Last week, Kentucky Coach John Calipari reminded us that basketball is art as well as science. Pardon the pun, but for all the hoopla about vertical leaps, shuttle run times and textbook execution, the game also rewards instinct, anticipation and improvisation.
With seemingly the latter in mind, Calipari said of the players on UK's 2019-20 team, "I want this group to be playing pickup three days a week, maybe more."
Calipari suggested that there is an overemphasis on skill development and what can be measured. "Kids are starting to just be about individual workouts," Calipari said.
Mitchell Robinson, who passed on a Western Kentucky scholarship in order to train for the 2018 NBA draft, came to mind.
For a different reason, so did Nick Richards. The UK big man said Friday that he did not start playing basketball until he was "probably around 15." When he was growing up, the sports popular with kids in his native Jamaica included soccer, cricket and track and field, he said. "I even did volleyball before basketball," he said.
Richards began to play basketball after coming to the United States to visit his grandmother. "I ended up on a summer league basketball team in New York," he said. "A high school saw me and offered me a scholarship."
Richards acknowledged his late start. "Some guys, they've been on the court since they were 3 years old," he said, "and I'm just trying to catch up."
But Richards didn't think the late start put him behind. He did not want to voice an excuse, he said. And, no, he said, he's not caught off guard in a game more often than other players.
The UK coach put his own son, Brad Calipari, in the category of devotion to individual workouts. To which, the elder Calipari said he told his son, "'Brad, that cone has no arms.'"
Speaking more broadly, the UK coach added of all aspiring players, "You need to play pickup basketball like we all grew up with."
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas labeled the choice of pickup games or individual workouts an "important topic" to ponder. "You spend time in individual workouts, the more you have an agenda as an individual," he said.
Bilas echoed Calipari by recommending that players do both: Develop skills through individual workouts while learning how to better use those skills in actual competition, even if only pickup games.
Pickup games also can help develop competitive spirit, a better feel for the game and team chemistry through communication. To make the latter point, Calipari referenced many players' seeming addiction to cellphones and social media.
"You can't bring your phones out there," he said. "You're not texting the guy, 'I went backdoor. I was wide open. Why didn't you throw it to me?'"
Informal play can also include game-point urgency. Another ESPN analyst, Fran Fraschilla, also mentioned how three-on-three games give players more opportunity to use and improve skills.
"You always have to give kids incentive to become creative as players in the offseason," Fraschilla said. "They can never lose their love of why they began to play the game in the first place because it's a fun game with a lot of creativity."
To make his point, Fraschilla recalled a high school coach he knew on Long Island. This coach had a player with a knack for on-court creativity. The coach encouraged the player to use the offseason as a time to experiment.
That player was Julius Erving.
"You're putting time in the individual workouts on certain skills," Fraschilla said. "Pickup basketball is the time to try to implement them without anybody reading about it in the Lexington Herald-Leader the next day."
Too much replay?
ESPN commentator Jay Bilas serves on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Competition Committee, which recommends rule changes that another committee can adopt, table or reject.
On Tuesday, UK Coach John Calipari called for more reviews of calls. And even non-calls, he said.
To which, Bilas said, "I think there's too much replay in the game, now. Since we've crossed that Rubicon, I'm not going to worry about it."
The main argument cited for the claim of too many visits to a sideline monitor is that each review stops play and extends the time of a game. To which, Calipari asked, what's more important: extending the time of a game or getting calls right?
Bilas argued that perfection in calls is unattainable. New rules announced last week expanded when referees can review calls made in the last two minutes of a second half or any overtime period. But non-calls cannot be reviewed. So a play like Kavell Bigby-Williams' winning tip-in against Kentucky this past season would also count in the future if the referees do not call basket interference.
Calls will continue to be missed, Bilas said. For example, Bilas cited Virginia's Kyle Guy making three winning free throws against Auburn in the Final Four. A replay showed that seconds earlier Virginia's Ty Jerome double-dribbled bringing the ball up the court.
What to do?
"If the double-dribble had been called, there never would have been the foul," Bilas said. "So do you back it up (to) there and reset the clock? At some point, we have to live with the calls that are made or not made on the floor."
Bilas suggested that reviews of plays are leading to an obsession about officiating decisions.
"We're not using DNA to solve crimes here," he said. "It's a basketball game."
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