Cats give fans reason to be excited

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023


Kentucky Today

Kentucky provided an early glimpse of the future and it looks bright for the Wildcats following a perfect showing in the GLOBL Jam.

Email newsletter signup

Unlike previous summer league exhibition games typically played overseas in the Bahamas, the Wildcats faced a higher caliber of competition and succeeded. Kentucky won four games, including a two-game sweep of host Canada, by an average of 12.8 points per game. The even hit the century mark in a dominating win over Team Africa.

Kentucky brought home the gold medal and plenty of promise for the upcoming season. The regular season is still more than three months away, but considering the seemingly yearly roster makeover, the sooner the better when in comes to preparation.

John Calipari’s squad was without big men Ugonna Onyenso and Aaron Bradshaw, both out with injuries, and the Kentucky coach used mostly an eight-man rotation comprised of veterans Antonio Reeves, transfer Tre Mitchell, Adou Thiero and freshmen Reed Sheppard, D.J. Wagner, Rob Dillingham, Justin Edwards and Jordan Burks.

The team displayed an ability to compete unselfishly, evidenced by 103 assists on 142 made field goals. Moving and sharing the basketball is a demonstration of team unity and chemistry and the Wildcats exhibited both traits in each of the four contests.

The top contributor was Reeves, who spent weeks pondering his future before opting to return to Lexington. Throughout the process, Calipari said Reeves “worried about the wrong stuff” during the decision-making process.

“When you have five of the freshmen that we have and you’re finding out they’re really good. ‘So what’s gonna happen to me?’” Calipari said. “What? You’re the vet. What do you mean what’s happening to you? So, he did the right stuff. Proud of him and he’s playing good.”

The addition of Tre Mitchell also wasn’t a nice surprise as he proved he could shoot the basketball behind the arc and isn’t afraid to make the extra pass to an open teammate. Mitchell and Reeves give the Wildcats much-needed leadership and it showed against above-average foreign competition. Adou Thiero also will be a valuable asset within the leadership circle.

A weakness in the past three to four years has been outside shooting. Calipari may have the crew he needs to provide the shooting his teams have lacked on the perimeter.

Freshmen Justin Edwards DJ Wagner and Kentucky Mr. Basketball Reed Sheppard proved they can carry the load at any given time behind the arc. All three players were impressive scoring the ball and were equally impressive sharing it. Sheppard provided a solid case for Calipari to keep him on the floor rather than being a spectator in his first season with the Wildcats. Even veteran broadcaster Dick Vitale was impressed with Sheppard.

“There is no way Reed Sheppard is a four-star player,” Vitale said on social media. “He is flat out a five-star.”

The biggest question mark is who will pick up the rebounding slack now that Oscar Tshiebwe has moved on to the next level? That still remains to be seen, but Calipari and his staff have time to figure that out as Bradshaw and Onyenso recover from injuries in the off-season.

Based on first glance, Kentucky could have the necessary tools in place for a successful season whatever that definition may be. Time will tell.