NBA & Atlanta Hawks

Kentucky contributions have Heat in a Calipari state of mind

As the Miami Heat traveled to the Carolinas in advance of Wednesday night's exhibition against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, the ongoing reality continued to hit home.

For all the affection within the organization for all things Duke, from the Arisons' connections to the Shane Battier influence to the emergence of Justise Winslow, Pat Riley's team appears to be matriculating back to his alma mater.

And based on what the team's last two first-round picks appear capable of, little seems wrong with a Kentucky state of mind after so many Durham deliberations.

In the wake of guard Tyler Herro going for 18 points in his preseason debut Tuesday night, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pointed to the surprising polish of the 19-year-old selected with the No. 13 pick out of Kentucky in June, the first-ever Heat player born in the 2000s.

"I've said that before, I marvel at these young guys coming into this league now, particularly guys that played at a program like Kentucky," Spoelstra said before turning his attention to Wednesday's back end of the preseason back-to-back. "It's almost like you're playing and prepping for the pros, just the entire environment, the way that they're coached, the system and playing in front of big crowds, big media, all of that. I think it just prepares these guys for this next level."

Based on the maturation of center Bam Adebayo, taken by the Heat out of Kentucky at No. 14 in 2017, there certainly appears to be validity to the prep school John Calipari is running with the Wildcats.

"Playing at Kentucky," Adebayo said, "it's a little different than most schools. We thrived on conditioning. So if you ever go see a Kentucky practice, we're conditioned hard. We go after each other one on one. We take on those challenges, because Coach challenges us to win those one-on-one challenges and play as a team and sacrifice."

It is the quality of those practices, Adebayo said, that has steeled Kentucky's prospects for their next step.

Herro, for example, in his lone season in Lexington got to scrimmage against P.J. Washington, who went one spot ahead of him in June, to the Hornets, and Keldon Johnson, who went at No. 29 to the San Antonio Spurs, former teammates that set up as opponents during this two-night preseason pairing.

"Practicing every day against Kentucky players is much like the pros," Herro said. "Just the atmosphere and what Coach Cal puts us through is clearly NBA.

"That's why I went to Kentucky. To be able to get prepared for moments like this, for sure."