for personal reasons.
“If a player chooses to come back knowing that he’s not playing, that’s OK,” Calipari said. “But you can’t be mad in January and February if you’re not getting off the bench. You’ve got to understand that I’m going to be honest with you and tell you about it. This thing is still in motion right now.”
And part of that unstable situation is natural because the official signing period has begun. Until May 20, UK can sign new players to its roster, and several big-name prospects appear to either be interested or on the way (because this is the official UK Web site, NCAA regulations prohibit us from talking about a recruit until he signs a letter of intent).
As of Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the signing period, UK could not confirm that any recruits had signed, although that’s not uncommon for the traditional basketball signing day. (UPDATE: DeMarcus Cousins has signed his national letter of intent to play at UK, and Jon Hood and Daniel Orton signed LOI at an earlier signing period).
Without naming names, Calipari said Wednesday that recruiting has gone very well so far.
“What I’m happy about is we’ve got juniors calling us and they’re all juniors that we’re happy that they’re calling us, so that’s good,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he won’t take a recruit that won’t help this program just to fill out the roster.
“If I think there are players that can help us win ballgames and are going to be a part of this program, we take them this year,” he said. “If not, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to put us in a position where now we have a guy or two in a year from now, we have to tell them, ‘It’s going to be hard for you now.’ ”
Patterson to test NBA Draft
Posted at 3:39 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Kentucky’s roster could look considerably different next season.
Just over a week after teammate Jodie Meeks put his name into the NBA Draft, sophomore Patrick Patterson said before practice Thursday that he was testing the NBA Draft.
Patterson, who averaged 17.9 points per game last season, second most on the team, said he will not hire an agent. He has until June 15 to withdraw his name from the draft.
Patterson said he came to the decision a couple of days ago after talking with his family and UK Coach John Calipari, who Patterson said encouraged him to enter the draft.
“He said he’s behind with the decision,” Patterson said. “He wants me to go to see where I stand, to see how I can stand up to other people in the draft and what I actually do need to work on,” he said.
Calipari, a former NBA coach, said he will talk with both players about the draft process because he said he knows what can hurt them.
“I hope I get a chance to get to coach them and I think they would improve themselves and their position, but they’ve got to do what’s right for them and their families,” Calipari said.
Although Patterson said he’ll declare for the draft, he hasn’t officially put his name into the pool, according to the University of Kentucky. It also didn’t sound like he extremely definitive in his decision either.
The 6-foot-9 forward said it was a tough decision and didn’t know if draft choice would affect his final decision or not. He did say that who UK can pick up and bring back next year, as well as what the NBA teams tell him he needs to do and work on, could affect his decision.
“I just got to talk to my family, and when that time comes we’ll make a decision,” Patterson said.
Patterson pointed out that he can always decide to come back, and Calipari said he would love to have him back.
“I want to try to test the waters to see where I stand but I also do still want to come back and play with my teammates,” Patterson said. “I know the opportunities that we could have next year. I know the arsenal of the team we will have hopefully if we get a couple more players that we want to. And with Coach Calipari coaching us and leading us, I believe with next year’s team, if everybody does return, we could have something nice.”
That sounds like a guy who wants to stay. So why not just do it?
“I’ve thought a lot about it, what the team next year would be like and all the fun that we possibly could have,” he said. “I’m just doing this for myself for my best interests and for my family and just seeing how everything plays out and what happens.”
That could include what his teammate Meeks decides to do.
Meeks, a 6-foot-4 guard from Norcross, Ga., said Wednesday that he’s still testing the NBA waters and plans on working out for a few teams before making a decision, but he sounded more like someone who wanted to gain some experience than actually make the leap.
“I’m really not sure now,” Meeks said. “I’m just testing the waters and seeing what I need to work on. That’s the main thing – staying in shape and getting the experience. I want to get the experience and see what I need to work on since I’m a junior. You can only put your name in the draft one time (and then come back to school, per NCAA regulations), so this will be the only time I can do it.”
Meeks said he hasn’t even thought about hiring an agent, adding that it would be “dumb” on his part to do that. He said he hasn’t worked out for any NBA teams yet or talked to any teams.
Calipari spoke very highly of Meeks before practice.
"He is one of the great people I've been around," Calipari said. "Not only that, he's a great leader, an unbelievable leader. His ability to shoot and make free throws, when you add the ability to beat people on the bounce and just go, and just be unleashed and play that way, he could be a lottery pick."
Live chat with Coach Petri on Thursday
Posted at 12:23 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Continuing Cat Scratches’ spring football coverage, we’ll have a live chat with defensive line coach Rick Petri Thursday morning.
Starting at 11:30 a.m., fans can chat with Petri about spring football practice, the defensive line and much more. For a full depth chart preview of the defensive line click here.
Cat Scratches will have one more depth chart preview and chat next week to wrap up spring football.
Practice; Calipari television appearances
Posted at 11:17 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Just a few quick notes regarding this afternoon's festivities:
The men's basketball team will have practice this afternoon, as well as player and coach availability to the media. Practice is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. inside the Joe Craft Center, and the media will be allotted 15 minutes with the players and then 15 minutes with Coach John Calipari. Of course, we'll have coverage from the practice following the workout. The practice is not open to the fans.