By Penny Jones Deatrick
Before discussing UK basketball, I first want to say that I’m thrilled to join the KySportsStyle.com Magazine staff. I love all things about the Kentucky Wildcats and look forward to sharing the excitement of a new basketball season in the months to come.
Last Sunday afternoon at Rupp Arena was a festive one as Kentucky held its 2019 Women’s Clinic. You would see women decked out in every type of UK gear and from all age brackets waited in long winding lines to meet the players, Coach Cal, and the ever popular Ellen Calipari. Returning players Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery appeared confident and relaxed as they talked with fans, signed basketballs and smiled for pictures. The entire squad seemed to make the most of the opportunity to interact with the vocal ladies of the Big Blue Nation.
A personal highlight of the event was the opportunity to tour the locker room and facilities at Rupp Arena. We were given access to the entire area, viewing the actual locker room, media room, meeting rooms, players' lounging area and the treatment room. It reminded me of a very exclusive hotel with all the amenities and state of the art is an understatement. Seeing pictures of former players in their NBA uniforms and the floor from the 2012 Championship in New Orleans gave this super fan chill bumps.
Assistant coaches answered questions and spoke about changes coming in the new season. One change was explained by Coach Joel Justus. He explained that the three-point line has moved further back on the court. Its proximity to the sideline makes it easy to step out of bounds. Coaches are working closely with players during practice to raise awareness of this potential pitfall.
Strength and Conditioning coach Rob Harris led all participants in drills including jogging in place, squats, lunges, and jumping jacks. Ellen was front and center leading the way. The session ended with a “plank off” between Ellen and local TV personality Jennifer Palumbo. After two minutes it became clear these ladies knew how to plank. Jennifer conceded and Ellen emerged victorious. She was not even winded.
The clinic ended with Coach Tony Barbee introducing the players to UK’s zone defense. He instructed the players and let the clinic participants observe this process. He gave very specific details about guarding responsibilities, movement, and spacing. He interchanged guards, forwards and the center position expecting each player to understand all roles. Players’ individual styles and personalities were fun to watch. Again, veteran players led the way with their confidence and knowledge. Freshman Johnny Juzang, in particular, seemed to have a great time while listening and applying the instructions that were given.
Team chemistry seems to already be a strength of this group. They demonstrated dance and basketball moves while encouraging each other. They clearly enjoyed spending time with their teammates on a Sunday afternoon after a long and exciting weekend. I’m excited to see what the season has in store.
Penny Deatrick is a staff writer from Louisville, Ky. She will be covering UK basketball for KySportsStyle.com Magazine.