By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
The start of the College Basketball season is just around the corner. At least it is for UK fans. Exhibition style — in the Bahamas. Who could ask for a better start to the month of August?
The great thing about the beginning of Kentucky’s basketball season is that it is just like an artist starting out with a new, white clean canvas. Nothing on it. All the new players are like a fresh palette of paint colors. Ready to be mixed and applied to the canvas to form a masterpiece. And by the end of each season you either have a “Starry Night” by van Gogh or a very pretty landscape by Bob Ross. Both are great to look at and enjoy although one ends up being much more valuable than the other. Think of the 2012 season as UK’s last “Starry Night”.
Also with the start of each new season every fan is eager to get to know all the new players. Examine their games. Understand who will be the leaders. Who will shoot the ball well and who can hit the clutch shot at the end of the game? Who will be the lockdown defender that always takes on the opponent’s best offensive player? Who can and will do the dirty work for the team – dive on the floor for 50/50 balls and grab those tough, contested rebounds?
Knowing that basketball fans are interested in what type team UK could have next season and knowing that next season actually starts the first week of August it seemed like a good idea to look at the UK roster for 2018-2019 and try to add a little insight into what the make up of the team might look like and who might be the players to watch during the exhibition season.
So without further chit chat let’s dig in. In looking at any basketball team I like to first look at the guard play. Specifically point guard play. Here’s why. In my opinion most very successful teams have a point guard that is a high basketball IQ, pass first, score second-type player who provides consistent leadership to the team on and off the floor. A guy that the entire teams trusts to get them in the correct set when the chips are down and someone needs to step up and make a play. A great point guard makes everyone around him better. He gets the ball to the player with the hot hand. He reads the defense and knows where the best match ups are and then gets his guys in position to take advantage of those matchups. He is – to use a trite but true saying – the coach on the floor.
That’s why it’s so difficult each year for UK teams to create a masterpiece by the end of the season. Each year a new point guard – with no college experience – has to learn a new system with new players and while millions of viewers are watching his every stroke he needs to paint a masterpiece – one that is better than the other 351 schools in Division 1 that are trying to do the same thing.
So what about this year’s point guard candidates? It appears that John Calipari will be choosing a point guard from a group that consists of Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. In looking at each player’s mixtapes from high school – Hagans and Quickley from last year and Green from two years ago – it seems like Hagans is the most athletic while Quickley and Green are the better ball handlers and shooters.
Taken individually I could see Hagans playing as an athletic, very fast point guard and performing the role of a player that distributes the ball, plays in-your-face defense, gets out on the break and scores in transition. He reminds me a lot of Collin Sexton, the point guard for Alabama last year.
Quickley seems more like a player that would be a shoot-first point guard that has a very good touch on the pull up jump shot or floater in the lane and can also hit a high percentage of three-point shots. I could see him playing the point more against zone defenses.
That leaves Quade Green. Quade is kind of an enigma in that his high school highlights showed a player that is a smooth ball handler, very good jump shot off the bounce and can also consistently hit a spot up three but at six feet even he didn’t look like a guy that will take it to the basket, mix it up inside and finish. The puzzling part of Quade’s game is that in watching him last year he seemed to become more passive as the season wore on when he had the ball. Or maybe it was the emergence of Gilgeous-Alexander as a team leader at the point guard position. Either way – as a sophomore with a year of experience – I look for Green to have a breakout season this year probably as more of a shooting guard similar to Doron Lamb on the 2012 team.
Since two of the players have yet to play against older college or international players it is difficult to judge how quickly they can acclimate to a more physical style of play and how well their games will translate in college. One thing is for sure – John Calipari seems to have a point guard type for every conceivable defense. He has a couple that can create their own mid-range shots, hit the three or penetrate off the dribble and shoot a floater in the lane. He has another that can get out in transition, play physical defense, distribute the ball and generally create havoc for the opponent’s point guard.
You have to like all the options and when you pair each of them with complementary players like Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker it makes their games that much more difficult to defend against. As an opposing coach I wouldn’t want to know I had to go up against any of those three guys running the point with the possibility of them being able to create their own shot or pass it off to a Johnson, Herro or Baker on the wing.
And if the defense tries to spread out and cover the wing shooters it makes it difficult to stop a PJ Washington or Reid Travis from finishing inside, not to mention an EJ Montgomery that can score from anywhere on the floor.
All in all if John Calipari can get one of these point guards to step up and provide quality leadership to this team by early February or March they will be a difficult out for anyone. And if all three adjust quickly to being the guy that is expected to lead the team when they are on the floor then look out because this team could be as good as any Calipari has had since his arrival at Kentucky in 2009.
Next up: Shooting guards