Kentucky basketball is back! Well, kind of.
The Kentucky Wildcats dominated the Dominican Republic National Select Team by a score of 108-56 on Wednesday night in their first of four games down in the Big Blue Bahamas.
The Cats came out ready to put on a show as they dominated from start to finish. Despite playing expectedly sloppy and a little out of control, Kentucky was able to take a 43-25 lead into the half.
After the break, Kentucky looked much more comfortable and really pulled away. Everybody got involved, and it was an incredibly impressive showing all around.
Even walk-on Brennan Canada came in and knocked down a pair of threes in the closing minutes. You’d be hard-pressed to find an exhibition game that was more fun to watch than this, and that’s saying something given the amount that have been played under John Calipari.
Next up, Kentucky will take on Monterrey Tech (Mexico) on Thursday night. Be sure to tune in!
The first starting five
John Calipari revealed his first starting five of the year. The Cats went with Sahvir Wheeler, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, Daimion Collins, and Oscar Tshiebwe. Notice there are no freshmen in that starting lineup, which is definitely strange for the BBN to see.
Kentucky has a very veteran team this year as they only brought in two five-star freshman in Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston and one three-star freshman in Adou Thiero (plus 5-star reclass freshman Ugonna Kingsley, who hasn't yet joined the team).
This probably had more to do with having veterans out there against an older team rather than who Calipari will actually start this season. While those five are certainly five of UK’s top six players, UK can’t be starting three bigs in real games.
Regardless, it gave us a sneak peek into what those guys have shown so far this summer to warrant consideration in the first five.
As we all know, CJ Fredrick has been rehabbing after suffering a foot injury at Iowa prior to transferring to Lexington and suffering a torn hamstring last offseason. This was the first time we’ve seen Fredrick in action in the blue and white, but he certainly looked ready to go. While Fredrick played limited minutes, he did look healthy, and he even started the second half of the game.
Thiero, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery recruit, who was seemingly brought in based on his father’s relationship with Calipari. However, Cal obviously saw his immense potential to grow literally and figuratively. Thiero was limited due to growing pains. Yes, you read that right. The former 6’4 point guard recruit has now reportedly grown to 6’6 or 6’7 with the possibility of growing to 6’9. I have a feeling this young man hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential.
Finally, we have a new addition to the injury report as Wheeler went down with what appeared to be a knee injury in the first half of the game. The senior point guard appeared to bump knees with an opposing player and limped back to the locker room. Wheeler returned to the game, but it could be something to monitor.
Collins looking to take the next step
Collins definitely looks like he’s ready to take that sophomore leap. The sophomore forward showed flashes last season, but his skinny frame and raw offensive game limited his playing time.
This year, Collins is apparently expecting to block every shot that comes his way, dunk on anyone who gets in his way, and expand his range. Collins’ defensive prowess will be super important to this team, but his ability to score could make it impossible to keep him off the floor.
Early in the game, Collins caught the ball on the wing, dribbled to the elbow, and pulled up for a pretty midrange jump shot. Collins also displayed his elite athleticism posterizing not one, but two Dominic Republic defenders. I mean, just look at this.
OH MY DAIMION COLLINS!!!!! pic.twitter.com/9bW7VMMv5u— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 10, 2022
DAIMION DID IT AGAIN!!!! pic.twitter.com/c3GPJsq6S5— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 11, 2022
Long, athletic and versatile
The best way to describe this team is long, athletic and versatile. This team won’t shoot the lights out, but they will likely be one of Cal’s best defensive teams in years.
The Cats have Wheeler as the pest out front. Reeves is 6’6 with the ability to both shoot and potentially defend at a high level—a DeAndre Liggins-type. Toppin has grown to probably 6’10, and we all know his freakish athletic ability, which will result in a lot of chase down blocks and the occasional 360-degree fastbreak dunk like he did in this one.
Collins is a human pogo stick and Livingston is 6’7 with a knack for the ball. Of course, UK has Big O, who was the only player in college basketball to average at least 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game last season, not to mention his rebounding ability. Lance Ware is the enforcer and Thiero is a 6’7 point guard whose potential is off the charts.
While he isn't the most athletic, Fredrick is very sound defensively to go with his elite shooting ability. And finally, Wallace is an absolute dog and lockdown defender, who looks like he should be starting over Wheeler already.
Kentucky will struggle at times on the offensive end, but they won’t make it easy for opposing teams to get baskets.
Let’s see what the rest of this Bahamas tour has in store for the Cats.