Kentucky opened their practice to the media Monday afternoon for the first time this season inside Rupp Arena in front of several NBA scouts.
Here are some notes and takeaways from the practice:
No Lance Ware
Kentucky head coach John Calipari noted prior to practice that Ware would be out with a throat-related issue. He did not specify what the exact problem was or what a timetable to return was, though it’s not believed to be serious. Ware was on the sideline, however. He seemed to be in good spirits.
Emphasis on tempo
“We’re going to be a speed team,” Calipari said.
If his player’s aren’t running their hardest, they won’t be playing at all. Calipari put his team through full court sprints, full court layups, fast break drills, etc.
Communication was key in those drills as well. If the players were hitting someone on a quick pass or down the court on an outlet—their name was to be shouted loud enough that there would be no miscommunication playing at the speed Calipari wants.
Over the summer, the practice court inside the Joe Craft Center had an extra line added around the circle. Calipari has begun to encourage the NBA-length three-point attempt. He sees this as an uncontested, high percentage shot—something they wouldn’t get anywhere else on the floor.
Look for Dontaie Allen, Kellan Grady, TyTy Washington and CJ Fredrick to add that shot to their game this season.
Big men are extending their range
Keion Brooks Jr. was consistently knocking his three-point attempts down at practice Monday. Freshman forward Daimion Collins was taking those shots confidently and consistently in the five-on-five half court drills as well.
Oscar Tshiebwe won’t be shooting threes for Calipari this season—but his mid range game looks to have improved significantly since his days at West Virginia.
Jacob Toppin’s length will be a problem
It’s well documented that Toppin and his brother, Obi can get up there and slam down a dunk with the best of them—but he showed glimpses of a different side of his game in practice on Monday. He was able to close out quickly, swat down passes and snag long rebounds with ease.
He continuously found himself in the perfect position to make plays defensively, something Kentucky needs desperately after the less-than stellar defensive season Calipari’s Cats had in 2020.
Daimion Collins is a pogo stick
Every Kentucky fan remembers the poster of Anthony Davis’ wingspan on showcase in front of 10 basketballs. As a freshman at Kentucky, his wingspan was listed at 7-foot-5 and a half—Collins’ is 7-foot-5, which is the third longest in the Calipari era behind DeMarcus Cousins (7-foot-5.75) and Davis’.
His shot-blocking ability and knack for rebounding was on display in practice Monday and if he can add a shooting layer to his game—opposing defenses are in trouble going against the former five-star recruit.
Sahvir Wheeler has your cookies
Remember the standing ovations Ashton Hagans would get after getting subbed out after completely shutting down the opposing offense a couple years ago? Get ready to do that again.
The awareness of Wheeler is unreal. Mintz and Allen had no choice but to pass it off nine times out of 10 while Wheeler was guarding him. If they didn’t pass it away, he was on the other end of the court with a breakaway layup—not to mention he’s the fastest player and best passer on the team. He can also get to the rack at will, but don’t expect him to knock down any deep balls.
Later in the practice, he injured what looked to be his ankle. When the trainers and coaches helped him up, he didn’t put any pressure on it and left the arena shortly after. Updates to his condition will be provided on @KyKernelSports on Twitter.
Mentality over physicality
The physical aspect of Monday’s practice was something that many in-shape average person could get through one way or another. A compilation of shooting drills, full court sprint and other basketball-related drills were on display Monday afternoon.
What stuck out was the fact that if you want to play basketball under Calipari at Kentucky—you better have a high basketball I.Q. So many intricate and specific movements, plays, certain dribble moves, the ability to see the floor, making the extra pass, taking the perfect shot and impacting the game away from the ball were all emphasized over straight-up athleticism.
Knowing how to play basketball rather than simply playing the game with four other teammates makes a huge difference and is a huge reason that Kentucky has been so successful under Calipari.