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Kentucky Basketball Preview: Keion Brooks Jr. is Wildcats’ most intriguing piece this season

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After shunning the home-state Hoosiers for a chance to join the Big Blue Nation, incoming freshman Keion Brooks Jr. can provide a swiss army knife-like versatility to the Kentucky attack.

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: APR 05 High School Nationals Tournament
Keion Brooks Jr. can score from every level and provides a switchable defender that makes Kentucky even more dangerous this season.
Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Keion Brooks Jr.

  • Position: Forward
  • Class: Freshman
  • Measurements: 6-7, 205 lbs.
  • Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • School: La Lumiere School (Ind.)
  • Recruit Rankings: No. 24 nationally (247 Sports), No. 6 SF in the 247 position rankings

The term “package deal” has become quite a popular phrase in college basketball recruiting over the last half-decade or so and for Keion Brooks Jr., many across the Hoosier State thought he and 2018 Mr. Indiana Basketball Trayce Jackson-Davis would both be coming to Bloomington to try and rejuvenate the supposed storied Indiana basketball program.

Jackson-Davis capped a dominant season at Center Grove in Indianapolis, won the state’s biggest award in hoops after committing to the Hoosiers, while Brooks transferred from Fort Wayne North Side High School to national high school power La Lumiere, helping Isaiah Stewart (Washington) lead the Lakers to a 29-1 season a year ago, just falling short in the national high school title game to IMG Academy.

While Hoosier fans hoped Brooks would be joining his good friend in those hideous candy-stripe pants, Brooks had a late change of heart in the process, and chose the Cats over the Hoosiers, giving Calipari a relatively unexpected jolt in the arm for this year’s class.

“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t,” Brooks said during a sit-down interview back in March on playing in big-time atmospheres like Kentucky can provide. “Just being able to picture myself on a stage like this in front of so many people cheering for you and just going out and playing the game I love, it really helped my decision, too.”

With Brooks in the fold for this year’s Cats, the 6-foot-8 forward has the potential to be a swiss army knife. He’s got the size and skill to score against any player on the floor, and on top of that, has the ability to defend multiple positions effectively.

How can KBJ fit into the rotation this season?

The upside for Brooks is that he can fit on the floor with everybody. If you want to go small and play him as a four-man with Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Brooks and EJ Montgomery, you have scoring and quickness on the defensive end to frustrate their opponents in transition and in the half-court.

(A personal hope from this team: minutes with a Maxey-Hagans-Quickley-Kahlil Whitney-Brooks lineup where, yeah ... it’s small and will get beat on the glass by some teams, but quick as a hiccup and scoring all over the floor in every way imaginable.)

If you want to insert him into a little bit bigger lineup as the small forward with (insert a duo out of the Maxey/Hagans/Quickley trio), Brooks, graduate transfer Nate Sestina/Montgomery and Nick Richards, he fits as a wing scorer than can space the floor from long range and can attack off the dribble.

Keion Brooks Jr.
KBJ isn’t afraid to post up smaller defenders and shoot over the top of them when he gets to a comfy space on the floor.

I think this play helps show the all-around offensive scoring approach that Brooks has. In one of his better performances from his senior season against notable powerhouse DeMatha, Brooks shows off his size and ability to take advantage of a mismatch.

He posts up, dribbles to a soft spot in the middle of the lane, elevates and easily scores over the defender without trouble. He’ll obviously play against guys more his size this season and beyond in his career, but this is a nice move to have.

If you want to see him shoot a fadeaway off a post-up over a bigger defender, he can do that.

Good defense, better offense.

One thing Brooks will have to do for Kentucky is hit open looks from deep. The Cats will still look to score from the post with Sestina, Montgomery and Richards in different ways because that’s just John Calipari, but with the scoring potential this team possesses, along with guards that can score and distribute off the drive, Brooks can be a proper floor-spacer from the corners.

Catch and shoot from the corner? Bang.

He wasn’t asked to create for others too much as one of LaLu’s prominent players/scorers, but a simple basketball play you want to see him make is passing out of collapsing defenders. Teams sink down on Kentucky’s drives harder than most teams in the country and he’ll see plenty of plays like this one (and he makes the proper read for a corner triple).

It’s simple basketball, but good basketball. Pass out of the double, leading your teammate to the corner for three.

He didn’t move mountains on the defensive end, but when I spoke with his coach Patrick Holmes back in March, he noted that Brooks put a conscientious effort to not only improve his shooting, but his defending, which led to plays like this one:

Oh my, KBJ.

Not every defensive play he makes is a Hagans-like highlight, but he’s capable of making plays on that end as a helper with his length as you can see.

What to expect from KBJ?

He’s not going to be the best prospect from this bunch because that title could/should belong to Tyrese Maxey, but Brooks provides an intriguing piece to the bigger puzzle for the Cats. I think the intrigue comes from a few things.

Where does Calipari want to play him? The 3? 4? Maybe even some small-ball 5? Who has he bonded with naturally on the floor so far leading into Big Blue Madness? Maxey and Whitney were two huge reasons Brooks is in Lexington right now.

Do you run some lineups with those three, Montgomery and Richards and go big with four guys no shorter than 6-foot-6 and a 6-foot-3 lead guard?

Brooks can fit in quite a few different scenarios, which probably makes the coaching staff’s pursuit of him make much more sense. Plus, he told Indiana no, so he’s already a fan-favorite among many in the BBN anyway.