LEXINGTON, Ky. – This is going to happen a lot, probably, the opposing coach gushing about Kentucky’s latest collection of basketball freaks. And eventually we’ll tune it out, the superlatives all running together into a yada, yada, yada.
But on opening night of the 2016-17 season, it’s still interesting to hear what the other side thinks of these new Wildcats. Stephen F. Austin coach Kyle Keller, who was an assistant at Texas A&M last season, thinks quite a lot.
“I think Coach Calipari has the team that is advertised, for sure,” Keller said after second-ranked Kentucky barely broke a sweat on its way to an 87-64 victory over the Lumberjacks at Rupp Arena on Friday night. “You can’t simulate their length and quickness on defense. They’re going to have a lot of fun with their team.”
Ironically, just before John Calipari followed Keller on the podium and scolded his freshman-heavy squad for lackadaisical defense and lackluster rebounding – SFA won the battle of the boards 36-28 – the visiting coach raved about the Wildcats’ effort.
“It’s amazing,” Keller said. “He makes young kids play old really fast. He’s special coach. It’s a special gift to hold kids accountable and play defense like that. To get them to buy in and play for the team doesn’t happen in these kids’ generation with them being coddled like they have been.
“I hope everybody appreciates what he does with those kids, because it’s really, really good.”
His former team, Texas A&M, shared the regular-season SEC championship with Kentucky just a few months ago. Keller had a front-row seat for the show Tyler Ulis put on while leading those Wildcats.
So what does he think of UK’s new backcourt combo: freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk alongside sophomore Isaiah Briscoe?
“I thought Ulis was one of the greatest college point guards ever,” Keller said, “but I think De’Aaron and Monk with their speed, quickness and athleticism – and I told Briscoe during the game, ‘Dude, you’ve gotten so much better’ – with those three cats on the perimeter? Whew. You have to guard them. They’re just really, really good.”
He proceeded to call senior forward Derek Willis, who scored 10 points in the game’s first four minutes, “the perfect stretch four for their team,” and remark over 7-footer Isaac Humphries’ improvement and 6-10 freshman Bam Adebayo’s stature and 6-9 rookie Wenyen Gabriel’s versatility.
“We don’t have anyone to guard him,” Keller said. “And he’s going back and forth, Coach Cal is just toying with us – (Gabriel) and Willis. I’ve been out here a few times, and I’ve never seen that court look as small as it did today, as long as those jokers were.”