New Orleans Pelicans

Kentucky players take pride in performance against NBA team in practice

There are two possible conclusions to draw from how Kentucky players spoke of summer games against the New Orleans Pelicans. Either the Cats are going to be dominant this coming season or the Pelicans are going to be dreadful.

At Kentucky’s media day Thursday, players talked about holding their own against an NBA team, which worked out at UK’s practice facility a few days.

“It was definitely competitive . . . ,” said Kevin Knox, one of eight freshmen on Kentucky’s team. “We won the first game, actually. Then they started picking it up and it got real competitive.”

Hamidou Diallo emphatically disagreed with the presumption that a Pelicans-Kentucky game, even in a pickup setting, would be NBA men against college boys.

“No, no, no, no,” he said. “Not at all. We brought a different level of energy.”

When asked if the Pelicans played with a competitive zeal, Diallo said, “Of course. They’re professionals. So they bring the same energy every day. That’s their job. So they bring the same energy every day. They’re great players.”

Former UK player DeMarcus Cousins apparently brought his full arsenal of basketball talent and trash-talking swagger to the games. Knox said another of UK’s freshmen, Nick Richards, bore the brunt of Cousins’ approach.

“I’m not going to lie, he was frying Nick . . . ,” Knox said of Cousins. “DeMarcus came in and tried to punk us.”

Richards objected, mildly, to Knox’s description of the big man competition.

“I don’t look at it like I got fried or anything,” Richards said. “I look at it as a learning experience.”

Knox said Cousins used verbal as well as physical tools against Richards. “DeMarcus was definitely talking a lot of trash to Nick,” he said. “Nick did not back down from DeMarcus at all.”

By contrast, former UK player Anthony Davis was “kind of laid back,” Knox said. “He didn’t say much, but he played really hard.”

Richards termed Cousins “probably the strongest dude I ever played against in my life.”

Richards had his moments. He recalled blocking a layup attempt by Cousins. “He tried to say I fouled him or goal-tended his shot,” Richards said. “But I blocked his shot.”

Knox saw the games against the Pelicans as making a statement.

“Now, we know we can keep up with some of these NBA guys,” he said. “That we should be able to keep up with most college teams. A lot of college teams are really good. But if we can play like we played against the Pelicans, I think we have a really good shot at beating a lot of good teams this year because we were really competitive.”

Injury update

Freshman Jemarl Baker was philosophical about missing UK’s Pro Day on Sunday because of knee soreness.

“Definitely, I want to be out there with the team,” he said. “But everything happens for a reason.”

Baker said he did not know why his left knee started aching. It was the first time he’s been sidelined because of injury, he said. He said it was “day to day” when he might return.

Baker shrugged off missing Pro Day.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for them to see me when I get healthy,” he said of NBA scouts. “So I really wasn’t worried about that aspect of it.”