Kentucky coach John Calipari scheduled this month’s trip to Canada and the 10 practices preceding the sojourn to get his heralded newcomer class adapted to his dribble-drive motion offense, increase the roles of his returning players and have the team bond.
Two days into practice down in advance of the three-day trip Aug. 15-17 to Windsor, Ontario, and Calipari can claim that at least two of the three goals will likely occur.
The one in doubt is how many of the newcomers will be able to play in Canada due to injuries and eligibility issues.
Calipari said freshman forward Terrence Jones is out with an ankle injury and might not be able to play in Canada. Jones would still go on the trip. The 6-9 Jones was a huge get for Calipari after Jones initially committed to Washington out of Jefferson High in Oregon. Jones will likely be one of the top producers from the wing.
Enes Kanter, a heralded 6-9 center out of Turkey, was “more skilled than I thought,’’ Calipari said. Kanter is academically eligible, according to Calipari, but is still going through his amateurism clearance. Calipari doesn’t expect a hiccup for the season but Kanter might not be cleared to play prior to the trip.
Calipari said Poole, like Kanter, was more skilled with the ball than he had projected. He said Knight was a better athlete than he had predicted and Lamb had a great feel for playing how fast the Wildcats want to play this season.
“But it’s been just two days so I’m throwing a lot of stuff at them,’’ Calipari said.
Calipari singled out his returnees in rising junior wing Darius Miller (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 33.6 3s), junior wing DeAndre Liggins (3.8 ppg, 31.8 on 3s), sophomore forward Jon Hood (1.2 ppg, 0.7 rpg) and senior forward Josh Harrellson (1.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg), who have all improved over the summer. They’ll have to contribute quite a bit after the Wildcats lost five players early to the NBA draft following an SEC title, 35 wins and an Elite Eight appearance.
Calipari announced on his website Sunday night that rising sophomore Darnell Dodson wouldn’t return this season. That shouldn’t come as a shock since Calipari was non-committal on Dodson in the spring. Dodson was the sixth-leading scorer at six points a game and shot 34.7 on 3s, making a team-high 50 last season. The Wildcats were only 33.3 percent on 3s last season.
Calipari said Knight, Miller and Liggins are making 3s in practice while Lamb is hitting runners. It’s early, way early, but Calipari doesn’t seem too fazed with the departure of the 3-point shooting Dodson. He has replacements, albeit inexperienced ones on the wing.
“Teaching the dribble drive goes against everything these guys have learned,’’ said Calipari, who didn’t run it as much last season with the quick-footed John Wall pushing the offense from one end to another. “When they’re driving they have to look at a few things. It’s not just beating your man. That’s a given. What am I doing? Am I scoring and if not where are they coming from and how is the shifting defense going to affect me?’’
Calipari said he’s also putting in a fair amount of his defensive approach to get ahead in the fall.
“As much as anything I want to see them compete and come together,’’ Calipari said of the practices and the trip. “I want them to respect each other and see the veterans take on leadership.’’
The Wildcats will be down nine players from last season now that Dodson is gone. Kentucky will play the University of Windsor on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. at the St. Denis Centre in Windsor, followed up by a 7 p.m. game against the Western Mustangs on Aug. 16 with the trip concluding against Windsor again at 11 a.m. on Aug. 17.