Cats spend entire workout on defense

John Calipari's media gathering Friday had two reccurring themes: defense and effort. Read more about what the UK boss is seeking from his team in this feature.

John Calipari's media gathering Friday had two reccurring themes: defense and effort.

Kentucky's raw talent this season is obvious, even to the most casual college basketball fan, but the roster to maximize its full potential is going to take more time than many had expected.

"They're kids. And we've got a lot of learning to do and a lot of habits to break, and it's hard to break them," Calipari said. "And especially if I keep seeing on tape and it's the same. Then I've had to change what I'm doing in practice and how I'm doing it to get them to do the right stuff."

Coming into the season, most assumed that UK's latest No. 1 recruiting class were not destined to be in Lexington too long. While a few are still likely to move on to the pro ranks after a one-year stint with the Wildcats, it's clear they still have a lot of work to do before that dream can materialize.

Thankfully, Calipari says, he has another freshman who isn't thinking short-term, and that player is setting an example for the entire team.

"Dominique (Hawkins) is probably closest to what we're looking for of anybody on the team, but it's not where we need to be right now," the UK boss said.

And while Hawkins is tenacious on the defensive end of the floor, the 6-foot combo guard is physically limited to defending smaller players.

Calipari has almost always had a defensive stopper on his roster, whether it was at UMass, Memphis or UK. In the past, that player has come from the wing position – most notably, DeAndre Liggins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – and they have been able to lock down just about any position on the floor. But he is still searching for someone else to emerge in that role.

"James Young should be able to be that guy. Julius (Randle) should be able to be the guy," Calipari said.

But with this team, Calipari may be taking a different approach. The Wildcats worked on defense for the entirety of Thursday's practice for the first time this season.

Calipari's famed defense in the past has been a hard-nosed, man-to-man defense that requires players to be accountable in their individual efforts. But with a team that supports a starting lineup of 6-5, 6-5, 6-7, 6-9 and 7-0, a towering zone may be the better option.

"Every day we work on zone for about an hour. We've got the length for it and each and every day we are learning how to play it together," freshman center Dakari Johnson said.

While Calipari continues to work towards carving out the individual roles on defense, UK fans may grow accustomed to seeing a situational zone from time to time, which is something new to the Calipari era of Kentucky basketball.

"It's just something we can use. We are practicing it every day so maybe we will try it out in a game soon," Johnson said.

That first glimpse of an organized Calipari zone could come on Monday when the Wildcats take on Cleveland State. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tip-off at Rupp Arena.

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