One week after Big Blue Madness, the Kentucky Wildcats returned to Rupp Arena for the annual Blue-White game. There is far less fanfare than Madness and on this particular night, it was especially low key as the band, cheerleaders, and dance team had all gone to Georgia in anticipation of Saturday’s football game against the Bulldogs.
It was such a casual affair that, prior to the game beginning, Coach John Calipari came out on the court with a microphone and announced to the fans that “we’re still playing a little short” (Dontai Allen is still not practicing with the team) and the players needed another few minutes to warm-up. “Then we’ll have a scrimmage and, are you ready for this, ZONE defense!”
But what do we really learn from these scrimmages? Quite frankly, not a lot. The players are not going to go full tilt and risk injury. There is also no sense of real competition — even if you lose, UK wins, right? And defense? Not much chance of seeing any of that in a scrimmage. Except…
There was zone defense. No, that is not a typo. It wasn’t a perfect 2-3 zone and it wasn’t highly effective (yet), but there they were. Cal’s Cats playing zone. It wasn’t because he wanted to teach it to players that would never play a second of a zone in the NBA. “But we need to win games,” the coach explained.
After the game, I asked Immanuel Quickley if we could realistically expect to see the team play a zone in a real game this season and his response was an emphatic, “Absolutely NOT!” So, stay tuned for this as the season progresses.
On a more serious note, Quickley was asked what he attributed to his significant changes in his attitude and on-court performance. “Putting God first. Always starting with a daily devotional. More time in the gym. But mostly just keeping God first.”
For all the things we didn’t learn, there were some things we did learn.
Nate Sestina has a beautiful shot and he is a legitimate long-range threat. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley have the potential to do some serious offensive damage to teams this season. We already know Hagans can impact the opposition defensively and I believe Quickley has also grown tremendously on both ends of the court. Junior Nick Richards just carries himself differently. He exudes confidence and was the only player with a double-double. Maxey, Brooks, Whitney, Juzang, and Montgomery each had some highlights and should be more than valuable pieces to the Wildcat puzzle. As Calipari said, “They smelled the popcorn, they had numbers on their backs, and there were people in the seats,” which was in reference to the uneven play that was the rule for the majority of the game. “If I can just get a couple more guys to play with the same intensity as Nate (Sestina)…” Calipari’s voice trailed off.
So we had some good, we had some inconsistency, and we had some zone. Most of all, for the 13,000 that showed up, we had some fun and we have every reason to believe this season will bring us a lot more of that. Enjoy the ride!
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