There’s more questions than answers with the Kentucky Wildcats through nine games this season, but with the holiday season upon us and one of the more important stretches during the season in full swing, there’s a few things to be thankful for with the Wildcats.
It’s always a good time of the year to be thankful you’re not a Louisville fan.
(There’s no need to bring Little Brother into this. At least not for another 9, 10 days or so. Don’t let politics fool you. Kentucky is and always will be a blue state.)
Sure, there’s probably plenty of those that wear blue that will remain concerned about this current bunch of ‘Cats and for good reason.
Kentucky’s perimeter defensive approach still isn’t good enough. Despite the hot shooting against Utah in a solid home win, the ‘Cats really haven’t shot it all that well from long range this season, despite the upgrade in shooting with this current roster.
And then there’s the late-game execution issues that occurred in the Seton Hall thriller, which ... look ... I’m not one to judge a Hall of Fame coach, but if you have timeouts in your pocket and you just went through a similar situation where you’re trailing in a tight spot nine months prior in the NCAA Tournament, wouldn’t you think to maybe use one of them?
But I digress! I digress. It’s done and over with. It happened.
There’s no need to be bitter about it like, you know ... the ‘Cats not getting through the easiest and wildest region they’ve been in during the Calipari era ... OK, OK ... enough’s enough. We’re here to be thankful, right? Let’s do that.
Here’s a trio of things that Kentucky fans can be thankful for and no, Benny Snell and Josh Allen aren’t two of them, BUUUUUUUT ... we’ll put them next on this ensuing list just because they’re that awesome.
1. Reid Travis keeping Kentucky afloat until their youth figure things out
Let’s ask an obvious question: where in the bluest of blue hells would these ‘Cats be if Reid Travis didn’t transfer from Stanford?
Kentucky’s most consistent player has been the transfer from Minneapolis, who is averaging 21.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per 40 minutes this season, along with three 22-point performances against Duke, VMI and UNC Greensboro.
Simply put, Travis has been a beast and even the game he fouled out in — the heartbreaking 84-83 defeat to Seton Hall — Travis still had 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
He beasted again with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the blowout over Utah and, get this ... he’s made 50 of his 68 free throw attempts, which is good enough for 73.5 percent. Knowing the struggles that Kentucky’s had at the line, specifically with big men too, that’s a solid number to be at here in the latter portion of December.
Big Blue Nation can be an impatient bunch at times and it’s understandable with the title-or-bust expectations that come with Kentucky’s talent ever year. But Travis is buying the ‘Cats some time to put the pieces together to make that expected March run.
2. Keldon Johnson being the biggest dog in the yard
There’s plenty of guys at every level of basketball that you can watch and say, “Man, that guy’s got that dog in him.”
It’s no secret that Keldon Johnson is one of those guys. Just ask John Calipari himself. He’ll tell you how bad Johnson wants to win.
On top of Johnson really establishing himself as the go-to perimeter player for Kentucky along with Travis (and even PJ Washington as of late for that matter), he’s become one of the emotional leaders for Kentucky this season.
When I wrote about Reid Travis recently, Johnson’s energy stood out watching the game. It was this play specifically against UNCG that I saw it the most.
I captured this because I freakin’ love Keldon Johnson after Travis makes this. But this is smart basketball from Travis. Dickey’s in foul trouble and Travis goes right at him, plus the foul. pic.twitter.com/s6u56X5gfN— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) December 6, 2018
Travis gets the and-one, but look who gathers the unit on the floor for the ‘Cats for a quick motivational huddle? It was Johnson. (Listen closely in the video.)
He’s got that “dog” and that want to take the big shots.
They may have beaten the ‘Cats (in a home-away-from-home game), but ask Seton Hall.
Easy prediction to make or not, but this won’t be the last time that Johnson makes a massive play in the clutch this season.
He’s one of those guys that you want the ball in his hands with the game on the line and that could be pretty handy for the ‘Cats later in the year, especially against much stiffer competition in the SEC this season.
Also, he’s Santa Claus. Who knew?
Keldon Clause is in the building. pic.twitter.com/sXkvDCUlaK— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 19, 2018
3. Kahlil Whitney coming to Lexington next season
I spoke with Nick Irvin of Morgan Park High School in Chicago and of the AAU Circuit’s Mac Irvin Fire back in August about the incoming five-star commit for the ‘Cats and if reading about his game isn’t enough, you should definitely read more about Kahlil Whitney the person.
He hasn’t officially signed with Kentucky just yet, but there’s a reason for that. (Read about that here. It’s worth your time.)
One of the main takeaways I got from speaking with Irvin for a little while was that as good as Whitney is and can be as a basketball player, he’s a good human being first, which is more important.
Still though, it’s hard to not be excited for Whitney’s arrival in Lexington.
If you’re not, you will be soon.
Be thankful he’s gonna be wearing blue and white next season.
What are you thankful for this holiday season with Kentucky hoops, BBN? Let us know in the comments below. I’m curious. It’s PJ Washington’s mean mugs, isn’t it?
Another good one would be UK commit Dontaie Allen scoring roughly 935 points a game during his final high school season.
Could it be Rick Pitino for leaving Louisville in such a mess? (I know, I know. I said I’d leave them out of it.)