Kentucky held its annual basketball media day on Thursday at the Craft Center. Here are three of the major takeaways from head coach John Calipari's Q&A session with a packed house of local and national reporters...
1. INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN
One of the biggest themes from Calipari's media session was how many questions loom over a team which saw almost its entire roster overhauled from last season.
The UK boss is used to coaching young talent, but he's typically got a handful of returning players with experience to lessen the impact of the learning curve. That can't be said this year with seven newcomers and an eighth player with no game experience in the form of redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo.
"None of you know how we're going to be. Not one. Some of you guys can act like you know, ladies, you know. You don't," Calipari said. "You know why I know that? Because I don't know."
The process has been made even more challenging due to preseason injuries affecting freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, freshman guard Jemarl Baker and sophomore center Tai Wynyard during the first two weeks of practice. Without them, Calipari noted, the rotations and strategy change significantly.
"We got a lot of questions to answer, which is why days matter for us," Calipari said. "We're trying to figure out if guys are hurt, what do we do? How do we play? What do we try to accomplish in that short period of time?"
It could be a season that requires a great amount of patience not only from fans but from players and coaches as well.
"I stop every practice at some point and tell them to tell me to be patient," Calipari said. "... Then I go, ‘Because I'm ready to choke some of you right now.’ (Laughs) That's every day I have to do that. But I'm enjoying it.
"This is what we do here. This is what it is. Wave of kids come in. They have no idea, I have no idea. We all grow together, figure this out. We make decisions based for them on the program or a system, what's right for them, then we roll with that.You know what? We love on them, they love on each other. The stuff usually works out."
Don't be surprised if this is a squad similar to UK's 2013-14 team that had to suffer some lumps along the way as it learned how to put all the parts together before making a late run to the national championship game.
2. LEARNING TO FLY
Calipari briefly touched on a number of improvement areas for individual players that have been weighing on him after watching the Cats' early practice sessions.
"I got off a plane yesterday, and before practice I said, ‘Look, I'm feeling anxiety. I have an anxiety because here is what I'm saying," Calipari said.
For freshman point guard Quade Green, it's giving up the ball quicker. So-called "ball stoppers" are doom to the type of offense UK wants to employ.
For freshman forward Kevin Knox, it's seeking to drive the ball more often instead of relying on his jump shot.
Freshman center Nick Richards must break a bad habit of trying to rebound with one hand. Fellow newcomer P.J. Washington, a versatile player who fits the "positionless" style Calipari is embracing, must play with a higher motor on both ends of the floor.
Freshman combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander must improve his court vision. He loves to put his head down and attack off the bounce, but Calipari says "I got to get you to get those blinders off."
And for redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo, it's focusing on "three or four things" that the elite athlete does best and not trying to be anything else.
3. THE WAITING
After freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt suffered a foot injury in preseason workouts, the Cats expected to be without him until at least January. On Thursday, however, Calipari indicated there is a chance the talented Houston native may return sooner.
"They're going to re-evaluate here in another week or so, then figure out where it goes," the UK boss said. "It would be an unbelievable blessing for him or us if he were able to start coming back to play. But, you know, you let the doctors and the experts deal with that. They wanted to look at it a little bit more before they made a decision and let him feel it, see what he felt like."
Calipari spoke extensively during Thursday's event about the ways the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt could make UK a better team. Among them: he might be the Cats' most versatile player - capable of even point some "point forward" at times - and he was consistently the team's top shot-blocker prior to his injury.
Vanderbilt was also a prime candidate to occupy the middle/high-post area in UK's zone offense "because of how he plays, passes, drives, his ability to make plays. So that changes us."
"If we had Jarred playing, you could play without a point guard because he could be the point guard," Calipari added. "So we were really interchangeable.
"Here's the problem with interchangeable with this group. When you're teaching, initially, it's hard enough to learn one position versus three. It's just hard. So you're almost having to start where we're not interchanging yet. You just learn this spot, then we start moving as we figure guys out. We go from there."