By LARRY VAUGHT
Almost every at Media Day defense is something that John Calipari talks about and almost every year he hopes his team has what it takes to be special on defense like his best teams have always been.
He called freshman point guard Ashton Hagans a “pit bull mauler on the ball” on defense.
“And our big guys can guard guards. So we can switch everything. We can scramble around. We can still press — there’s a lot of stuff we’re going to be able to do,” Calipari said.
Once again he said he wished he had more shot blockers because his best teams have always blocked shots.
Nothing really shocking in any of that. However, Calipari also just kind of threw in one defensive thought that shocked me.
“Tyler (Herro) is better than I thought defensively. I thought Keldon (Johnson) would be better than Tyler defensively. I’m not sure of that,” Calipari said.
Herro came to UK known for his scoring ability, not his defense. Johnson came to Kentucky known for his defensive tenacity and aggressive play. Johnson is projected as a 2019 NBA lottery pick already because of his tenaciousness and he impressed NBA scouts with his intensity and defense at various all-star games after his high school senior season.
But Herro a comparable defender to Johnson? No offense to Herro, but that surprised me.
“I can lock up on D (defense),” Herro said when I asked him about Calipari’s praise of his defense.
He has talked about the battles he has going against Johnson daily in practice. I assumed that would make him better offensively facing such a tough, physical defender daily. I didn’t think about it also working to improve his defense.
“Guarding him makes me better on defense,” Herro said.
The freshman guard from Wisconsin turned head with his play in the Bahamas in August when he led the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game and also in 3-pointers (8), 3-point percentage (44.4) and free throw percentage (100). That was not a huge surprise considering shot 40 percent from 3-point range and 84 percent in high school and had eight games with 40 or more points his senior season.
“I have been working on my defense ever since I got back from the Bahamas,” Herro said. “We got back and I went to work on my feet to get better defensively. I know that’s what I have to do to play a lot. Coach Cal likes to see what you can do on offense, but he demands that you play defense.”
Apparently it’s a demand that Herro may have mastered a lot quicker than I anticipated and could make a really good Kentucky team even better.