Unselfishness will be big part of Kentucky’s identity

Published 7:25 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

John Calipari has made it no secret Kentucky will be performing at a faster pace this season, and with that comes the responsibility of sharing and taking care of the basketball.

In its first exhibition game of the year against Kentucky Wesleyan last Friday, the Wildcats dished out 20 assists and committed just nine turnovers. Veteran guards Sahvir Wheeler and Davion Mintz each had six assists and one turnover, proof Kentucky isn’t afraid to share the ball.

“We all shared the ball,” Wheeler said. “No one had more than two turnovers. That’s a great thing. That’s a great number. I know that number could get even better because I know all of us missed some shots that we usually make. Just the first-game jitters, anxiety, playing against somebody else. All that’s going to get better the more we play against somebody else.”

Count Calipari as pleased with the preliminary results considering the Wildcats struggled in both statistical categories last season.

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“The way we’re playing, the speed we’re playing with, is pretty good,” the Kentucky coach said.

Wheeler, a transfer from Georgia who made his unofficial debut with the Wildcats against the Panthers, said the performance was indicative of the team’s identity.

“We all play unselfish and we all play for each other,” Wheeler said. “We make one more pass and at the end of the ball, we’re trying to score the ball as quick as we can, get back (on defense) and make stops.”

Numerous times, Wheeler’s teammates were prepared for the extra pass, especially in transition, that led to a par of impressive assists by Wheeler, resulting in slam-dunk opportunities off a fast break.

“If I have the ball, they know I look for them and they run a little harder and there is a possibility — if he gets it and I run — I’ve got a shot at getting a shot,” Wheeler said.

Teammate Keion Brooks agreed.

“(When) you have point guards like Sahvir (Wheeler), Davion (Mintz), and TyTy (Washington) and push the issue, it just makes it easier for the rest of us,” he said. “Coach Cal is encouraging Bryce (Hopkins) and myself and the other guys that can rebound to get it and go. He doesn’t want the point guard running them down and slowing them down. We can get it to bring it and push it ahead, that’s the way we practice and will continue to play.”

Despite the impressive start, Calipari said more work needs to be done when it comes to making the right decision on the offensive end of the court.

“We held it at times. Instead of a drive, pass, pass, drive again, we went drive, pass, and that guy tried to make a play,” Calipari said. “We got to keep working on that.”

Kentucky Wesleyan coach Drew Cooper said the Wildcats will have plenty of support in moving forward.

“It’s my belief that when you have experience and have guys that have been there and done that before, it can make for a quicker assimilation,” he said. “I think they have the opportunity this year to do that. They look very, very polished. We’re looking forward to rooting them on as the season goes on.”

Gametracker: Miles College at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or via Twitter at keithtaylor21