Gillispie’s boot camp prepares Cats for tournament run

Billy Gillispie called it boot camp.

In the weeks leading up to Big Blue Madness, before the UK basketball team was allowed to practice as a team, the UK basketball players were already at work strengthening their endurance.

Senior guard Joe Crawford said boot camp sometimes started as early as 5:30 a.m. Freshman forward Patrick Patterson said his feet bled through his socks several times after conditioning. Senior guard Ramel Bradley said it brought the Cats together as a family, and freshman guard Alex Legion noted that after it finally ended, all he wanted to do was rejoice.

The Cats start their regular season tonight against Central Arkansas in the opening round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, and although Gillispie said the team’s conditioning still needs to improve, he is pleased with the players’ stamina so far.

“They’re in really good condition for this point in the season,” Gillispie said. “They’re learning how to play through four- or five-minute periods in the games, and you can only do that through experience. No matter how much you can run or practice, it’s different.”

The Cats conditioning could be a factor in the 2K Sports Classic. UK is scheduled to play back-to-back nights, taking on Central Arkansas tonight and either Alabama A&M or Gardner-Webb tomorrow.

Patterson admitted he became fatigued at times in the exhibition season, but he said playing back-to-back games should not wear on him. The freshman forward is a veteran of the summer AAU circuit in which it is not unusual to play three or four games in a single day.

“We did it back in AAU, playing back-to-back games in a day,” Patterson said. “(Back-to-back nights) shouldn’t be anything.”

Though the AAU circuit has grown since Gillispie first joined the college ranks as an assistant coach in 1993, he said it still takes time for freshmen to adjust to playing in a tournament style at the college level.

“No disrespect to summer basketball,” Gillispie said, “but it is a little bit more intense at this level.”

UK is one of four hosts for the opening rounds of the 2K Sports Classic. Connecticut, Memphis and Oklahoma are also hosting, and the winner of each region will advance to New York City for the final two rounds of the tournament at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15 and 16.

Though UK is the favorite in the Lexington Region, Gillispie said the Cats are taking nothing for granted.

“I know on the outside everyone thinks, ‘You’re Kentucky, and it’s Central Arkansas,’ ” Gillispie said. “But that’s not the way it is anymore in college sports because there are so many good players everywhere. It’s a real scary team.”

Central Arkansas, the alma mater of former NBA player Scottie Pippen, is in its second season as a Division I team. The Bears finished 10-20 last season but boasted a formidable defense, holding opponents to just 41.5 percent shooting from the field while blocking 5.5 shots per game.

UK may seem like the Goliath of the Lexington Region, but Gillispie insists that his team will not take that attitude into the tournament.

“I’ve never been Goliath,” Gillispie said. “I’ve always been a hunter. I’ll never be a part of the group that is going to be hunted. We’re going to be the hunter. I don’t care who has the best players or what the conditions are. It makes no difference. Our team is going to play hungry.”

Harris out indefinitely

Sophomore forward Ramon Harris is out indefinitely after injuring his left foot Saturday against Seattle.

Harris had an MRI on Sunday and Gillispie said he was uncertain about how much time the forward will miss.

The Anchorage, Alaska, native, who was already recovering from a broken nose, started both exhibition games but did not score in either contest.