LEXINGTON, Ky. – Isaac Humphries’ natural position is center. The 7-footer from Australia has never really played anywhere else. But he’s also never played with a Dwight Howard clone like Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo, so some adjustment is necessary.
After the Wildcats’ second and final exhibition game Sunday, coach John Calipari said if the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Adebayo “plays with that kind of motor, and he can do it for a long time in the game, (others) better play that way or I can’t take his minutes and give them to you, whoever you are. I mean, he’s going to play every minute he can play.”
Thus, with Adebayo and his boulder-sized shoulders looking like the most intimidating option for Kentucky at center, Humphries has been working to learn the nuances of power forward and playing out away from the basket a little more. The sophomore who averaged 8.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes last season – while playing just 9.1 minutes per game – wants to have a major role.
“Bam is doing really well. Everyone can see that,” Humphries said. “I’m very comfortable with the five, because I’ve played that my whole life and all of last year, but learning the four just makes me a little more versatile and I can do more things for this team. Playing with Bam, it’s great, because we’re both really big, we both can dominate inside and we’re kind of interchangeable. He can come out (from the paint), I can go in.”
In exhibition play against Division II Clarion and NAIA Asbury – games Kentucky won by a combined 150 points – Adebayo hit 10 of 14 shots and produced 22 points, 20 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 34 minutes. Humphries hit 5 of 10 shots and had 10 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 4 steals in 27 minutes.
As the second-ranked Wildcats prepare to host Stephen F. Austin in Friday’s season opener (7 p.m. on SEC Network), Calipari likes what he’s seen when both are on the court.
“You’ve got two really good passing big men,” the coach said. “And they’re big. Now you’re 7-foot, 6-10. Both of them are skilled. Bam can play out on the floor defensively as well as anyone on the team, so that’s why they can play (together). It’s more defense. Can they guard the guys they have to guard? I think they can.”
Calipari said he expects to have an eight- or nine-man rotation this season and then “go deeper if I need to.” Some of that will depend on matchups and who is playing well at the time. Sacha Killeya-Jones, a 5-star freshman power forward, and Humphries “both deserve to play; maybe there’s a game where Isaac is better than Sacha (and) maybe there’s another game where Sacha is better in the game because of the opponent.”
This much is clear: Humphries, who slimmed down and shaped up dramatically in the offseason, will do whatever is necessary to scratch out minutes on this super-talented team. And the fact that he has to work for time is, in itself, surely encouraging to Kentucky coaches and fans who watched the Wildcats’ frontcourt struggle mightily last season.
“We’ve obviously got a good group of bigs this year,” which includes versatile 6-9 forwards Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel, Humphries said, “so fighting every day is really important. I’m fighting every day against everyone. I understand that minutes are not given.”
He worked this summer to ensure his jump shot is sharp enough to step out and hit mid-range buckets and his ball handling is secure enough to put it on the floor and attack. The adjustment to that from a more “around-the-basket oriented” center position for Kentucky – whose biggest role in the offense is setting screens up high and finishing down low – hasn’t been easy. But it could create nightmares for opponents.
“We’re both really big,” Humphries said. “I don’t want to say like twin towers or something like that, but it’s an asset to have both really big players being able to do both those positions.”