LEXINGTON, Ky. — If his well-muscled, 6-foot-10, 260-pound body didn’t give it away, or if his nickname, which has altogether replaced his actual first name, didn’t clue you in, Bam Adebayo is a physically intimidating giant. But his coaches at Kentucky want him to be a little less gentle.
After Adebayo scored 18 points on just six shot attempts Saturday against South Carolina, John Calipari told the freshman forward he was too nice.
“I said, ‘I would strangle a couple of these guys that aren’t throwing you the ball. If I was you, I would. You’re so nice, you don’t say anything,’ ” Calipari said, adding a simple command for Adebayo’s teammates: “Throw him the ball.”
Shooting guard Malik Monk has attempted 149 more shots than Adebayo this season. Point guard De’Aaron Fox has attempted 94 more. Combo guard Isaiah Briscoe has 37 more. The Wildcats’ devastating dunk machine, who is shooting a team-high 61 percent from the field, has attempted the fourth-most shots on the team.
But some of that is on Adebayo, who is being prodded to demand the ball more often.
“I think that’s the finished product of what we are trying to do as a team,” said assistant coach Kenny Payne, who works with Kentucky’s big men and has a long history of bringing out their inner beast. “He’s too nice and too unselfish. I think that if he had a little bit of (former UK star) DeMarcus Cousins’ mentality, he changes the dynamics of this team.
“Every game, I’m telling him, ‘Take over the game for us. Dominate the game for us. Don’t sit back (for) five or six minutes where you don’t touch the ball and not say a word. That’s not who you are. That’s not how good you are. You’re a special basketball player. Go and dominate the game.’ ”
UP NEXT: Kentucky at Tennessee, 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (ESPN)
Teammates say they hear Payne barking that affirmation at Adebayo several times a day — in games, practices, even off the court. In some ways, Payne and Calipari are trying to deprogram a mentality they helped create. One of Calipari’s longtime bragging points has been that Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who were the first two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, took the fourth- and fifth-most shots on his national championship team.
“They’re trying to change that and make (Adebayo) a little bit more selfish for the benefit of the team,” freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “Him demanding more double-teams is good for the rest of the team, opens up the game, and him scoring, that interior scoring, is just huge for the whole team.”
Still, it’s rare to hear this coaching staff plead with a player to hog the ball. The secret to Kentucky’s success in the one-and-done era has been getting large collections of elite talent to buy into a system of sacrifice for the greater good. In that way, Adebayo, a top-10 recruit and potential NBA lottery pick, was a perfect fit for the program.
“He obviously wants the ball,” backup center Isaac Humphries said, “but we’re taught to be so unselfish and it’s a team thing here. It’s not about, ‘What am I doing for myself?’ That’s what we’ve been instilled with from Day 1. So honestly, I think it’s just that. Once they talk to him more and more, he’ll start to think about it more and more, and every time he catches it, he won’t think about an unselfish play. He’ll think, ‘Just score.’ ”
Adebayo is averaging 13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in only 26.9 minutes per game. He’s gotten double-digit shot attempts just five times in 19 games. The one time he took more than a dozen shots, he scored a career-high 25 points at Ole Miss.
So while he might be too nice to ask for the ball, he’s hardly shy – or delicate – once he gets it.
“We call it White Line Fever in Australia,” Humphries said. “It’s like as soon as you cross over the line, you become a different person and you don’t have any regard for anything. And I know he doesn’t have any regard for human bodies, because I’ve caught elbows in eyes.”
So now we know who doesn’t want Adebayo asking for the ball more: anyone who still has to play Kentucky.