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Cats depart for Bahamas, Calipari unsure what to expect during four-game exhibition tour

Reid Travis goes up for a layup during an open practice last week at the Joe Craft Center. The Wildcats departed for the Bahamas Monday and will play four games during the four-game exhibition tour. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari isn’t putting much pressure on his team during a four-game exhibition tour in the Bahamas this week. The Kentucky coach wants to win all four games but realizes it may not be an option.

“This is going to be a hard deal,” he said. “We lose a couple, we lose three, whatever it is. Did we learn about this team? And that’s what I want to do. I don’t know if I’ll coach or not. I’m probably going to let the assistants coach the games and I’ll sit up in the seats so it gives me a better chance to watch and learn from them.”

Unlike his coach, veteran returnee PJ Washington doesn’t think the Wildcats will compile 1-3 record by the end of the tour.

“I don’t believe that, but if he believes that, that’s him,” Washington said. “I feel like we have a chance to win every game out there and that’s what we’re definitely looking forward to. Our goal is to definitely win every game. We’re not going to go out there and try to lose.”

The Wildcats departed for Atlantis and Paradise Island Monday and will take on the Bahamas National team in the opener at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Atlantis Imperial Arena. Kentucky then plays San Lorenzo De Almagro at 7 p.m. Thursday before taking a day off Friday. Kentucky plays Mega Bemax at 7 p.m. Saturday, before ending the tour against Team Toronto at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Calipari has been working on “team stuff” during the past two weeks in preparation for the overseas exhibition games, the first foreign trip for the Wildcats since the 2014-15 season.

“We’re ahead of where we should be with the kind of teams that we’ve had historically,” he said. “That’s why when we come back, we’re not pressed to get started. We did a lot of work before they go back. When we’re done with the Bahamas, I think they go home for about eight or nine days then we get started.”

Calipari plans on experimenting different lineup combinations to get a feel for his team, which features a mixture of newcomers and veterans, similar to the squad that won the national championship in 2012.

“(I’m) really trying to look at different kind of combinations, look at how we want to play offensively in the half court,” he said. “Defensively, how much can we stretch the court out? Can we force action and still be the kind of team that plays percentages? So we’re going to be experimenting with a lot of stuff, and I told them that. There are some things that we’ll do defensively that we’ve not done here in the past. I just want to try it. There are some things offensively that we’re going to try that I really haven’t done here in the past, but I want to try it. I may like it, I may not.”

What Calipari does know is that he will have a physical team and a backcourt combination of possibly Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. During an open practice last week, both players were on the same squad and competed against vereran Quade Green and newcomer Tyler Herro.

“You’re talking about a physical bunch,” he said. “Those two have played together, I think, once. The rest of the time they’ve gone against each other, and I think I’m going to have them going against each other today. I was going to do something different but I’m just going to go with what we’ve been doing right now. They’ve done fine. Tell them, ‘When you’re on the court together, make sure you’re playing for each other.’”

Washington said the tour will prove to be beneficial.

“It will help us a lot because right now we haven’t really played anybody else but us, so going out there and seeing how we compare to other teams is going to be great at this point in the stage before the season especially in August,” he said. “ feel like we’re going to be really good some way into the season, and I just can’t wait to get out there and play somebody else.”

Although the exhibitions are no indicator of what to expect next season, Calipari knows his team won’t be perfect during the Big Blue Bahamas Tour.

“I’ve already told them we’re going to make mistakes. I said, ‘Are we really going to be a good execution team when we go down to the Bahamas?’ They said no. Said, ‘We can’t be. We haven’t been together long enough, but I want to see you play hard,” he said. “I want to see you compete (and) I want you to see things and then fix it. Things happen in the game; just work your way through it.’”

Big Blue Bahamas Tour

— Wednesday, 8 p.m., Bahamas National Team, SEC Network, UK Sports Network
— Thursday, 7 p.m., San Lorenzo De Almagro, SEC Network, UK Sports Network
— Saturday, 7 p.m., Mega BeMax, SEC Network, UK Sports Network
— Sunday, 4 p.m., Team Toronto, SEC Network, UK Sports Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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