LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky’s annual Blue-White Scrimmage may have led to more questions than answers for John Calipari.
Usually, that’s a bad thing for a coach.
Not necessarily so in this case.
In addition to the expected big contributions from the highest-profile members of his latest No. 1 recruiting class, Calipari also got some pleasant surprises during the Blue team’s 99-71 win over the White squad in front of a scrimmage-record crowd of 15,035 at Rupp Arena.
The new wave of McDonald’s All-Americans played like their impressive resumes suggest they can: a game-high 25 points and seven steals by James Young; 21 points and eight rebounds for Julius Randle; 19 points by Aaron Harrison, including 3-of-4 shooting from long range, to go along with six assists and four steals; and 16 points for Dakari Johnson with a game-high 11 rebounds.
Freshman center Dakari Johnson backed down in the post against the defense of fellow UK newcomer Marcus Lee. (AW Photo by Jeff Drummond)
But there were also impressive showings from a pair of unheralded signees from the Bluegrass State, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins. Willis nearly stole the show with 21 points, including 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc, and some high-flying dunk attempts that seemed to shock the crowd. Hawkins, the state’s 2013 “Mr. Basketball,” added 11 points and showed some versatile all-around skills that may give him a bigger opportunity to play this season than many expected.
Asked about his potential lineup combinations moving forward, Calipari sounded like the scrimmage may force the UK staff to re-evaluate some of its previous thinking.
“What about Derek Willis? Where does he fit in here?” Calipari said. “And then you look at, well, what about Marcus Lee (10 points, 8 rebounds)? He's pretty good too, now. And then you look at Dominique and say, wow.
“I'm not going to play 11 guys. So there's a little bit of a dogfight. We've got to figure out how we're going to do this. We've got to have a little plan about it, and then everybody has got to buy into what we're doing and their roles on the team.”
Kentucky didn’t show many potential weaknesses on Tuesday. A team that could enter the season ranked No. 1 and a favorite to win the school’s ninth NCAA championship shot 54 percent from the field (72 of 133) and from 3-point range (15 of 28). The Cats recorded 19 dunks and showed glimpses of what Calipari think this could be one of his best transition scoring teams.
Not only did UK get a lot of strong contributions from its deep roster, the chemistry on the floor appeared to be much better than at any point during the troubled 2012-13 season the Wildcats experienced.
“I felt from the get-go our chemistry was way (better), like this sense of brotherhood,” said sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who spent time on both the Blue and White squads and finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, five steals and two blocked shots.
“We have so much fun, on and off the court,” Young said. “We hang out all the time. These are my brothers. I’d do anything for them, and they’d do anything for me. We just got that vibe now.”
Added Harrison: “It’s amazing to be a part of so much talent and such a great group of guys. It is amazing. No one really understands how competitive practices are and how good everyone is. I’m really blessed to be a part of a great group like this.”
Music to the ears of Calipari… with a caveat.
“They really like each other, but we've got a whole season,” he said. “We've got to get dinged up a little bit” before the real nature of a team is revealed.
The UK boss did like how the ball was being shared, though, and how the players seemed to be having fun getting each other involved in the scoring column.
“If somebody goes for 30 (points), don't have that affect how you think or play,” Calipari said. “Just can't on this team because you're going to drive yourself crazy… We could have as many as seven, eight guys do that. And so if someone is doing it, you can't let it affect you. Just play basketball, defend, rebound.”
Calipari noted the Cats haven’t spent much time working on their defensive sets to date, but he liked what he saw at times on that end of the floor.
“I like the fact that we did not foul, and we're driving on every possession,” he said. “It's not like we're running patterns. We're driving. So in that game, if that was a 40-minute game there were about 60-80 drive attempts, and to have 20 fouls between your teams is pretty incredible.
“The officials came up, and especially the SEC official, and told me that this is the best I've seen (under the new rules of emphasis).”
* Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, was in the starting lineup for the Blue team, but played only 10 minutes and did not score. He had been dealing with a knee contusion in recent practices.
* Two students who came to the game were awarded tuition scholarships from Calipari for the spring semester. The winners were Joshua Lawson, a senior mechanical engineering major from Boyle County, and Amanda Dowell, a freshman biology major from Stanford, Ky.
* Kentucky returns to the court Friday, Nov. 1, as the Wildcats play host to Transylvania University. The exhibition game is at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be televised live by Fox Sports South and delayed on the UK IMG Network. The regular season tips off Friday, Nov. 8, as UK plays UNC Asheville at Rupp Arena.