Talking Your Talk—By John Huang
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — When speaking with this year’s version of the Basketball Wildcats, I get the feeling that collectively, they’re a likable bunch. Thus far—at least during media interview opportunities–everyone sports big smiles, engages freely with reporters, and generally seems to be happy with their lives as rock stars in the UK fishbowl. With a couple of exceptions, most of these players will talk your ear off. I’ve had conversations about shoe fashion with Quade Green and Poutine with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Kevin Knox seems to be the type who will ramble on endlessly about anything and everything. So, I was quite perplexed when Coach John Calipari told me he can’t get these guys to talk to each other on the court.
“Because they’re freshmen, they’re 18 and 19-year-olds,” Coach Cal said when I asked him why communication within games was so difficult. “And their whole life you have to understand has been about themselves, like when they play—they don’t worry about anybody else, they only worried about themselves. At night when they go to bed, they would dream about themselves.”
Predictably, the players didn’t quite agree with Coach in his assessment of their own self adsorption. PJ Washington mentioned instead, the fatigue factor as a hindrance to the required on-the-floor communication. “We’re not used to doing a lot of stuff in a college game,” said Washington. “We get tired quick. Once you get tired, everything tends to go out your head.”
Nick Richards mentioned the loud noise levels in Rupp Arena as an impediment to communication. Remember that Nick’s a freshman too, and still learning. It’ll be interesting to hear his comments after he visits the O’Dome in Gainesville, Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, or Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Kevin Knox–never at a loss for words–explained that for whatever reason, he’s just never been a talker on the court. With his skill levels off the charts, I’m sure he feels more comfortable letting his jams and jumpers speak directly for him. “We’re getting better in practice—more communication,” Knox said. “We’re trying to talk every possession, every movement the other team is doing, we’re trying to talk and be able to communicate. It’s something Cal is really focusing on…He’s been through it for 30 years, so he knows how important talking is.”
So, who might we count on to be the vocal leader of these silent hoop stars? Almost to a man, the players pointed to Quade Green. The freshman point guard from Philadelphia has been nominated as the de facto guard with the gab. “I like talking a lot period,” he said. “That’s just what I do. I want everybody to do good. I just try to help describe (plays to everyone), so they can help me.”
In their last game against ETSU and tonight’s 70-62 victory over Troy, Kentucky looked a bit disjointed on both ends of the court. It’s as if their collective whole was far less than the sum of their individual parts. I know it’s still early, but that has to be a result of a tentative, hesitant, young group unsure yet of their roles. At this stage, Calipari can only provide so much wisdom and guidance during practice. It’s up to the players to effectively execute and perform in games. I see communication as one of the big keys to their eventual success.
Also, other than perhaps Keven Knox, I don’t see any offensive superstars coming out of this crop of freshman. If this team is to excel, it will have to be by playing smothering defense. That’s going to require a lot of talking—not from just one guy, but from all five talking collectively in unison. It’ll require a lot of tongue wagging—and not the wagging resulting from being fatigued or tired.
I’ve heard it said before that no man can tame the tongue for it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. For Coach Cal and this particular team, an active tongue is good—not evil. It means deadly poison for the opposition. Five games into the season, it’s time for everybody to start talking their talk.
John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.