How Kentucky ends up playing this season remains to be seen. But however John Calipari ends up using the variety of tools at his disposal, Wildcat guards are going to be a big part of it.
UK’s backcourt hogged the spotlight during Tuesday’s Blue-White Scrimmage (but not the ball) and set the tone from tip to buzzer.
Tyler Ulis orchestrated everything as expected.
“It felt good to get out there, control the team, see what we can do and just learn more about our team,” Ulis said.
The sophomore point guard showed why Coach Cal has said Ulis might be the best floor general he has ever coached, scoring 10 points and dishing out 15 assists. Ulis was the exception at the scrimmage, spending the entire night on the White team, which won for the first time since 2000 in the annual event, 74-66.
Ulis didn’t discriminate in sharing the ball, passing out assists to eight different teammates. And to boot, his assists led to four 3-pointers, seven dunks and two layups. In other words, he put players in position to shoot the kind of shots they should be shooting.
“He makes the game so much easier for you,” said Charles Matthews, who played on the same AAU team as Ulis. “He’s one of those great players that can just slow the game down. He’s slows it down for you as well. Sometimes you’ll be so open, like, ‘Dang, I didn’t know you got me that open.’ He’s fun to play with.”
Ulis’ most regular benefactors were Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere, who were each on the receiving end of four of his assists. The point guard is already well on his way to developing chemistry with his post players.
“It comes with time,” Ulis said. “Just practicing with them throughout the year, I understand how Skal likes to play. I understand where Isaac can score and how Marcus likes to play and it’s just going to come along, more chemistry as we go through the season.”
The most memorable connections were with Labissiere, who threw down an alley-oop late in the game that invoked memories of Anthony Davis.
“He’s a great leader out there,” said Labissiere, who had game highs with 18 points and 11 rebounds. “He’s always looking for me, always telling me to run and get easy buckets. So I enjoy playing with him. I think he’s the best point guard in the country.”
The best point guard in the country, maybe, but not always the only point guard on the floor for Kentucky.
After the Blue team won the first half, 40-39, with Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray leading the way, the two freshmen moved to White to play alongside Ulis. The group had instructions to involve Labissiere, but showed signs of the havoc they could wreak together regardless as White outscored Blue 35-18 over the final 16:43 anyway.
“We need to get him the ball inside. And that kind of took away from the free flow, here we come, but you saw some of it,” Calipari said. “Those three, I thought Isaiah did good stuff today.”
Briscoe was impressive in totaling 16 points and five assists, showing a knack for getting to the rim and finishing through contact and over much taller defenders. Murray, meanwhile, had 17 points and six assists.
Murray’s scoring total was matched by Alex Poythress, who added seven rebounds in his first competitive action since a knee injury ended his 2014-15 season in December. Poythress buried three 3-pointers, but that should not change the senior’s approach to working his way back from injury.
“He made some shots,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, if that takes away from his rebounding — get that back first — then I would rather him not make any shots. Get that rebounding back. That’s going to bring your confidence in yourself physically. Go rebound every single ball, be a beast. Make an outlet. Fly down the court and get that first.”
Poythress was alongside those three guards and Labissiere in the second half, leading to speculation over whether Calipari has found his featured lineup, but don’t jump to any conclusions. They don’t matter much at this point anyway.
“I don’t know yet,” Calipari said. “I don’t know. Could be. I thought Charles did some stuff. I thought Derek (Willis) did some stuff. You look at this and you got to — the whole thing is how are we playing and what are those guys doing.”
For the third consecutive year, Calipari awarded two lucky students in attendance at the Blue-White Scrimmage with scholarships for the 2016 spring semester.
Kelsey Saylor an undeclared freshman from Corbin, Ky., and Jordan Evers a public health sophomore from Richmond, Va., were randomly selected to receive free tuition for the spring semester on behalf of UK’s head coach.
Calipari started the scholarship tradition at UK during the 2013-14 season, but previously did it during his days at UMass. Proceeds from the John Calipari Coaches’ Clinic will be used to fund the scholarships.