LEXINGTON — If John Calipari had his way, Kentucky would be having a scrimmage against another team rather than playing Transylvania University tonight in Rupp Arena.
That way the UK coach could control more factors and dictate more what his players might accomplish. However, he knows exhibition games are a financial way of life at UK.
“You can’t do it here (have scrimmages). When you get 23,000 people here it is just impossible to say ‘$700,000, don’t worry, play a scrimmage coach.’ You can’t have anybody in the building (for a scrimmage). You can’t keep score, no media can see it, and it’s just a scrimmage. Most teams are playing at least one, some are even playing two,” said Calipari.
Calipari’s players are just glad to have an opponent, even a Division III¿opponent, to play against after some fierce battles in practice the last two weeks.
“It will be good going against someone different. With me and Darius (Miller), though, there are some wars in practice, but it’ll be good to play somebody different,” freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Calipari understands his freshmen — Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer — could be a bit distracted in their first official Rupp Arena appearance.
“Those kids will be so anxious to get in the game I don’t think they are going to listen to anybody,” Calipari joked. “All four of them are good kids.”
They are also special players and make up the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for a reason.
“Kyle Wiltjer is a really good player; he has such a good feel and runs the court well. With Anthony, I’ve come up with a new zone offense I’ve never used before — leave Anthony under the basket and the rest run around him and throw him a lob when you can. He had his teeth on the rim the other day,” Calipari said.
“Michael’s practice the other day was one of the best practices I have ever seen from any player I’ve ever coached. He’s just vicious. He drove baseline, got by two guys, two guys grabbed his arm, Anthony pinned his shot against the glass, and he grabbed his own rebound, got blocked again, grabbed his rebound and laid it in. I just stopped practice and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ If you go in there with him you better do anything you can because you know he will.”
Teague says the team has already improved since last week’s high-scoring Blue-White scrimmage.
“We started taking more pride on defense, that’s all it was. We just started giving more effort, helping each other out more, not leaving each other on an island,” he said. “On offense, it’s difficult. We’re doing a lot of pick-and-rolls and just trying to soak in everything he’s saying.”
Calipari said his team still have the “same issues” defensively it did before, especially with defensive rebounding. He also says Transylvania could present some problems for his team.
“I watched them on tape. They are really organized, they play tough, they make you make decisions on what to do and they shoot the ball well,” Calipari said before Tuesday’s practice. “We are playing a game tomorrow, against a good team with a good coach, but it’s different from playing a scrimmage.”
Calipari says he is nowhere close to settling on a starting lineup and his players indicated the coach still has not done a lot of experimenting with different combinations in practice yet.
“I think what will happen is we will play a couple exhibition games and everyone will know. I don’t care what year he is, how old he is, color, whatever; you’ll all see who should be in there,” Calipari said. “Who should be in the game at the end is probably more important. I probably have seven starters.”
Even better for Calipari is that senior Eloy Vargas is dramatically improving after barely playing last year.
“He’s not the same player. I got on him the other day and said, ‘You are way better, still haven’t earned minutes but you are getting there.’ He started coming in early and late at night to get shots up, all of the sudden you see Eloy is trying to work his way into minutes,” Calipari said. “I told him if it takes me to build your self-confidence then the minute I get on you, and I will, then all that is gone.
“If you build your own self-esteem and self-confidence then no one can take that away from you since you earned it and developed it.”