Calipari believes in UK bench players

There’s the six, and then there’s the rest.

UK’s top six players in the rotation are established in their roles and expectations. The dropoff to the rest is still pronounced, despite the fact that UK has been searching for a seventh man to consistently step up.

“Right now, there’s just that drop,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We have to close the gap between the top six and the three other guys.”

The disparity was in full display against Auburn. Terrence Jones came off the bench in spectacular fashion, scoring 35 points in UK’s victory. (Calipari said Jones could “possibly” begin the game against LSU on the bench because he liked UK’s energy to start the game.) But the rest of the bench turned in another uninspiring performance. Jon Hood, Eloy Vargas and Stacey Poole combined for zero points in 19 minutes of play.

Calipari has been personally working them out before practice. But it’s been one week of trying to break years-old habits.

“It’s not working right now,” Calipari said. “But it’s early. … They all have some habits you have to create, and others you have to eliminate. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

The workouts are a mixture of defining their games and conditioning.

“One of them, I won’t tell you which one, after 15 minutes threw up,” Calipari said. “So that’s where they are right now. They’re far behind.”

The workouts may be tough, but not any tougher than conference and postseason games will be.

“If you can’t take me, how are you going to go on a high-level game that’s on national television and make a tough play?” Calipari asked.

While UK has an established sixth man – usually Doron Lamb, although Jones proved quite capable as a substitute against Auburn – Calipari is looking for the rest of the bench to make an impact. While the question of how effective a short bench can be has persisted all year long, Calipari is adamant in his belief that the others will improve.

“My whole mindset is Stacey and Jon Hood and Eloy are going to help us before this season’s over,” Calipari said.

UK fans may recognize the need for a bench player to emerge as a consistent presence. When Vargas grabbed a rebound, the crowd audibly reacted. Calipari noted the weirdness of that happening – his player grabs one rebound and the crowd applauds. But he liked it.

“That’s our crowd trying to help coach this kid,” Calipari said. “That’s our crowd knowing, Eloy, you got to get balls. Those were our 25,000 coaches that sit up in the stands behind me.”

Creating a post presence

UK is still developing a consistently effective post game. Josh Harrellson has proven capable at times, as has Terrence Jones, and even Darius Miller has shown he can score in the paint. But the ability to create offense when it’s needed is something UK is still searching for.

“If you don’t have post presence, your teams are a fraud,” Calipari said. “If you can’t throw it to the post and make someone double team you, or score the ball.”

Calipari mentioned the Georgia game as an example of the lack of post presence hurting the team. Jones was content to shoot threes, and Miller went 2-for-11, despite getting multiple looks under the basket.

The lack of production made UK reliant on perimeter play.

“Then you’re relying on all jump shots and drives,” Calipari said. “That’s why we’re trying to create some post presence or ways to score inside.”

Jones especially has been urged to take up residence down low. After the Louisville game, Calipari said he was displeased with Jones posting up so far away from the basket. After his 35-point outburst against Auburn, Calipari wanted him to tone down the three-pointers (he shot 4-for-5).

“Shoot them when I’m open but don’t settle,” Jones said on how his coaches tell im to play. “If I can drive, drive. They want me to be a post presence, so post more than shoot.”

UK plays LSU Saturday, a game Calipari said UK would have lost last year if they didn’t have DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson thriving inside.

“Neither are here this year,” Calipari said.

Calipari to discuss image of black athlete

Head coach John Calipari will participate in a discussion on the current image of the black athlete on ESPN, airing Friday from 6-8 p.m.

‘Content of Character,’ held in town hall format, is part of ESPN’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.