LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -The gesture was a simple one, a nod of respect from one teammate to another.
It meant a whole lot more than that to Kentucky coach John Calipari.
After watching freshman reserve center Daniel Orton shine when starter DeMarcus Cousins ran into early foul trouble during a 92-63 win over Rider last Saturday, Calipari gave Cousins a choice.
``I was going to start DeMarcus and I said, 'You know what (assistant) coach (John) Robic, ask him if he wants to come off the bench or start,'' Calipari said.
The surprising answer left Calipari a bit stunned.
``He said 'Let Daniel start, he played well and I'll come off the bench,''' Calipari said.
Cousins hardly pouted, responding with 16 second-half points when he did come in as the fifth-ranked Kentucky improved to 4-0 heading into Tuesday's game against Cleveland State (3-1) in the Cancun Challenge. The winner will face Virginia or Stanford on Wednesday.
``Big step for our program,'' Calipari said of Cousins' unselfish act, stretching out the word ``big'' for emphasis. ``Big step. That means they're starting to care about one another. That means they're starting to recognize when another guy plays well, 'Leave him alone, I'm not worried about me.'''
The show of maturity from Cousins gives Calipari hope that his talented freshman class is growing up ahead of schedule.
``I have a whole team of 18-year-olds,'' Calipari said. ``It is a learning process for us all.''
The players aren't the only ones getting an education. Calipari experimented against Rider, playing Orton and Cousins on the floor alongside junior forward Patrick Patterson.
The trio worked so well together - combining for 51 points on 20 of 30 shooting and using their size to dominate the overmatched Broncs - Calipari expects to use the lineup again this week.
``I'm going to play those guys because Daniel Orton deserves minutes and if DeMarcus Cousins is playing like he was, he deserves minutes,'' Calipari said. ``And obviously Patrick has to play, so there's only one other way of playing them: playing them together and I have no problem doing that.''
Neither does Patterson, who returned for his junior year rather than enter the NBA Draft so he could work on expanding his game in Calipari's ``dribble-drive'' offense. Patterson spent the first two years of his college career working relentlessly in the low block but has developed into a 3-point threat.
Patterson entered the season with exactly zero career 3-pointers. He has already knocked down three in four games and admits to texting former roommate and Kentucky sharpshooter Jodie Meeks about his improved marksmanship.
A consistent jump shot isn't the only thing Patterson is working on. He has shown a willingness to share the ball and he and Orton combined for two of the prettiest plays during the romp over Rider.
Patterson received the ball in the post the Broncs double-teamed him. Patterson quickly turned and lobbed a pass to a streaking Orton for a dunk. Several minutes later Orton returned the favor, passing out of a double-team to Patterson for a slam.
``That's going to be something you're going to see a lot throughout the year,'' Orton said. ``Us being so big you have to go inside and destroy teams, and in doing that it's going to open up the outside for the guards to get open shots.''
Yet for all the hype surrounding freshman star John Wall, Calipari stresses the Wildcats will only go as far as their big men will take them. In the 6-foot-9 Patterson, 6-foot-10 Orton and 6-foot-11 Cousins, there are few teams that can match up with Kentucky when all three are on the floor.
``We know when all three of us are out there, we can do something special,'' Patterson said. ``We just have to focus on not being selfish and I'm trying to lead by example.''
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