Kentucky basketball staged its annual “Pro Day” on Sunday night. No surprise that the announcers for the SEC Network, the television partner of the Southeastern Conference that aired the event, praised UK as a national championship contender.
Maybe the Cats’ only possible problem emerged in the final seconds of the two-hour show. Freshman Keldon Johnson went down, and stayed down, for several seconds before leaving the court.
But it was not believed Johnson sustained a serious injury since he walked off the court.
UK Coach John Calipari tweeted shortly after Pro Day ended that “Keldon tweaked his ankle at the end but he should be OK.”
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Until that moment, the only thing that concerned Calipari was not wanting the team to look too good too soon.
“You don’t want to look like January in November,” Calipari told the SEC Network announcers. After reminding them that Kentucky lost four straight games last season, he said that team had a chance to win the national championship by March.
“You can only play at a high, high level for so long,” SEC Network analyst Seth Greenberg said. “That is the danger of playing too good too early.”
Otherwise, praise for Kentucky as a team and for individual players abounded.
Greenberg said PJ Washington had “a little Draymond Green potential.” Greenberg said the sophomore forward who withdrew from this year’s NBA Draft was “a special talent. ... To get where he wants to go, sometimes you have to take one step back to go two steps forward.”
Another SEC Network analyst, Jimmy Dykes, described freshman guard Ashton Hagans as a “lead dog defender.” This was a role that UK had not had in abundance in recent seasons, Dykes said.
Tyler Herro’s jump shot was “textbook,” Dykes said. Herro was going to make a lot of contested shots, the analyst said, adding that “if Kentucky is going to be a Final Four, No. 1-seed team, they’re going to have to make threes.”
Associate coach Kenny Payne noted the UK players’ competitive spirit. “I love the fact we’re super, super competitive,” he said.
Greenberg echoed the theme, saying “this team right here has a great energy about them.”
Of the expectations and pressure that come with playing for Kentucky, he said, “ It’s not a burden. They embrace it.”
Graduate transfer Reid Travis was the subject of much conjecture.
“I really feel settled. I really feel comfortable,” he said. Being on the Kentucky stage comes with a lot of responsibility, he added. “I love it.”
Quade Green said Travis was “going to be the player we needed (last season). The X-factor.”
Calipari agreed with Dykes that you can feel like the less intelligent person in an interview with Travis. Calipari joked that he would not be that hard to be smarter than him. He called himself “the original Prop 48 coach.”
“I haven’t coached a guy that old in a while ...,” Calipari said. “He is as hard a worker, as excited to play as any young kid” on the team.
Dykes referred to Travis as “a bigger Grant Williams,” a reference to Tennessee’s all-league forward.
Calipari pointed out that UK players are spending a lot of time in the gym this preseason. He cited that kind of dedication as a reason Shai Gilgeous-Alexander “made himself into a lottery pick.”