LEXINGTON, Ky. — This time of year, John Calipari’s standard line about his latest reloaded roster is that he still has no idea exactly how the team will play. But entering the 2016-17 season, Kentucky’s coach and players already seem to agree on at least their general style.
“Fast,” said guard Isaiah Briscoe. “Quick,” said forward Tai Wynyard. “Speed,” said wing Wenyen Gabriel.
“We’re not going to stop,” forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “We’re going to maul the ball on defense, get up and down the court in transition, Bam (Adebayo) is going to dunk a lot. It’s going to be a fun team to watch.”
SEC Country asked every player at Kentucky’s media day on Thursday to describe how these Wildcats will play in a sentence and every answer was nearly identical — save a few individual flourishes.
“I think it’ll blow people’s minds,” center Isaac Humphries said.
“That’s another sentence,” Humphries continued. “Come on. Why? Because we’re all very talented this year again, we’re super quick again, and everyone has an IQ. It all just kind of works together. I feel like we’re just a very well-oiled machine already, and it’s kind of scary to me where we’re going to go.”
It doesn’t scare Calipari. It excites him. He’s whistling on the way to work again, imagining the possibilities with a roster full of long, athletic players who can run the floor. The likely starting backcourt of Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk is about as turbo-charged as it gets.
Five-star forwards Adebayo, Killeya-Jones and Gabriel are all nimble big men, as is senior Derek Willis.
“We should be a fast team. Our bigs are fast. Our guards are fast,” Calipari said. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Adebayo “flies up and down the court. Flies. Literally, we can go boom, bing, lob, dunk, and it’s him.”
Per usual, the Wildcats coach then went on to list everything his team still doesn’t know, all the advanced plays he hasn’t even begun to install. They couldn’t tell you what pick-and-roll defense means, Calipari says. They couldn’t execute an out-of-bounds play to save their lives right now.
He joked that for the jump ball, he just hoped they would know to gather around the circle. But …
“If you’re 10,000 feet looking down,” Calipari said, “I would say we’re going to be a mauling, helping, rotating, shot-blocking team. Probably picks the ball up at half court because we can. On offense, a team that tries to score within three seconds and, if not, is doing something to attack the rim or throw it to the post. If that’s not there, probably some sort of pick-and-roll or give it to somebody who can jump this high (raising his hand) or get a jump shot off if you can’t get something easy.
“At 10,000 feet, I’m going to say that’s what it would look like.”
In other words, fairly fast and formidable. In still other words, Calipari said he would be “disappointed if in February this isn’t the best defensive team.” Because it is built to smother. So in a sentence, how will these Wildcats play?
“One word would be great,” Fox said. “Style-wise? Fast, definitely. Defensively, just try to speed up the game, make the ballhandler feel uncomfortable, make him play outside of what he wants to do. And then offensively, once we grab a defensive rebound, we’re gone.”