With the Kentucky Wildcats having eight freshmen on the roster, many of them will have to step up early and perform well if they are to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, which hasn’t happened since the 2018-19 season.
In Kentucky’s first preseason exhibition game against Georgetown, two freshmen stepped up, as Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard combined to score 25 of the Cats’ 29 bench points.
It was especially a solid performance for Dillingham, who had 16 points, three rebounds, and five assists in Kentucky’s 92-69 win against Georgetown while logging 24 minutes. Although Dillingham isn’t starting, head coach John Calipari has had some high praise for the guard.
Calipari compared Dillingham’s situation to that of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Immanuel Quickley, who were both happy coming off the bench, despite being one of, if not the Cats’ best player.
John Calipari on Rob Dillingham:— Tristan Pharis (@TristanUda) October 28, 2023
"You know who subbed himself today, twice? Robert Dillingham and I didn't start him. I told him today, 'I'm not going to start you.' He said, 'Coach, I'm good. I trust you.' The same thing Shai, Quickley said to me. Really proud of him." pic.twitter.com/JX0azygwzd
With Dillingham coming off the bench, it could provide a much-needed spark during games if Kentucky can’t score. After adding over 20 pounds of muscle after the Canada trip, it is easy to say Dillingham looks better since the Summer trip and will make a great impact on the court this year.
As for Sheppard, he continues to show how great home-state kids can be if they do decide to commit to Kentucky, with previous players, including Dontaie Allen, Dominique Hawkins, and Derek Willis making a solid impact at UK.
Sheppard had just nine points but also impacted the game in other ways, including one steal, two assists, and two rebounds in 21 minutes.
Calipari spoke highly of Sheppard and how he does the little things that have a larger impact on the team.
“Steady Eddie. Smart. Shoots it pretty good. Playing better defense,” Calipari said during postgame interviews. “What a teammate. Gets the ball to the right guys. He’s making hard plays look easy. I’m excited for him.”
Although it is still early, it is great to see how some of these players are already accepting their role on the team. And with the trip to Canada this Summer, it probably had an even greater impact on knowing what the team can do going into the year.