Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 2023-24 media day

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s media day at the Joe Craft Center:

1. Should we see these as omens?

A couple of interesting non-basketball things happened. One at the start. One at the end. For those looking for metaphors, or warning signs, try these on for size.

First of all, John Calipari was early. Yes, early. The Kentucky head coach was supposed to start his press conference at 2 p.m. Instead, Cal walked into the makeshift media area at 1:54. (I checked my watch.) No opening statement. No preamble. Just questions. Let’s go.

Then with about six minutes left in the player interview portion of the afternoon out on the practice court, the fire alarms went off. Loud buzzers. Flashing lights. The whole deal.

“What’s going on?” said freshman Justin Edwards, who at the time was being interviewed by a small media group. “This is wild.”

After a couple of minutes, we were told to leave and wait outside the building until we got the “all clear” signal. Not reading too much into all this, of course, but depending on how the season goes, you can take it as an omen. Or not.

2. Our first interactions with Big Z

Yes, Zvonimir Ivisic was there for media day. Not only was he there, he was available for interviews. Sitting behind a black table, as were his teammates lined up around the perimeter of the gym, the 7-footer from Croatia did his best, in his best English, in his new surroundings, to answer questions from people he had never seen before.

Big Z admitted that the conditioning part has been a bit harder than he expected. He said his teammates are what he expected. “Dogs,” he called them. Apparently, the term “dogs” is a universal hoops term. He said they all hang out together. He said he was amazed by Big Blue Madness and impressed by the crowd at the Blue-White Game at NKU’s Truist Arena last Saturday.

He also said that he was told that he would get a lot of attention on campus and that has turned out to be oh, so true. Seems Big Z is in demand for photographs and autographs. Everyone, he insisted, has been more than nice.

As for his game, he said he thinks he brings shot blocking. “But I don’t want to brag,” he said.

As colleague Ben Roberts reported, Calipari said we are not likely to see Big Z on the Rupp Arena floor during Friday’s exhibition game against Georgetown College. Though UK has a second warm-up game Nov. 2 against Kentucky State, the best chance we’ll get our first look at Big Z’s skills might be the season opener vs. New Mexico State on Nov. 6.

John Calipari addresses reporters during Kentucky’s media day activities on Wednesday. The UK coach is about to start his 15th season in Lexington.
John Calipari addresses reporters during Kentucky’s media day activities on Wednesday. The UK coach is about to start his 15th season in Lexington.

3. Random is the new name of the game

The “Dribble Drive” was once Calipari’s style card. Then “Position-less” basketball was his adopted style. “I think we were out in front on both of those,” he said Wednesday.

“Random” is the new keyword. As in “now the game has become more random.” The “position-less” aspect fits in with that, but Calipari means — or what I took him to mean — is that there are less plays and more just playing in the modern game. Let talent do the work. Within reason.

Some truths remain the same. Once again, Calipari said his best teams had a post presence and rim protectors. This team should have both. In time, anyway. Both Ugonna Onyenso and Aaron Bradshaw said Wednesday there is no timeline for when they will be healthy enough to be on the floor. As for Big Z, please return to Takeaway 2.

As for the “random” style, from what we’ve seen to this point, it should fit this team well. D.J. Wagner and Rob Dillingham can penetrate. Justin Edwards said Wednesday he’s working more on adding cutting to the basket as a part of his game. We know that, when on, Antonio Reeves can shoot. Reed Sheppard has an uncanny knack to see the whole floor, especially for a freshman.

I could go on. Instead, let’s defer to the head coach, who said, “I have an interesting team.”

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