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Calipari’s Wildcats looking forward to opening Southeastern Conference play at Alabama Saturday

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Keldon Johnson likes the way Kentucky is starting to come together going into the team’s Southeastern Conference opener set for Saturday at Alabama.

“We’re just trusting each other, playing as a team,” he said Thursday. “We’re just enjoying the process, enjoying getting better every day and just enjoying each other. That’s just the main thing. You can see we’re having more fun out there. We’re playing as a team. We’re talking more. We’re doing everything more and the plan is just to get better each and every day.”

Kentucky guard Keldon Johnson goes up against Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton last Saturday. Cats won 71-58. (Photo by Robin Cornetet/Kentucky Today)

Johnson said the Wildcats have “grown a lot” since the first semester came to a close. The team has focused on basketball, putting academics aside.

“We’re out there trusting each other and things like that,” he said. “I think we still have a lot of improvement (to make) too.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the Wildcats have been “dialed in” and embracing the process.

“We’re getting better (and) it takes time,” he said. “The guys are all dialed in right now. I like where we are. More of a team, player-driven practice than a coach-driven practice. We’ve used the last two, three weeks to really spend more time being together and at the game. This is that time of the year where we try to do that every year. We’re getting better.”

The Kentucky coach added the Wildcats have taken advantage of their time away from the classroom.

“We give them their one day a week off it’s been on a Sunday,” he said. “And then the rest of the time it’s all basketball or we’re together. Now that will end next week when we start class, but by next week we’re going every Tuesday-Saturday, so, you know, our day off in my mind would be Wednesday and a light day on Sunday. Wednesday would be an off day, a light day on Sunday and the rest you’re playing games from that point on.”

The 13th-ranked Wildcats defeated Louisville 80-72 last weekend, stretching the team’s winning streak to three games going into the contest against the Crimson Tide who bring a 9-3 record into the contest following wins over Arizona, Liberty, Penn State, and Stephen F. Austin.

Johnson is looking forward to his first taste of league play.

“It’s all important now,” he said. “It’s been important. We’re excited about every game because we know it’s a chance for us to get better each and every day.”

In terms of preparation, Calipari said the Wildcats are focused on themselves as opposed to the opposition.

“I learned from Larry Brown to worry more about your team than the other,” he said. “The normal situation when we’re playing Tuesday-Saturday, our team will not see a video on the other team until the meal on game day. We will have been giving them in practice what they need to know. There are certain things a team can hurt you with and certain things you have to take away. We never give a scouting report as far as a paper scouting report, but I get one.”

Like Johnson and the rest of his teammates, Jemarl Baker is looking forward to league schedule.

“Going into SEC play this year, we’re really excited and we’re just ready to work hard and have fun,” he said.

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

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