BOZICH | Kentucky has the look (and the vibe) of a champion - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky has the look (and the vibe) of a champion

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If any college basketball players had the All-Clear to pound their chests, grab the microphones and scream, “Look at me!!!!” it is this University of Kentucky team.

Starting with their NCAA Tournament game against Cincinnati Saturday, the Wildcats are favored to win their next five games as impressively as they've won their first 35.

They're on the brink of doing something that has not been achieved in 39 seasons – win a national championship with a flawless record.

Five to seven of the players should be taken in the NBA Draft in June. They're told how remarkably talented they are every time they adjust their sneakers.

But Look At Me behavior has not been part of this team's DNA.

There is the occasional stare-down by Willie Cauley-Stein. A chest thump after a soaring dunk. John Calipari thought that Karl-Anthony Towns got a little silly when he hung on the rim at Louisiana State.

That was one of four technical fouls that UK players have earned this season.

But talking noise?

Don't see it. Don't hear it. Don't expect it.

Ask the Hampton Pirates, the team Kentucky dispatched, 79-56, in UK's opening NCAA Tournament game at the KFC Yum! Center Thursday night. The Hampton players were more impressed by the way Kentucky behaved than the way the Wildcats played.

“They didn't do too much trash talking,” Hampton guard Gregory Hayden said. “They weren't arrogant. They just came out and played basketball and did what they had to do.

“They were polite. They were actually cool and dapped us up. They said, ‘Good game, keep your head up.' That's really surprising from a group of guys that caliber.

“Most people think they're the number one team in the nation, McDonald's all-Americans and cocky. That group of guys aren't like that. They're very humble.”

I interviewed four Hampton players after the Wildcats defeated the Pirates. All four said they expected Kentucky to win the NCAA Tournament. All four said that John Calipari's players did not say one discouraging word to a team that was obviously outmanned.

“They're a great group of guys,” said Emmanuel Okoroba, Hampton's reserve center. "They didn't talk trash at all.

“While they were beating us, one of them actually stepped on my shoe and said, ‘Excuse me.' That shocked me.”

That player, for the record, was Dakari Johnson, Kentucky's back-up center.

It's been that way all season. Darrin Horn, an analyst on the SEC Network has worked multiple UK games. Horn said that Kentucky plays like a group of guys who are comfortable on the big stage.

“Our job is not to brag,” Johnson said. “We just come out and play a game that we love, just compete and have fun with each other.”

It is not always that way. Not in today's culture. Check your Twitter feed for details.

Often the trash talking begins in the layup line. The more Kentucky has won, the more opponents have been asked if the Wildcats are as powerful as their 35-0 record suggests.

But the Hampton players said the Wildcats' were not dismissive. The Florida players said the same thing last weekend at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Horn said that at UK practices Calipari preaches playing the game the right way.

Five years ago opposing players did not talk as enthusiastically about DeMarcus Cousins as they do about this group of Kentucky players. Terrence Jones strayed from the script sometimes when the Wildcats won the national championship in 2012.

This group has worked at not wasting energy on behavior that can become a distraction. The players credit their parents – and the Kentucky coaches. They say it is not an accident.

“I think it's just the way each one of us is,” said Kentucky reserve Marcus Lee. “We know that our game will speak for ourselves. Nothing we can really say for ourselves.”

“That's just not who we are as people,” guard Aaron Harrison said. “It's about going out there playing basketball. It's not about anything else.

“It's not something you have to work on. It's just how we were all raised. I think we're all good kids. It's just not part of our personalities.”

The Hampton players certainly noticed. They said the Kentucky players were all basketball and no noise.

“They were all cool guys,” Okoroba said. “They were just asking us about school. They were just saying good job. Johnson, that's my guy. (Willie) Cauley-Stein was cool, too.

“We hope they win it all.”

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