Calipari: Cats have roster full of eager listeners and learners

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today Nov 9, 2023

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky coach John Calipari has a team of willing listeners and likes the way his team has followed instructions during the preseason.

“These guys are trying and will listen and we’ll coach,” he said. “I told the staff, they are going to do whatever we tell them. It’s unbelievable. So let’s make sure we are telling them the right thing, because they are doing what we’re saying. And they are trying. And we have got some dogs.”

He also trusts his squad in the early going and has been impressed with the way the Wildcats have played at a random pace, which he says, matches the team’s personnel, which includes a mix of veterans and newcomers.

“There’s not one way to do this, you have got to do it this way (or that way),” he said. “There’s not one way. You look at your team and you say ‘what’s the best way for them to play?’ And normally, you know, it takes me time. We had Toronto (over the summer), so I had a head start. I had a little look at this and how we are trying to do this.”

Point guard D.J. Wagner likes the pace on offense, which he says gives the players more flexibility to freelance. Its also provided a big boost on defense. No. 16 Kentucky (1-0) collected 13 steals in an 86-46 win over New Mexico State in the season opener earlier this week.

“I feel like, just how many, coach always says all the time, we’ve got so many players that can dribble, pass and shoot,” he said. “We are all great basketball players, we don’t really need a system like that. We just like to hoop, so, like you said, going on those runs, getting out in transition, finding each other, just stuff like that, making basketball plays.”

Antonio Reeves also has been impressed with his new teammates and added, “The younger guys are finally getting it, playing at the collegiate level.

“They played really well for the first game.” Reeves said. “There were no nerves. They are adjusting to the pace of the game really well. In transition, those guys were flying down the court.”

Reeves added they also are “hungry mentally, they’re tough and play with a lot of grit.

“They just focus from the start of the game until the end of the game. That’s what I really like about this team. … We’ve got a lot of good players. We all look for each other out there.”

In the opener, five players — four freshmen — paved the way for Kentucky in their debut. Newcomers Rob Dillingham (17), Wagner (13), Justin Edwards (12) and Reed Sheppard (12)  while Reeves added 11.

Kentucky will take on Texas A&M Commerce in its final tuneup Friday night before Tuesday’s showdown against top-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago. The Lions (0-2) lost to Texas A&M (78-46) and Texas Tech (73-46) in their first two games.

Gametracker: Texas A&M Commerce at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network+ and UK Radio Network.