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Sahvir Wheeler, CJ Fredrick press conference recap

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The two new Cats open up about their decision to rock Kentucky blue and get this program back to contending for championships.

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The Kentucky Wildcats have been one of the most active teams in America with the transfer portal, adding the likes of Kellan Grady, CJ Fredrick and Sahvir Wheeler to the 2021-22 roster over the last two months.

This week, Fredrick and Wheeler had their first video meetings with local media. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

Sahvir Wheeler

On point guards having the ability to manage personalities …

“Not everyone reacts the same to, you know, adversity. Everyone needs a little different motivator. Some people you can be hard on, you can really challenge, but some people you’ve got to constantly uplift and provide confidence. Be like, ‘Yo I believe in you. You can do this.’ But some other people could be like, ‘Man, now come on. Let’s get going. Let’s go right here. Step up.’ That’s all different personalities. I think I’ve had a lot of practice with that due to the fact that I have five younger siblings and I’m the oldest at my house. It’s been something that I’ve constantly gotten better at, not only with the practice but with the different teams and different environments in high school to college with two different rosters my freshman year to my sophomore year. Now here at Kentucky it’s going to be a whole new roster again. That’s what I kind of meant by that. I feel like just knowing the guys in the group chat, the group messages that we’ve had it is going to be pretty easy to get along with everyone. Everyone is buying in already, so I’m super excited.”

On how he compensates for not being a traditional size of a Calipari point guard and what are the advantages …

“Yeah, like you said, the average is 6-3, but I feel like I’m the fastest or one of the fastest Coach Cal is going to have. I’m probably up there with (De’Aaron) Fox. It’s pretty ironic because Fox is from Houston. But I think the advantages that I’m going to have is similar to Tyler Ulis as far as guarding the ball, being a defensive pest, being disruptive on that end, and offensively using my speed to get into the paint and be a distributor, scoring when I need to, being a playmaker, making the right plays, trying to make everyone else’s life easier so we can win some games down here.”

On being compared to Tyler Ulis …

“That’s cool with me. Tyler Ulis was the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. So, if I’m getting that comparison, I think I’m doing some things right. Obviously, I have to continue to get better to live up to that, but I’m super excited. He was a successful guard in college. He was super successful here at the University of Kentucky and I’m really cool with that. I’m also cool with being the next, the one and only Sahvir Wheeler as well.”

On his decision to transfer and if the ability to play right away had an impact …

“I mean, it obviously had some impact as far as, you know, wanting to transfer this year, but I think the biggest thing for me was the fact that we had the COVID year. I was isolated the majority of the year, not being able to be around my family and friends. I’ve only seen my parents twice during this past school year in 10 months or so and that’s something, you know, that’s unheard of. So, I was forced to really look in and see what I value. I was forced, you know, to kind of like reevaluate the whole situation as far as looking at basketball from a business standpoint. I wanted to see what opportunities were going to be out there where I could better myself and have an opportunity to make a run at the national championship and also put myself in position to play at the next level and achieve my dreams. After a lot of reevaluation and knowing that the one-time transfer rule was possibly a thing that could pass this year, I decided to look elsewhere and eventually end up at the University of Kentucky.”

On being a point guard who sometimes goes off script …

“Yeah, I’ve done that in college as well. I think the biggest thing is having that trust with the coaching staff. Not only for you to trust them, but they have to trust you as a point guard ultimately. You’re the extension of the coaching staff on the court. When you’re playing at Kansas in Phog Allen with 16,000-plus people yelling and cheering during the game, you’re not going to be able to hear Coach Cal on the other side. So, as the point guard and as the leader, as the floor general, you’re going to have to be able to make some of those calls when you can’t hear them necessarily. But Coach has to know that, he’s going to make the right call, he’s going to put us in the best positions to score. Also, when you feel like you’ve got to run that play that Coach Cal calls because you don’t want to do something else and it not work out. So, you’ve got to have a healthy balance between the two. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to being able to trust each other and knowing that you want to put the team in the best position to score and win games.”

On if he is a student of Kentucky basketball with all the names he has dropped …

“[Laughs.] Nah, I would like to call myself a student of the game just in general, but any great point guard that comes through college basketball I’ve had a little study session with my dad at some point. But Kentucky specifically, because I always wanted to play in the SEC. I feel like this league was built for guards like me to play fast, to be up-tempo, to be productive. They’ve had a lot of guards come through Kentucky, obviously, who were all those things. So, that’s why I guess I consider myself a Kentucky historian per se a little bit. I’m just super excited to be here.”

On signing with Kentucky just a few days after UK signed TyTy Washington at point guard and what that says about the confidence in himself …

“Yeah. I wouldn’t be here without my self-confidence. That’s just being honest. Not a lot of 5-10, sub 6-foot guards playing in the SEC at a high-major (school) that are productive. You’ve got to have a little bit of self-confidence and know what you bring to a team no matter who’s there. But, Coach Cal was very straight-up and genuine from the beginning. Like, I knew that he was recruiting another guard and I knew that it would be a guard that we could complement each other. TyTy is unselfish. I’m unselfish. He can score. I can score. He can really shoot it. That’s something I’m working on and hopefully you all are going to be able to say that about me at the end of the year. Like, I knew everything that was going on and I’m super excited and looking forward to the opportunity to get to know him and build a bond and build a friendship and a brotherhood that will last a lifetime.”

On if there was any hesitation with the Southeastern Conference’s current transfer rule still in place …

“I mean, it was a little bit, but I felt like, from what I’ve gathered with my parents and their resources, I wouldn’t have made the move if I felt like I was going to have to sit out this year. But, I think that rule is going to pass. Hopefully it will. I’m pretty sure it will. At the end of the day, I was just looking for the best opportunity for me whether I was going to play this year or I wasn’t. I was looking forward to an opportunity to play right away. When I was able to play, to have an immediate impact, make an impact on winning, make a run at the national championship, and surround myself with guys who are going to help elevate my game not only from a player standpoint but from a coaching standpoint, that are going to hold me accountable on a day-to-day basis to be at my best, to be the best version of myself.”

On playing in Rupp Arena two seasons ago and what he remembers about that experience having played in front of a full house …

“Rupp Arena, obviously, is a one-of-a-kind environment and one of the best environments in college basketball. To defend myself a little bit there, that game I was battling an ankle injury. I was wearing a boot beforehand and after the game, so that kind of hindered my performance there. But it’s a big-time, big-time place. Like, when you come into Rupp, I’m like, ‘Bro, am I playing in the NBA right now?’ So, it’s a one-of-a-kind thing and I’m super excited to be able to play as the home team and be able to represent Big Blue Nation and go out there and be excited and win games and have Kentucky back where it’s supposed to be.”

On why he chose Kentucky …

“I think the biggest thing is the platform. The platform that Kentucky has, the stage that if you’re excelling and you’re competing at a high level and you’re being productive, that puts you in a different atmosphere, a different environment than anywhere else. Also, just looking from a roster standpoint, I’ve never got to play with elite shooters like Kentucky has this year on its roster, especially in college. I’ve never got to play with the elite athleticism, the size, the length, the versatility with the wings and the forwards. And also, being able to play for a coaching staff who has put multiple point guards in the NBA Draft, who has developed them throughout the years and given them confidence and empowered them. Not only that, but me being very familiar with the SEC. I’ve been in this conference for two years. I’m almost like a vet now. I know what to expect. I know the different coaching styles and the different coaching staffs and what they like. I know what it takes to win. Not only that, I am all-conference, I am All-SEC here, so it’s a conference I’m super familiar with and comfortable with and also productive in.”

CJ Fredrick

On playing in Rupp Arena again after winning a state title there in high school …

“Yeah, it’s something super special to me. I was able to lead my high school team to a state championship at Rupp. Everybody that plays in the Kentucky state basketball tournament kind of knows that feeling of getting to Rupp and how special that arena is and what it takes to get there. So, I’m excited to do the same thing with this team just come in and help this team do whatever it needs to do to win and create more memories at Rupp Arena.”

On pressure to play for Kentucky as an in-state product …

“I don’t really feel any pressure about playing. I just see it as a great opportunity for me to just come in and get better and help this team win. I love to win. So, I just see it as an opportunity. It’s going to be great for my family to be able to be closer to the games. My grandma can come to the games, my mom, dad, aunts, uncles, all of my family kind of in the area. So, I just see it as a great opportunity for me.”

On his motivation to transfer from Iowa …

“I just kind of wanted something new. I loved my time at Iowa. I had three great years there. I love the people there. They were great to me. They made me feel at home when I first stepped on campus. So, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me and how great the fans and the people were to me. I met my best friends at that school, so I wish nothing but the best for them. Obviously, they’re going to hold a special place in my heart for that. But like I said, I just wanted something new. I felt like it was best for me and my career to make this move and just develop more as a player, a teammate, a person. Like I said, I’m just really excited for this opportunity. Kentucky in no way had reached out to me before the portal. I went through the whole recruiting process when I was in the portal, and like I said I just felt like this was the best opportunity for me. I took my time. I went through all of the information and this was the place that I felt was best for me and my career.”

On if Kentucky was a dream school …

“Yeah, definitely. Being around the area, I kind of know what it means to play on this team. I never thought it would happen. I’m just super excited that it did happen. But I knew that I was going to go to a team that needed me, and Coach Cal was actually one of the first people to call me when I entered the portal. The minute I talked to him I could feel the genuine need for me to come in and help lead the team and help make shots and help spread the floor. That was something that I really liked and enjoyed talking with him about.”

On how much contact he’s had with his future teammates and his excitement for playing with them …

“A lot of them actually reached out when I committed, so I thought that was super cool, super special. Just reaching out saying they were excited to have me and then today actually a lot of the guys got a group chat together just kind of putting names in. But I’m really excited to get down there and just grow with them, learn more about them and create relationships with them. I love all of their games. They’re special players. I think this team this year everyone fits, and I think you’re seeing kind of a complete team. I’m just really excited to get to work with them and get better with them and go on this journey.”

On if Kentucky recruited him at all out of high school and if he wishes he would have waited to see if there was a scholarship offer coming after his performance in the Kentucky Sweet Sixteen …

“No, Kentucky didn’t recruit me in high school. I kind of was locked in on Iowa throughout the whole state tournament. I was honored by that commitment and that opportunity, so I never really thought of a different opportunity. But like I said, I’m super excited for this opportunity now. It’s something that, as a kid, I never thought would happen.”

On if he is better prepared to play at Kentucky now than he was out of high school …

“Much more. My game has just evolved in so many ways. I’m just more mature on the court. In high school I kind of just went out and played, and now being in college I’ve kind of been able to read the game more. There’s so much about the game that you just kind of have to sit back and learn more about. I feel just in control on the court. I can read things a step before it happens, so with the right development and the right people, I think I can really excel.”

On growing up in an athletic family and how that helped him growing up having “athletic genes …”

“You know, it’s funny when you said that. I was talking about that the other day with someone. When I was a freshman in high school, I played on my freshman team and I really wasn’t that good at basketball. I kind of felt just pressure on myself. Like, wow, I mean, my family is really predominant in this area for basketball and I just kind of thought I would be letting them down. But my sophomore year I took a jump. I grew. I kind of thinned out and just lived in the gym and got better. Thankfully, an opportunity to play at Iowa came up. I just tried to carry the family legacy as much as I can. It started with my grandpa. He passed away. He was an AD at Greenhills (High School). He was someone really special to me. He would have loved for me to play on this team so that’s something I keep with me moving forward.”

On if he considers himself to be a Kentuckian or an Ohioan being that he lived in Cincinnati but played basketball in Kentucky …

“That’s a good question. I’ve kind of been all over. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I would wake up in the morning and drive over the bridge to Cov(ington) Cath(olic). It was really an easy drive for me. And then I played AAU basketball in Indiana, so I’ve been all over the place. I’m from Cincinnati and that’s always going to be where I’m from. I love this city and everything about it, but as I got older and played high school basketball in Kentucky, that was a new family for me. My grandparents lived up the street. All my family lived up the street, so I had been going to Cov Cath games over in Northern Kentucky since I was a little kid. I always loved that. It’s home. So, I feel like I just have two great homes. I know that’s weird to say but I have family in both areas, and I consider myself home both ways.”

On what John Calipari’s recruiting pitch and message was to him …

“Kind of the minute I talked to him, he just has this competitive drive even when he’s talking to you. I’m a competitive person and I love to win, so the conversations with him were really cool. One thing specifically I liked about him is he didn’t just sit there and tell me how great I was. We went through film and he showed me ways that I need to get better and showed me ways that I can improve my game, so that’s something I really respected from him. I felt like I would be in good hands with him as it came with developing. But right away I felt a need. He told me he needed me to come in, just make shots, set an example for these guys, come in the gym every day to work, and that’s something I love to do. I did it in high school, I did it in college, so I felt needed and I felt like this was the place for me.”

On what his biggest concern is with coming to Kentucky …

“That’s a good question. I would have to think about that. Basketball wise, I’m not concerned about anything. It’s just a super exciting opportunity for me. I’m kind of coming in learning everything, learning about the campus, meeting the guys, getting to summer school and all that stuff. Just a range. But wouldn’t say concerned. I just think getting on campus and meeting the guys is definitely the first priority and creating relationships with them. But nothing I’m too concerned about.”