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1 takeaway for each Wildcat from UK’s pro day

There was a lot to love about what the Cats displayed in a nationally-televised practice.

Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans UK Athletics

So, who actually watched the Kentucky Basketball Pro Day Sunday evening?

It’s not a terribly high number, I'm sure. And though I wound up watching and thoroughly enjoying the event, it was not on my radar until around, eh, 8 o’clock or so when my buddy Noah and I walked into Tolly Ho—soaking wet from our sprint across the street from his apartment—and I noticed there was actual Kentucky Basketball content on the television screen. Incredible news.

A few hours later, back at home, whilst jamming my window open with a medal pipe and sitting on the windowsill with my legs on our front porch church pew—we got it for 50 bucks, how can you say no to the seat of God at that price?—watching the rain cascade over Kroger field a across the Nicholasville road, I setup my laptop and watched what would certainly be another boring preseason scout carnival.

It was not, surprisingly. Jimmy Dykes and Seth Greenberg were their own forms of hilarious on the broadcast and brought a lot of intriguing insight about the team, Cal was his typical Jumbotron-style self—even being baited into blathering his frequent “you don’t have to make ‘em all, you just can’t miss ‘em all” quote, which was muttered no less than 25 times during the 2-hour event.

The broadcast was a joy, the players were contagiously good-spirited, and Kentucky showcased the usual talent that keeps them competing for titles. Here is one takeaway for each UK player after their pro day performances (in alphabetical order):

Dontaie Allen’s 7’2 wingspan

We informed you back in August that Allen was already turning heads as an elite shooter and “the next Kyle Korver.” However, Allen is already more versatile on both sides of the ball at the college level and apparently has a behemoth wingspan for his position.

That wingspan is ridiculous for a 6-6 wing. It also reveals a lengthiness and perhaps overall level of versatility fans may have been unaware of. His ongoing ACL recovery kept him out of any real action on Sunday, and it will likely hamper his role when the season opens—but make no mistake, Dontaie will become a factor as a Wildcat in due time.

Keion Brooks’ offensive versatility

Already knowing Keion as a sturdy defender, energy guy and aggressive rebounder, he impressed me offensively. As a shooter, he looked surprising solid for what I was expecting: good form, capable of fadeaways, rather advanced touch, and he’s someone with a serious three-point stroke—even trading swishes with Big Nate for a few seconds (more on his 3-point lethality in a few moments).

Keion also possesses a herky-jerky-ness when attacking the rim that I just love. He keeps the ball high when it’s in his hands and doesn’t lose control while dribbling all while remaining frantic and unpredictable as a driver. With a few months to a year of refinement, I think the words ‘PJ Washington’ could apply to Brooks.

Brennan Canada being 6-foot-6

That’s tall for a walk-on; which essentially means that he may get wing minutes down the road if John Calipari enters the presidential race or we have a repeat of 2013 (Canada’s avatar would be Jarrod Polson). At best: a Jon Hood career, and that’s asking a lot from a walk-on.

Ashton Hagans rekindled his UNC fire

The ultimate Ashton Hagans game from the 2018-19 season came against North Carolina, where Ash hounded future 7th pick Coby White for eight steals and an afternoon of ball-handling hell. A dominating performance capped off by a thunderous “Look. At. That. Man!” standing scream from me in the middle of the Middletown (Louisville) Buffalo Wild Wings.

THAT edge was back. Ashton submitted his best Darius West impersonation, bursting into passing lanes for interceptions and staying glued to his man. Ashton seemed like he was in a general state of tiredness at the end of last season and revitalized his defensive aggression heading into his sophomore year.

There was a month stretch last season where this was the Kentucky fan consensus:

Ashton has re-found that dominance defensively and he should anchor one of the nation’s top 10 units on that side of the ball. Conditioning, strength, core, maturity, Ashton has surely taken a leap in all of the off-court areas, which should lead to consistent cremation of Kentucky foes on defense this season—and some nice floor setting offensively.

(Also, just one more thing: Ash added a floater that looks pretty deadly. Instead of holding the ball the way the Statue of Liberty holds her torch while shooting mid-lane floaters, Hagans moved his hand further up on the ball, mimicking kinda how James Harden releases his floaters. More direct, controlled approach that may be blocked easier but is also much more accurate. Small detail, but a new wrinkle I enjoyed.

Johnny Juzang’s comfortability

Johnny J was a late arrival to Kentucky’s 2020 squad, reclassifying and committing to the Cats in early May. As a result, I feel he’s a bit more of a mystery than most. We heard all summer about Juzang the shooter and he cashed those expectation tickets, but Juzang showcased some point guard abilities I had heard of but not received visual confirmation on.

The rumors were true. Juzang can pass, score and defend with effortless ease. While his certain role both offensively and defensively remains murky, I feel comfortable with Juzang on the court—and in most basketball situations. Nothing too dazzling about his performance, just that he came off as a bonafide Kentucky player—meaning he can handle this stage, something not everyone can claim.

If I’m being totally honest, Juzang is someone I still don’t have a great grasp on, but now I know he has the requisite floor to become either a one-and-done or a multi-year star in Lexington; and that’s all I can ask of a should-be high schooler playing in Kentucky blue for his first time in front of a swarm of NBA scouts.

Tyrese Maxey will be your favorite player

My pure love of Tyrese Maxey only grew on Sunday. The kid smiles nonstop. That’s a saying media members, players and coaches harp on and may mean nothing to Joe Kentucky Fan. Whatever, it matters to me.

By smiling and clearly having the time of his life as a UK basketball player, Maxey is a more enjoyable watch than Season 5 of The Office. A naturally gifted player in every phase of the game who wears positivity 100% of the time and out-loud for everyone to either hate or love.

Of course, his teammates and coaches and fans will love it. Here’s a hot take on life: people who smile are vastly MORE FUN to be around and interact with. Or to play basketball with or coach on a collegiate sports team. Maxey is an example-setter with his pearly whites, a hub of positive energy whose Pulling Nick Richards Out of a Mental Slump During Practice With A Simple Smile And Cheery Squeaky-Voiced Dap-Up can’t be measured on the stat sheet.

Speaking of the stat sheet, he’ll be a primary author of Kentucky’s in 2020. Maxey nailed a step-back three over Richards, managed to slip by his man on drives frequently, and stayed chest-to-chest with his man all night defensively. I’ve yet to find a hole in Maxey’s game, which is always a great way to set myself up for disappointment later on.

I’m VERY HIGH on the infectious smiler, though.

EJ Montgomery swatted some shots

Montgomery still looked a quarter-step slow and a bit archaic offensively (one of his air-balled threes earned an “oh, geez” from Calipari), but defensively, I was impressed. Montgomery often struggled with foul trouble last season—all freshman bigs do—and generally looked confused and halfway nervous. Like he was afraid to commit to using his bountiful athleticism to swat a shot fifteen rows into the stands.

Sunday, EJ looked more explosive, more confident, smarter, and played with a never-before-seen ferocity. The moment that sticks out was a Maxey drive to the basket where Montgomery rotated over and drilled Ty’s shot into the hardwood at about 100 MPH. Woah, that’s not something I’ve seen from him.

If we can see that level of defensive aggression and some added post-move polish, Montgomery will be a fine center. And, if we’re being honest, center is the chink in the armor for the 2020 Cats.

Zan Payne

Did not really participate in the scout showcase.

Immanuel Quickley will be a stellar sixth man

On the court, I’ll also give Immanuel a 5/5 for his performance —and one more 5/5 for the Bugs Bunny hoodie he had in class on Monday. The starting guards should be Ash and Ty with Quickly coming off the bench; and he’ll be great in that role as a perimeter jackknife capable of hitting threes, playing reliable defense, penetrating when necessary and providing a veteran presence through decision making, diving for loose balls and performing consistently. Immanuel is back and better this year as man No. 1 off the pine.

Nick Richards is more mature (a year older)

The Jamaican big man is the easiest person in the world to root for. There isn’t a more genuine or calmly nice dude on the roster—and it makes every positive play he makes such a cheerful event. Nick is getting better in practice, we’ve heard over and over again. But he needs to produce in the games, of course.

Sunday, he looked more comfortable with himself in the paint and on the perimeter—where his mid-range jumper looked another level smoother. I hope things come together for him this year. It would break my heart otherwise considering this is probably his last year in Lexington.

Nate Sestina is Stephen Curry with an undercut

Big Nate was a BEAST during Sunday’s pro night, establishing himself as a key cog for Kentucky on the floor and in practice. John Calipari could not stop raving about his vocal leadership, and the players echoed that when asked about Sestina.

I’ve found it is so much easier to picture team success when you have a collection of infectiously positive personalities. Sestina smiled, joked with everyone and still brought the maturity and leadership of a Reid Travis.

And he can SHOOT THE BALL. During shooting drills, Sestina nailed 20/24 from the three-point line—which, in case you forgot, has been moved back to the international mark—including 18 that didn’t hit the rim and a particular stretch of 15 consecutive makes.

I’m notoriously not a huge stats guys, but I’ll allow some excitement after such a scorching performance. Plus, he converted seemingly every kind of jumper imaginable in the 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 scrimmaging.

Sestina already looks like one of, if not Kentucky’s most reliable shooter and will be one of our five crunch-time guys.

Kahlil Whitney is a freaking freight train

I underestimated Kahlil Whitney. As a typical five-star 6-6 wing, I wasn’t enthralled with the detail of his game.

Turns out, he might not need it to dominate the college ranks. The dude has the body of a senior power forward at a mid-major program, but can jump probably two feet higher and run twice as fast. He is freakish athletically. As a rebounder, defender and general havoc-curator, Whitney’s physical presence was perhaps my most astounding non-Nate reaction.

Whitney is worth the blue-chip hype and top-15 national ranking coming out of high school. He can play the 3 or 4, and he’ll be a nightly force on both sides of the ball. Aside from the jump shot and sometimes-careless/aggressive decision making, Whitney is a true joker on the court—one built like an Adonis.

I can’t rule him out of the Best Player On the Team conversation yet, and I think Maxey is a potential All-American. Kahlil Whitney: an impressive revelation.

Riley Welch exists

Finally got to lay eyes on our newest walk-on.

That’s all folks! Thanks for reading!