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New Wildcats Dazzle in Blue-White Scrimmage

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Kentucky tipped off its season Tuesday with the Blue-White Scrimmage, an annual first glimpse—well, a second glimpse after Big Blue Madness, but that’s more about the intros than Xs and Os—at what the Wildcats will offer this year. And if anyone in the event-record crowd of 15,035 at Rupp Arena crowd didn’t realize it would be the case before Tuesday, they certainly knew afterward:

This is not last year’s team. If the question is, “What will this team offer?” The answer is, “A lot.” It’s not a great conversation, but it’s Oct. 29, so most conversation will be conjecture anyway.

Last year’s team limped into the NIT and lost in the first round with inconsistent play, no Nerlens Noel because of a torn ACL and no tangible leadership (Noel had been doing a lot of that, too). This year’s team is not supposed to have those problems, and anyone who believed that before watching the Blue-White Scrimmage would have had no reason to change their mind.

Julius Randle, the 6-9 freshman who is already among favorites to be the National Player of the Year and No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft, finished his night with 21 points and eight rebounds. He shot 8-of-13 from the floor. The game’s leading scorer was James Young, the freshman shooting guard who had 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has talked already this preseason about developing Randle’s game on the perimeter; that’s not to say behind the 3-point line, but to stretch the floor with him and add depth to his game. At Kentucky’s preseason media day Oct. 15, Calipari said he could play Randle down low and win every game. But that’s not best for Randle’s NBA hopes, so Calipari said that’s not what he’d do to him.

Calipari compared it to how he handled Patrick Patterson in 2009-10. He took Patterson from under the basket, where Billy Gillispie stationed him, to the top of the key. Patterson, in one year, shot up draft boards and was ultimately the No. 14 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Randle looked comfortable on the perimeter Tuesday, establishing presence in the half-court. He had a first-half jumper from the free-throw line, and he looked comfortable controlling the ball outside the paint.

“It’s just something that Coach has been working with me on, just to help prepare me for the next level,” Randle said. “I was a lot more comfortable out there. I’ve always been comfortable, but just take it to the next level and play at the college leve and do that type of stuff, it’s a different level. I was a lot more comfortable.”

Calipari was happy with his presumed superstar, and it wasn’t because of what he was doing, especially in the first half. Randle scored the first two points of the scrimmage on a pair of free throws 16 seconds after the opening tip, and Randle didn’t get his next two points—his first field goal—until the 11:35 mark.

“He just played, and eventually he started getting it,” Calipari said. “And he walks the guy down, makes the foul-line jumper, makes his free throws, gets to the basket, and he even missed about three lay-ups or he’d have six or eight more points.”

The Blue team started the night with what is considered an early look at Calipari’s starting lineup: Young, Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Blue team won the scrimmage 99-71.

Andrew Harrison did not play in the second half of the scrimmage with a lingering knee contusion, but it is not expected to be a serious injury. He’s missed some practice intermittently, Calipari said, and they’ll continue to monitor the situation in the next few days leading up to Friday’s exhibition game against Transylvania.

Friday is when it starts to get serious. It won’t count, but it’s outside competition, and Rupp Arena will be closer to 24,000 than 14,000. Still, Randle thought the team did just fine doing the annual beginning-of-season rite of passage justice.

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Randle said. “We played really well. Everybody was unselfish. Things can kind of get haywire when you’re out in front of a big crowd like that, but everybody was composed and played well.”

Photo: Kentucky tipped off its season Tuesday in the Blue-White Scrimmage. The Blue team, consisting first of the Wildcats’ expected starting lineup, won 99-71. (Photo by James Pennington)