Guide for 9: Mesh new and returning players

By Josh Ellis

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If there’s one college basketball program in the nation that can recover from losing seven players to the NBA draft, that program is UK. Under the reign of Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, the men’s basketball roster has once again been replenished.

Despite missing on a few big-time recruits during the offseason, Calipari was still able to work his magic and reeled in the No. 1 ranked recruiting class, according to — a class that could help bring title number nine to the Bluegrass.

Enter the new faces of UK basketball: Skal Labissiere, Isaac Humphries, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder and Jamal Murray.

With the addition of the six newcomers, Calipari believes his returning players — led by Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee — will allow the Cats to play “positionless basketball.”

Calipari, with so many different options available, said he’s still unsure of how he’ll execute specific schemes such as pick-and-rolls, transition offense and zone play. But Calipari is sure of one thing: his point guard from Canada will thrive anywhere he puts him on the floor.

“(Murray) could guard bigs. Like we could switch pick-and-roll with him and (have him) go guard a five man. And he wants to guard them,” Calipari said.

Murray is a guard who can score the ball at will and make the smart plays. The 6’4” point guard will be forced to play off the ball more than he’s used to, sharing the court with Ulis and Briscoe.

“I’ve played the four and five, it doesn’t matter what position I’m in,” Murray said. “I’m pretty comfortable playing off the ball or on the ball.”

Briscoe, a guard who has great athleticism and ball handling, also feels comfortable playing alongside Murray and Ulis.

“I think I can fit in pretty well. I’ve done it before; I can do it again. And actually I think it’s gonna be really fun,” Briscoe said.

Two other guards who will be sharing time this season are Matthews and Mulder.

Matthews, whom many have compared to DeAndre Liggins, is a solid driver and can finish around the rim. Mulder, the junior college transfer, is known for his smooth outside shot.

“Charles, he could be one of those finishers where we’re all making plays and he is the guy getting the ball in the basket,” Calipari said. “What (Mulder) does is he can shoot the ball. He’s a catch-and-shoot guy. He’s a good athlete. And he’s got to find his way, just like Charles Matthews has got to find his way.”

Labissiere and Humphries bring to the power forward and center positions are two different styles of play.

Labissiere has the ability to block a shot on one end and sink a jumper from the elbow on the other, while Humphries likes to play physical on the low-post and wear down defenders.

“Now, for us to be what we can be as a team, (Labissiere’s) got to have a presence. Like people got to know, ‘Oh man, look at this kid.’ And then he makes a jump hook, he makes a jump shot. He’s really skilled,” Calipari said. “But you start saying, ‘This kid’s for real.’ He’s basically like Karl.”

Calipari has so many weapons this year that it could be another difficult task for him to mix and match players within the lineup. Each player brings something different to the court, and he knows his player’s differences could lead to one similarity — winning.

“All these kids are different. They have different mental makeups. They have different work capacities. They have different toughness about them because of how they were brought up.”