Halfway through Kentucky’s four-game vacation in the Bahamas, a couple of facts have emerged about John Calipari’s 2018-19 Wildcats. First, it’s a talented and deep Kentucky team, certainly as deep as any since the 2014-15 squad that threatened an undefeated season. Second, the best signs from this team have emerged off the court.
In Kentucky’s 85-61 win Wednesday against the Bahamas’ National Team, sophomore guard Quade Green struggled with his outside shot. Kentucky trailed early in the second half, but took control of the game despite a poor offensive performance from Green, who had two points on 1-for-11 shooting. So what did Green do? He came back to the arena, got up more shots, and did the same before Thursday’s game. The results? Green had 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting in Kentucky’s 91-68 victory over San Lorenzo de Almagro (a pro squad from Argentina).
After Kentucky’s victory, freshmen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro were both back in the gym, working on their shots. Kentucky fans who recall the 2012 title team’s “Breakfast Club” of early morning workout warriors have to be impressed with the writing on the wall.
— Darrell Bird (@DarrellBird) August 10, 2018
One person projecting an image of not putting too much stock in the games on this trip is Kentucky coach John Calipari, who ceded his head coaching role to assistant coaches Kenny Payne in the victory over the Bahamian squad, and Tony Barbee in the blowout of the Argentine team. But even if he’s not officially coaching, Calipari has to be encouraged by the depth of his young squad. Kentucky looks like the kind of team that could win games in many ways.
In the opening game, Kentucky’s shooting eye was off (UK shot 2-for-20 from 3-point range), so the Wildcats packed the ball inside and dominated in the post. Sophomore center Nick Richards, who looked lost for the second half of his freshman season, scored 19 points in 17 minutes, and showcased a soft shooting touch and a bevy of post moves. Richards has 29 points on the trip, courtesy of an 11-for-13 shooting mark. Sophomore forward P.J. Washington had 10 points in the opener, and freshman E.J. Montgomery had eight. Senior transfer Reid Travis struggled offensively, but did have 14 rebounds to help UK claim the backboard battle 57-45.
In Thursday’s game, Kentucky hit a 3 on the game’s opening possession, and went on to shoot 64 percent, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. Freshman guard Tyler Herro emerged as a particularly talented shooter. The somewhat under-the-radar Herro scored 22 Thursday, which gave him 38 points in the tour’s first two games. He also has made four 3-pointers. Forward Keldon Johnson drilled a pair of 3s, and with Green also shooting well, Kentucky dominated the game from the perimeter.
Two games into a nearly-meaningless preseason exhibition tour, Kentucky shows signs of being a great basketball team.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 10, 2018
They’ve showed one game of pounding and rebounding, and another of running and shooting … and each ended in 20-plus point victories.
With nine starter-worthy players to choose from (guard Jemarl Baker is sitting due to a minor knee injury), Calipari can watch combinations of players and consider his options for November. He’ll also be looking to see who is putting in the extra time in the gym — but if a couple days in the Bahamas are any indication, he’ll have plenty of names to choose from on that front.
It’s a long way to March, but Kentucky’s already putting in the extra time.