Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kentucky Can Now Play ‘Positionless Basketball’ With Murray Facilitating Three-Guard Lineup
NEW YORK — If John Calipari truly wants to replace the platoon system at Kentucky with “positionless basketball,” he now has the perfect opportunity to do so with three interchangeable guards in 6-foot-5 Jamal Murray, 5-9 Tyler Ulis and 6-3 Isaiah Briscoe.
The trio could play as a dangerous three-guard set and can also play in multiple permutations with one of them running the point and one or two off the ball. And oh by the way, Kentucky also has 6-6 shooting guard Charles Matthews joining the program, too.
“We teach positionless basketball. It’s not one way of playing, it’s a lot of ways of playing,” Calipari said earlier this month in a conference call. “It’s not just ‘make the league.’ I want them to be all-stars.”
Murray, who reclassed to 2015 and committed to Kentucky on Wednesday, is one of the best point guards — if not the best — on the planet not currently in the NBA. Now he will almost certainly spend some time off the ball and on the wing.
“Jamal is one of the best guards in the country,” Calipari said. “He showed that in practice at the Nike Hoop Summit and in the game. I had so many people call me to tell me how unbelievable he was. You’re talking about a 6-5 playmaker that can score and can guard multiple positions. He can make an impact from anywhere on the floor. I can’t wait to start coaching him.”
His high school coaches have no doubt Murray will jell alongside Briscoe and Ulis.
“Those are three very talented young men, I’m excited to see how they work together,” Murray’s coach at Orangeville Prep (Ontario), Larry Blunt, told SNY.tv. “Jamal shot a very high percentage from three and is an efficient scorer. He’s very versatile.”
“They will work it out and play all at the same time,” Tony McIntyre, Murray’s coach with CIA Bounce, told SNY.tv. “Cal will make it a fit.”
Isaiah Briscoe’s camp also appears excited about the news that Murray will reclass and head to Kentucky for likely one season before he heads to the NBA.
Roselle (N.J.) Catholic coach Dave Boff said he spoke with Briscoe Thursday morning and he was looking forward to playing with Murray.
“Isaiah’s game fits with all types of players,” said Boff, who coached Briscoe to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title in March. “He can mesh and also lead any group of players and we’ve seen that at Roselle Catholic, AAU and with USA Basketball. Isaiah is a future NBA player so he’s going to be surrounded by great players whether its at UK or at some point when he is playing in the league so this is a great opportunity to continue to develop.”
Murray played against Briscoe at the Nike Hoop Summit in April and dropped 30 points as the World Team beat Briscoe and the U.S. team in Portland, Ore., 103-101.
“I’ve also played against Briscoe a lot at the Hoop Summit and Peach Jam, so I kind of have a feeling of what his game is like,” Murray told KentuckySportsRadio.com on Thursday.
John Calipari now has a loaded three-guard set with Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe. Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Murray also added that 6-10 New Zealand big man Tai Wynyard would likely be joining the Kentucky program in December, giving them another big man along with Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere. With the three-guard lineup, Poythress can also return to play his more natural power forward spot after returning from ACL surgery.
“I know Skal from playing in the Hoop Summit together,” Murray told KentuckySportsRadio.com. “Tai, he’ll be coming in December I think.”
Meantime, longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski believes Calipari will have no trouble getting Murray, Briscoe and Ulis to thrive together.
“[Calipari] is amazing how he gets people to buy in, he is the ultimate salesman,” he said. “The way he’s gotten all the players to buy in.
“Karl-Anthony Towns every night should get down on his knees and say a prayer to God to bless John Calipari, making him the first pick in the draft because he taught him how to compete. He changed his body, he taught him how to compete, he totally reoriented his game to where he’s no longer this perimeter wannabe, not that he can’t step out and shoot threes. John Calipari has been a miracle worker with him, and he gets people to buy into a system that plays every in.
“Jamal Murray is the one kid who’s reclassed who’s really ready to make a contribution and Kentucky will have more guards that reside on Mount Olympus.”
Konchalski believes that Ulis is more likely to be the point, with Briscoe and Murray playing off the ball and on the wing.
“Ulis is not going to play off the ball, he’s their point guard,” he said. “But when he’s not in the game I think it’s Jamal Murray’s ball moreso than Briscoe. Briscoe is mainly a scorer. He can throw good passes, but he’s mainly a scorer. That’s the orientation of his game.”
With the addition of Murray, Kentucky now has four projected picks in the 2016 NBA Draft according to DraftExpress.com: Labissiere at No. 1, Murray at 21, Lee at 28 and Poythress at 56.
If Labissiere were to go No. 1, Kentucky could have back-to-back No. 1 picks assuming Towns goes No. 1 to Minnesota.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.