The Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team made their first public appearance as a team on Saturday night at the first ever Fans Fan Fest at Transylvania University’s Clive M. Beck Center.
Only two members of this year’s men’s basketball team did not make an appearance, and two were sidelined, but 11 of this year’s Wildcats took the court to entertain the crowd and give the sneakiest of peaks of what they can be with the season about a month away. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the event.
A hot topic last season, and quite often with John Calipari teams, was their ability to consistently shoot the ball at an efficient clip. You might have heard it before, but I’m going to say it…This team should be better. Everything suggested that would be the case with the personnel and their percentages, but they got to show it at the Fan Fest.
Before the event even started, TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady and CJ Frederick were having a heated shooting contest all around the arc, including from multiple steps beyond the line. Daimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins got in on the action towards the end and actually held their own too. They got all the way back to half court where Grady made three straight and around five total.
That doesn’t even include Dontaie Allen’s performance in the Shooting Stars Challenge or Washington going head to head with Davion Mintz in the Three-Point Contest. Your hopes can only get so high in a setting like this where it’s so casual and no real defense is being played, but it wouldn’t shock me to have as many as five players able to shoot in the 40% ballpark from three-point range.
This point is nothing new, but, physically, this team looks really good. Collins looks to be the tallest although he “only” sits at 6-foot-9, but everyone looks the part in the size and length department. Sahvir Wheeler is the only exception, but we’ve seen first hand what he can provide as a pure point guard at his size at Georgia.
Beyond that, a lot of them look like they’ve made strides in the weight room. Keion Brooks Jr., Jacob Toppin and Hopkins, all three being in contention for forward spots, looked bigger and Collins, who didn’t lift weights in high school, seemed to have made some real steps forward as well. Considering that doesn’t even include the size of the guards or the absent 6-foot-9, 255-pound Oscar Tshiebwe, this team should be able to at the very least hang, but likely overpower, just about everyone they face in the measurements department.
It’s been well documented, and it’s time to move on from it, but last season was a disaster in every way. One reason for that, potentially, was the lack of cohesiveness and camaraderie in the group all season long. I can guarantee that will not be the case with this team. Everyone looked overjoyed to be out there playing and competing with each other and this team looks to have some real characters on the roster, including Wheeler, Washington and Toppin. It felt like, even in their best moments, last season’s Wildcats just could never keep their spirits up. With how close this group looked to be, I can’t imagine that even being a thought this time around.
Just from a 2 1/2 hour first look that was essentially an All-Star Saturday night and without one of their most important pieces, this team really does look to have it all on paper. It has scorers, defenders with players who can become better ones, experience, shooting, size, length, X-factors and, maybe most importantly, some really great kids on and off the floor. If the right buttons get pushed and things continue to progress, there’s no reason Calipari won’t be back at the helm of another top-10 team and contender come Big Blue Madness in a month.