If Cats spoke French, rallying cry would be ‘vive la difference’

·4 min read
Alex Slitz/aslitz@herald-leader.com

With illness and injuries mandating adjustments on the fly this season, Kentucky players sounded prepared Friday to deal with a fluctuating rotation.

After Kentucky beat Central Michigan on Monday, John Calipari spoke of a “game-by-game” player rotation. Yet on other occasions this year, the UK coach has said he takes comfort in the predictability he can expect from players.

With the UK team situation seemingly in flux, the players all but said vive la difference.

“You can’t think about that,” Keion Brooks said of a rotation that varies. “Every game is different. Every game is going to require you to be doing something a little bit different. Even though you have a generalized role, you can’t expect that you’re going to come in at this time, go out at this time (and) play this many minutes.

“If you do that, you’re going to be messed up. You’ve got to take it game by game, and just be ready to do whatever the game asks of you that day.”

Jacob Toppin suggested that it was unrealistic to equate basketball — which is called a game of runs — with unchanging sameness.

“It comes with this lifestyle in basketball,” Toppin said of any needed adjustments Kentucky must make. “You’ve just got to be ready for your moment. Some games somebody’s going to go off, so that means somebody else is going to play less minutes. And it can be vice versa. So, we just have to be ready for any opportunity we get. If you want to stay in the game, then you’ve got to produce.

“And that’s what everybody’s standing on. And I feel that’s why we’re going to be such a good team because no one is taking it personally.”

Lance Ware is one of several UK players who’ve been adjusting. An ankle injury sidelined him for three games.

“That happened before the season started,” he said. “I was just running in practice, and I rolled my ankle.”

When asked about sitting and watching, Ware said, “I’m just on the bench happy. I see teammates being successful. I’m always there for them.”

Ware, who played seconds shy of seven minutes in each of Kentucky’s last two games, said he was feeling better going forward.

This week, Calipari said that only seven players might be available for Thursday’s practice. Maybe managers would need to practice to mimic five-on-five situations.

“It’s been disruptive . . . ,” Toppin said of less than a full team in practices. “We just took the time to better condition ourselves and just (work on) that individual skill development.

“I don’t think it’s a problem. It’s a chance for everybody else who’s not sick to get better, and we’ll work from there.”

After his defense against Duke’s star freshman, Paolo Banchero, was cited as a highlight in Kentucky’s opening-game loss, Toppin missed the next four games because of a shoulder injury. He returned in UK’s last two games and played 10 and 14-plus minutes, respectively.

“Now, I’m focused on keeping my shoulder strong, and being able to stay in the game and stay more consistent,” Toppin said. “Patience has definitely been a big thing for me.”

An undisclosed illness sidelined Brooks for the North Florida game.

“I’ve been getting some good ‘meds’ in me,” he said, “so I feel a lot better. . . .

“I’ve still got some stuff I want to improve on. But I feel like I’m making strides in the right direction.”

Brooks said he aspires to the opposite of uneven performance.

“I feel like personally I’ve been doing a pretty good job of trying to be consistent every single night,” he said. “Especially with me being older. That’s what these guys need from me.”

‘My heritage’

Players said they looked forward to Sunday, when the Kentucky and Southern teams will visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The Freedom Center, which opened in 2004, commemorates thousands of slaves who sought freedom by crossing the Ohio River. The center also hopes to help ease modern-day struggles, a spokesman said.

When asked about Sunday’s tour of the Freedom Center, Brooks said, “That’s amazing, especially for me being a Black male. That’s my heritage. That’s where you trace it back. That’s where my people come from.”

Brooks said that it will be his first visit to the Freedom Center.

“It’s something I take pride in,” he said of Sunday’s tour. “I can’t wait to go down there and see what it’s like.”

Toppin also said he looked forward to the trip. “Just to expand my knowledge of the topic (and) of history,” he said.

Of the underground railroad helping slaves become free, Toppin said, “That’s how life was. And I’m glad it’s not like that, now.

“But it’s time to move forward. I feel like we’re taking big steps (and) leaps forward in history in the future.”

Next game

Southern at No. 9 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

TV: SEC Network

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