I have to start by giving a huge shoutout to Canada basketball for hosting what was an incredible GLOBL JAM 2023.
Sure — it was great to see the Kentucky Wildcats go 4-0 and secure a gold medal, but the pallet cleanser that is summer college basketball never disappoints, regardless of the results.
With Kentucky coming off consecutive brutal losses in the NCAA Tournament, I can’t overstate the benefit for coaches, players, and fans to have the opportunity to turn the page in July rather than wait for November.
To put it simply, the stars really aligned at the perfect time allowing for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats to represent Team USA in the year 2023.
With a fanbase who was anxious to get their first look at a star-studded freshman class while also yearning to move on from another early tournament exit, I’d say it all worked out perfectly.
After the trip’s culmination resulted in a gold medal, there seemingly were half a dozen different storylines that could have been labeled as the “biggest.”
From Antonio Reeves going nuclear, Reed Sheppard jumping on the scene, or the seamless addition of Trey Mitchell — there’s just a slew of takeaways after watching Kentucky play 160 minutes of basketball.
Antonio Reeves = Wow
If you were one of the people keeping close tabs on Antonio Reeves and what his “role” would be like in Canada, then you have to be ecstatic with what you saw.
Not only did Reeves light it up on his way to earning GLOBL JAM MVP honors, but he did so in a way that allowed his teammates to shine bright as well.
Altogether, he’d average an impressive 23 points per game on nearly 58% (33-57) shooting from the field and 56% (18-32) from behind the arc.
That’ll do — that’ll do just fine.
Watching Reeves’ ability to quickly change direction on the perimeter is unbelievable, especially when he ultimately decides to attack the baseline after the ball hits his hands. It’s a blur, to say the least, making it easy to understand why most defenders have no chance of staying in front of Antonio Reeves.
If #12 can be counted on to provide anywhere near the scoring production that he did in Toronto, then you have to love the Cats’ chances to have a special season.
This is not the same Adou Thiero
After covering Kentucky basketball for what is now my seventh season, I’ve tried to discipline myself to stay away from the summer hype tweets and highlight videos touting major player development, similar to the ones we were seeing recently about Adou Thiero.
Then I saw him with my own eyes.
Holy smokes — I’m 6-5 and not long ago can remember standing somewhat eye-level with Thiero, but that is no longer the case.
Not only did he look noticeably taller, but his entire framework is just broader and far more intimidating than it was a year ago.
It wasn’t just the eye test that Adou Thiero passed while playing just under 27 minutes per game at the GLOBL JAM. His ferocious play more than backed up his newfound stature.
Thiero was all over the floor contesting shots, rebounding like a grown man, and giving Coach Calipari yet another viable option of someone who can get the Cats into their offense when needed.
In the four games, he’d average 7.5 points per game and tally UK’s third most rebounds by pulling down 23 total.
I really don’t know what Calipari sacrifices by playing Adou Thiero at the 4 position.
The way he was aggressively attacking the defensive glass and challenging shots at the rim make me believe that he’ll be tough to keep off the floor this season.
A loud portion of the fanbase has been clamoring for more small-ball lineups that allow for better offensive fluidity, and Adou Thiero’s offseason transformation looks like a key ingredient to making that strategy a reality.
Reed Sheppard shines bright
Even folks who were previously very high on Reed Sheppard’s game still probably found themselves pleasantly surprised at his jaw-dropping performance during UK’s gold medal run.
Sure — his 8.5 points per game didn’t blow you away like his stat lines from North Laurel may have, but it was the smoothness to his game that left us all yearning for more.
Something I didn’t realize until several days after the GLOBL JAM is that despite playing just 21.3 minutes per game, Sheppard led UK in assists at 5.75 per contest
It wasn’t just offensively that Sheppard flexed his young muscles, he also showed off his talent as a magician playing the passing lanes.
I lost count of how many times the freshman sneakily picked off a skip pass that created a transition dunk for himself or an easy basket for a teammate.
It was my first chance to spend much time around Sheppard off the court, and his maturity is evident.
Before Kentucky’s first game against Canada, I watched his warm-up routine closely like I have with many other UK players in the past, only Sheppard’s struck me as more calculated than most.
He had a certain number of shots he wanted to make from various spots on the court, I’d self-discover later that those spots had been strategically chosen based on where he’d be most likely to get the ball in UK’s offensive scheme.
The results spoke for themselves.
Coupling his work ethic with a high-basketball IQ leads me to believe that by the time conference play rolls around, Reed Sheppard will have a considerable impact on this team.
I trademarked this phrase after watching Tre Mitchell just seamlessly integrate himself into Kentucky’s top (maybe only?) option in the front-court.
Being a career journeyman clearly prepared Mitchell to adapt effectively on and off the court with his new teammates.
Throughout the week, you would have thought the West Virginia transfer had been a Wildcat under John Calipari for years, definitely not less than one month.
Mitchell had a stabilizing presence on the floor that appeared invaluable during some chaotic sequences. His ability to stretch the floor and knock down jump shots will be of tremendous value.
Mitchell was tied for second in scoring at 14.5 points per game while shooting over 44% (8-18) from three. He also led the team in rebounding by a considerable margin at 7.75 per game.
Sharing is caring
Kentucky’s assist-to-made basket ratio during the GLOBL JAM was nothing short of astonishing.
The guards' willingness to share the ball was the biggest reason that UK was able to average nearly 92 points per game.
DJ Wagner was special in his own regard, flexing his muscles and relentlessly imposing his will on defenders.
That motor is unteachable.
The fact that Kentucky has legitimately six guys that can initiate the offense will make them extremely difficult to game-plan for.
The Cats were wheeling a dealing to the tune of 25.75 assists per game.
For reference, in 2022-23 the team average was 15 assists per game.
Sharing is caring.
What could go wrong from here?
I think anybody who paid attention walked away from the GLOBL JAM with increased expectations for this Kentucky basketball team.
But things aren’t perfect.
Obviously, the absence of both Ugonna Onyenso and Aaron Bradshaw due to uncertain foot injuries is the biggest cause for concern.
It’s hard to imagine one or both of those guys being out and Kentucky having enough depth in the frontcourt to be competitive at the highest level.
Their health will be much discussed and a very crucial topic heading into the fall.
Defining roles is another area that I could see causing Calipari some hiccups over the course of a long season.
The reason I say that is because I don’t really know what defined roles would even look like with this roster the way it stands.
The beauty of the gold medal run was the effectiveness of playing true position-less basketball.
So by that standard, I’m not sure how you even would go about defining roles for so many guards capable of adding value in multiple areas.
It’s a good problem to have!