By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky is 15-4 overall going into tonight’s game against Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena, but has won seven of its last eight games and is 5-1 in Southeastern Conference play and in second place in the league behind only 6-0 LSU.
If that’s not enough to make you feel better about the Cats coming off the overtime win at Texas Tech, then let assistant coach Joel Justus make you feel even better because of what he said about sophomore EJ Montgomery Tuesday.
“I think it’s a young guy who is still trying to figure out how hard this is. The burden of success and failure are right on your shoulders for however many minutes you play. You’re being challenged and you’re being put into a position where you have to produce,” Justus said.
That’s good but here come what should make you feel really good.
“EJ is practicing at an all-time high where he is focused and in a great mindset,” Justus said.
Say amen UK fans because that’s not always been the case with the talented 6-9 Montgomery. Remember earlier this season when coach John Calipari talked about Montgomery not being in condition.
Justus said the upgrade in conditioning is probably where Montgomery has improved the most. He’s averaging 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while playing 23.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field.
“He’s a guy that’s put in the work. He’s doing extra work. He’s competing every single possession. I think as a staff that’s all we can ask for, and you have to do it in practice before you do it the games; and you have to do it for five minutes at the beginning of the game and maybe you have to do it at the end before you can do it for 20 or 25 or 30 minutes or however many minutes it is,” Justus said.
“You look at a guy like Nick Richards who has now had a demonstrated performance over and over again and you gain confidence from that. I think EJ’s right behind him.”
Wow! Based on what Richards — this week’s SEC player of the week — has done that’s high, high praise for any player.
“We believe in EJ and I think sometimes, like I said, it’s not the coach or the assistant coaches that are putting confidence in these guys; it’s themselves building their own confidence,” Justus said. “That comes from being in great shape. That comes from putting in the extra time on your own or with coaches to then showing the ability to be able to do it in the games.
“That’s where our guys are right now, is they’re continuing to gain confidence in the games. Like I said, tomorrow night’s another opportunity to go out and play together, gain confidence and ultimately, hopefully come away with a win.”