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November 15, 2013

Notes: Randle's hot start; Calipari on recruiting

With nearly 80 NBA scouts in Chicago on Tuesday to watch two games featuring top-five teams -- and by extension, their projected top-of-the-draft players -- freshman Julius Randle didn't disappoint.

"I think he helped himself," senior Jon Hood said.

That comes with a caveat. It's just the third game of the year, and draft stocks can rise and fall dramatically from now through the end of the season.

But there was no denying that Randle's 23-point, 17-rebound game made an impression.

Even on Hood, who was been teammates with 17 players drafted into the NBA while at Kentucky.

"NBA body already," Hood said. "It's easy to see that he's ready -- that he's one of the most ready to come through here, it not the most."

Randle, however, wasn't overly satisfied with his performance, which made him the first Division I freshman since Kansas State's Michael Beasley in 2007 to start his career with three straight 20-point, 10-rebound games.

He was disappointed with his inability to make adjustments in the first half, when Michigan State packed the paint and Randle produced four points, four rebounds and four turnovers.

"First half, I was holding the ball for too long instead of making quick moves or quick decisions," Randle said. "Second half, I was more decisive, and the game was a lot easier."

Easier, even though he was playing through cramps that started halfway through the second half.

Despite those cramps, coach John Calipari put the offense in his hands. When Randle was on the floor in the second half, 18 of 36 offensive possessions ended with him, either via a shot attempt, a turnover or free throws.

"We had to run one play 16 times," Calipari said. "We found one thing that worked and it was like, we're not changing."

And Randle responded.

"I felt like the team needed my help, needed a lift," Randle said. "I thought it was only right for me to do it."

Still Searching
Four recruits -- Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles and Karl Towns -- have already signed letters of intent to play for Kentucky next season.

Calipari's not done. He said he "probably needs to sign" two more.

"We're involved with some kids that we want to be involved (with)," Calipari said. "Again, you're going after kids that you want to want you, that want this."

Calipari has missed on some highly regarded targets this recruiting class, including small forward Stanley Johnson, who picked Arizona over Kentucky on Friday. The No. 1 overall class ranking that's been exclusively his since he arrived at Kentucky is in serious jeopardy, given Friday's results, which included top player Jahlil Okafor and top point guard Tyus Jones choosing Duke.

"We don't get everybody we want," Calipari said. "Kids go other places. I think it's always been that way. But we get who we want at the end of the day."

The four he's got already fit that bill.

"All skilled," Calipari said of the group. "Great students. Really, maybe the best students that I've recruited in all my years of coaching."

Calipari said he's "excited" about the size and versatility of those four, especially Towns and Lyles.

"But we got to finish the class," Calipari said. "And a coach telling you he's got four guys and you got to finish the class, let me just say, is not normal. It's just not traditional. But that's what it is here."

Poythress improving
He's playing less but producing more.

Sophomore Alex Poythress is playing 3.1 minutes less per game this year than in his freshman season, but his role is much more defined and his efficiency has climbed.

He's averaging 8.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and while those might not be gaudy, they're exactly the type of numbers this team needs.

"Alex is playing out of his mind," Calipari said.

The biggest difference has been rebounding, where Poythress is averaging 18.8 per 40 minutes this season compared to 9.3 per 40 minutes last season.

Calipari said Poythress "wasn't emotionally ready" to perform at his highest capacity last year.

Through three games, he's been ready.

And that says a lot about his lack of ego, Calipari said, considering Poythress has gone from starter to substitute.

"Took him a full year to realize, 'If I don't change this, I'm not making it,'" Calipari said. "He's changed."


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