By LARRY VAUGHT
First media members put sophomore EJ Montgomery on the preseason all-Southeastern Conference team despite his limited success last year. Then Monday the SEC coaches did the same thing with their preseason all-conference selections.
Yet in Kentucky’s first two exhibition games Montgomery has just 13 points and nine rebounds (only one offensive) in 49 minutes — against Georgetown College and Kentucky State. He has five turnovers and three blocked shots.
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said after the second exhibition game that Montgomery was “trying to figure things out.” That’s a little hard to figure since Montgomery played in 37 games last year and averaged 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 points and 15.1 minutes per game. He even put his name briefly into the NBA draft and contemplated not even returning for his sophomore season.
“Everyone has a little bit of a different role in their first season, the second season, third and fourth. I think what Cal and our staff is trying to do is put him in positions to where he feels the most comfortable, where we can put him in a place that where he is most effective,” Justus said. “So I think that that’s a process. And I think EJ’s doing everything that he can in practice and on his own.
“Sometimes the ball bounces your way, especially early, you’re playing with new teammates, you’re playing against teams that are keying in on him. So I think this is an opportunity for him to keep getting better. I think he did some good things, he’s gotten better, I think, and next thing is we’ll see on Tuesday night (against Michigan State).”
John Calipari is a bit more blunt going into tonight’s game in New York against No.1 Michigan State. He says Montgomery has “gotta get better” and I’m guessing every UK fan would agree.
“I’ve had so many players go through, ‘I’m going to be able to do this this way,’ and then you figure out (you can’t). Great. Learn them in those kinds of settings,” Calipari said.
But to me, here’s the troubling part about Montgomery that Calipari revealed Monday.
“Gotta get in better shape. Until you do that and until you conquer yourself in some different areas, it’s hard to change anything else,” Calipari said.
Get in better shape? How could a player who hopes to be a NBA draft pick in June not be in playing shape in November?
“Think about rebounding and blocking shots and nothing else. Just do those two things. And then all of a sudden you start changing,” Calipari said. “But it’s hard to accept that until you get in and you don’t really do the things you’re capable of doing.
“And then you’re all ears, ‘Talk to me.’ PJ (Washington) went through this, if you remember – especially his first year. Oh my gosh, his first year! Do you remember he lost 17 pounds in like January? Like, over a 30-, 40-day period he lost all that weight and then he started playing. These kids all go through that stuff.”