On Sunday night ESPNU broadcast two hours of Kentucky basketball practicing. It was our first look at the Wildcats this season after losing a record seven players to the NBA Draft and having to reload yet again under head coach John Calipari.
What we did see, though, is something that should have Kentucky fans excited for 2015-16.
Now, obviously take practice with a minor grain of salt as it’s not running up and down like a game. But, we did see 5 on 5 and 3 on 3 action that was played at a high intensity, something that Calipari has always said he expects from his practices. Add the fact all 30 NBA teams had scouts there and those guys who want to get drafted go that much harder in front of them.
If you watched the practice you realized just how good Tyler Ulis is at running a team from the point guard spot. Despite the fact he’s likely the third best NBA point guard on the roster, Ulis is the best college point guard for Kentucky and a top-3 point guard in the country with Kris Dunn and Monte Morris.
Ulis showed off his skillset, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. What stuck out the most to me watching was a two play scenario during the 3v3 portion of the practice. On the first play, Ulis drove the right side of the lane and used a running floater, which I suspect we’ll see a lot of this year. Being only 5’8” Ulis has to be creative to score in the lane and used the shot with ease over a large defender.
The next play after dumping the ball into the post, Ulis moved and spotted up from deep, calmly drilling a shot from behind the arc. If he’s able to score like that during the season he becomes that more of a value on the offensive side of the ball for the Wildcats.
Ulis also showed great chemistry with Skal Labissiere, which was showcased during the 3v3 event when they were on the same team. Whenever Ulis dumped the ball to Labissiere in the post, he relocated and Labissiere almost always knew where he was to pass the ball out to the wing.
There was a ton of pick and roll action, especially in the high post where Labissiere showed off his midrange jumper and Ulis knew when to give him the ball. Expect to see that a lot this year, once Labissiere gets cleared by the NCAA as he’s still being investigated for an amateurism issue according to Andy Katz on the broadcast last night.
The other big takeaway is it looks like there might be a surprise in the starting lineup. During 5v5 drill the white team had Ulis, Labissiere, Alex Poythress, Jamal Murray and Charles Matthews, who is the surprise. Many people expected to see Isaiah Briscoe there, but Matthews is a scrappy defender who looks to attack the hole. He’s going to be a fan favorite in Lexington for the way he hustles and reminds people of a DeAndre Liggins type of player.
If that’s the starting five, look for Briscoe to be a Manu Ginobili type player and be high-scoring off the bench playing starters minutes.