In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m extremely grateful for what could be the defining moment for this Kentucky basketball team—the “scrimmage from hell.”
Prior to the 81 – 45 dismantling of Morehead State in their season opener, Coach John Calipari claimed that his team had experienced the “worst scrimmage since I’ve been the coach here.” The debacle prompted Coach Cal to declare himself ready to push the panic button.
“I’m going to have to be the most patient soul on the earth when we start the season 0 – 6,” he quipped.
Upon hearing those words, the majority of BBN simply rolled their eyes. They know their coach is not only a bit prone to embellishment, exaggeration, and hyperbole, he’s even been known to throw out some Pinocchio-sized fibs every now and then (yeah right—he’s never seen the Chris Mack video).
Remember, this was a Kentucky team that supposedly never had a bad practice. How in the world–after just a couple of days–could they have suddenly morphed into a group of imbeciles who had no fight? Cynical Cat fans recognized this as a typical Coach Cal move–just trying to temper the high expectations he himself had previously built up.
Everyone can now relax. A team meeting after the practice evidently righted the ship. You can now throw the 0 – 6 start out the window. Not only did Kentucky win, but they also did it in surprisingly impressive fashion. Other than the walk on players who played out the final seconds, none of this year’s Cats had ever experienced time in a UK uniform. And yet, they played with a cohesiveness and energy level befitting some of Calipari’s best teams of the past.
Brandon Boston Jr. led all newcomers with 15 points and seven rebounds. Fellow freshmen Devin Askew and Terrence Clarke each chipped in with 12 points and paced UK in assists with four apiece. Creighton transfer Davion Mintz flaunted his deft outside shooting touch, tallying 10 points on 2-of-3 three-pointers and 4-of-4 from the foul line. Freshmen Isaiah Jackson and Cam’Ron Fletcher each scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. Graduate transfer Olivier Sarr had 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting with a team-high-tying two blocked shots.
In a never-before-seen, eerily socially distanced, concession-less Rupp Arena (official attendance capped at 3,075 masked, hungry, and thirsty patrons), Kentucky’s aggressive defense limited the Eagles to 34% shooting. The Wildcats never trailed, jumped out to an early lead, and never experienced those dreadful scoring droughts that have plagued the last couple of Calipari teams.
This quick start bodes extremely well for Kentucky fans. Calipari teams that stumble in the postseason usually have glaring weaknesses spotted right out of the gate. I know it’s only one game, but this team had no Achilles heels during the opening 40-minute credits of a possibly Covid-ravaged season. Let’s hope they get to strut their stuff because they’re definitely talented, apparently team-oriented, and will be exciting to watch.
With a marquee performance like they had, Calipari should go into panic mode more often. In fact, I told him just that in his postgame presser. He chuckled. I then even accused him of pulling our leg about the bad team scrimmage.
“NO, NO,” he quickly countered. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll send all of you the scrimmage tape and you will say, ‘How did that team on Sunday play like that and then come out on Wednesday and play like this?’ If I thought you wouldn’t share it with all our opponents, I would really like to do that.”
I’d love to see it, Coach. I promise I won’t share it with anyone. If this team goes on to accomplish something exceptionally special, I just want to have evidence of the event that started it all.
I’m just thankful for the chance to watch this team play basketball. They’re led by a coach who presses all the right motivational buttons and who’s able to make lemonade out of lemons. That’s why I’m especially thankful for the “scrimmage from hell.”
Let’s hope Kentucky can squeeze in a few more terrible practices before their game against Richmond on Sunday.