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Kentucky freshman PG Green making push to be the starter

Kentucky v North Carolina

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Quade Green downplays talk of being Kentucky’s starting point guard despite making a strong case for the job.

The 6-foot freshman pushed the fast pace that coach John Calipari wanted during the preseason, fed Wildcat teammates with accurate passes and shot well. Most notably, he’s showing the stamina and durability needed for the position critical to executing Calipari’s offense.

Green has spent a lot of time watching video of past Kentucky stars such as John Wall, Tyler Ulis and even Rajon Rondo, all now in the NBA. They all passed through Lexington this summer for pickup games against the talented young Wildcats, experience that has stoked Green’s confidence to make his point — on and off the court.

“It’s hard to fill everybody’s shoes that have come through here, but I’ve got my own shoes to fill,” said Green, one of five high school All-Americans among eight newcomers for the No. 5 Wildcats.

“I have my own expectations of what I want to do, and I’ve just got to follow the rules that Cal wants. I’ve got to do what he wants me to do, and do what I’ve got to do to be a pro.”

Green stresses that he’s got a lot of work ahead at Kentucky before thinking about the NBA. Calipari meanwhile is undecided whether Green or 6-6 freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will run the point for Kentucky as it opens the season Friday night against Utah Valley.

Freshman Jemarl Baker (6-4) is out three months after recent left knee surgery, leaving the Wildcats with just three guards. Chances are Green, Gilgeous-Alexander and even 6-5 redshirt Hamidou Diallo will share the responsibility there.

Calipari seems inclined to try a number of combinations with one of his youngest rosters at Kentucky.

“We’re a good enough handling team that you could play basically without a point guard,” the coach said on media day. “But our teams have been centered on having guys out there that can really control the game somewhat. So I would say two. And they can play together, by the way, because Shai is big.”

Green meanwhile has helped the offense with quickness and impressive shooting. During preseason he made nearly 70 percent from the field — including 64 percent from 3-point range — in addition to passing well and maintaining the tempo.

The Philadelphia native has used the 5-9 Ulis’ style as a template to follow, particularly on defense. Studying many of his predecessors has also given Green a blueprint of how to bring Kentucky’s latest collection of talent together.

“It’s a big transition because you’re dealing with more and better players” than high school, Green said. “You’ve got to get them involved too because they’re trying to get to the same level you’re trying to get to. You’ve got to help them, and they can help you.”

With Kentucky playing four games in the season’s opening week, including Tuesday in Chicago against No. 4 Kansas, Calipari will use many combinations to determine his rotation. Judging from his swagger and performance, Green wants to be in charge.

“He’s the floor general,” forward Wenyen Gabriel said of Green. “That is one of the aspects of his game and he just wants to really let that show when he’s out on the floor. He gets assists, gets the ball moving and he talks. He shows a lot of leadership while he’s playing the game, so that’s one of his best aspects.”