John Calipari’s hands are on the panic button for his young team


UK coach John Calipari watches from the bench during the Legends Game on Friday, August 25, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

During the Media Day for the UK men’s basketball team, head coach John Calipari emphasized the fact that his team would be “ugly early.”

This isn’t a new idea for UK basketball. The young Cats teams of the past decade has mostly been freshman-heavy, so it means that the young players have usually needed a learning curve. However, this is an extraordinarily young UK team, even by Calipari’s “one and done” standards.

“We had a really good practice yesterday, and Kevin Knox was unbelievable. He made a little bit of a breakthrough yesterday. I had hope,” Calipari said. “I took my foot off the panic button yesterday after practice. I still got both hands on it, but my foot is no longer on it after yesterday’s practice.”

Knox’s breakthrough, Calipari said, was due to his increasing tendency to drive the basketball when he gets it, instead of shooting jumpers. He said Knox “just got it.”

“I’m getting used to [Calipari’s] practices, getting used to his coaching style, everything’s starting to come to me,” Knox said. “I’m a guy that picks up offense really quick.”

The 6-9 freshman from Tampa, Florida, is just one of the several highly touted high school seniors Calipari brought in to play amazing basketball for a year and be sent to the NBA. Every year, it seems, Calipari is pushing down hard on his panic button early in the season.

However, this year, there are no seniors to lead the young freshmen. The oldest player is walk-on redshirt junior guard Dillon Pulliam, who has seen extremely limited minutes his entire career. Even at Big Blue Madness, Calipari told the sold-out crowd at Rupp Arena that this extremely young team was going to be “ugly early.”

“But,” Calipari said, “We always build toward March.”

According to Calipari, the team just started learning zone defense and pick-and-roll coverage. The young squad hasn’t even started the press defense and guarding out of bounds that teams like Louisville and West Virginia are known for, two teams the Cats will have to play this season.

“It’s going to take Cal a little longer than we expected for his hands to come off,” Knox said. “I think this whole season, he’ll have it on there. Every game’s a big-time game, and every school is trying to beat us of course, because everyone’s our rivalry.”

Only time will tell whether or not the young Cats will be polished enough to get Calipari’s hands off the panic button at any time this season.