Scouting report on key Kentucky players ahead of Bahamas trip

Kentucky’s basketball team is headed to the Bahamas in August to play games, but from a fan’s perspective, it might as well be a fashion runway in Milan as Big Blue Nation is eager for a sneak peak at player trends for the fall and winter.

Assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman were more than happy to oblige with the trip now just 10 days away.

JACOB TOPPIN. No player has created more preseason buzz than senior Jacob Toppin. With Keion Brooks transferring to Washington, the stage is set for the athletic forward to claim his spot.

“He’s been doing just what we thought he was capable of doing,” Antigua said. “You now see a guy who is confident in what he’s doing. He’s playing at a different level confidence-wise and physically, he’s playing lower.

“Jacob, because of the athlete that he is, was playing upright, he ran upright,” the coach explained. “But when you get in tight spaces you have to play lower to play through the contact whereas in past years he might have been knocked off balance. Him playing lower allows him to absorb more contact and to use the strength he’s gained in the weight room and the confidence to put that into practice. We’re going to ask a lot out of him this year.”

Coleman wants to see Toppin expand his game a bit to include a few 3-pointers.

“He can’t love it, he has to like it, but he can’t love it,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to give him a happy medium where he likes the 3 but don’t fall in love with it. You can fall in love with a new toy, you just want to play with that one.”

SAHVIR WHEELERwho led the SEC in assists two years in a row, returns as UK’s primary point guard.

“The next step for him is to continue his growth,” Antigua said. “Shooting the ball, for one, and to continue to be a great leader. We expect him to be a fierce defender, which he has been, and to continue to lead.”

Wheeler took some grief from Big Blue Nation as last year’s promising season disintegrated with a shocking first-round loss to a No. 15 seeds.

“It’s a gift and a curse of the BBN, they’re so invested,” Coleman said. “We understand the dynamics of that, they’re opinionated because of the investment, it cuts deep, I think Sahvir understands that.

“The main thing for him to do is continue to chop wood, get better every single day, every single possession,” Coleman said. “He and I spend a lot of time together on and off the court, working on a lot of things. It’s more situational awareness, what I mean by that is the last seven minutes of the game, the last five minutes of the game, understanding the situations and being aware of the dos and don’ts, taking less risks and being more efficient and sharper .

“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Coleman said, “and I’m expecting him to be the best point guard in the country.”

CJ FREDRICKa 47-percent career 3-point shooter, transferred from Iowa but missed all of last season to injury.

“You have to temper the expectations a little bit because CJ is working his way back to being up to full capacity,” Antigua said. “But he’s been doing great. He’s going live, body-to-body, and competing. But we also know it’s a long road, it’s a process. You guys have all seen his physical appearance and how much his body has changed. He’s been really dedicated.

“But it’s a 47 percent career 3-point shooter. Anytime you can add that to a team it’s special,” Antigua added. “He’s a great teammate. His IQ. His competitive edge. His feel for the game. And he plays with an edge which brings a little something to the team.”

Fredrick, who won the 2018 state tournament with Covington Catholic, also saw his game grow last year without playing a minute.

“Any time that you can detach yourself from the game is important because your viewpoint in the game is different than when you’re watching it from the side even as a player and a coach,” Antigua said. “We did a lot of converting with him last year throughout the year. What did you see? This is what we see. And giving him a different perspective that I think is going to help him a lot. He’s a kid with really high IQ anyway so the mental reps he was taking last year while he was going through his therapy will serve him this year.”

OSCAR TSHIEBWE returns with six trophies in his room denoting him as consensus National Player of the Year. But that doesn’t mean there is no need for improvement.

“He’s got a lot of room to get better,” Antigua said. “He’s got a lot of room defensively to get better, a lot of room offensively to get better. He says he’s going to average 20 rebounds and we’re going to try to hold him to that.”

Coleman is eager to see Oscar 2.0.

“You gonna slow down a Derby horse?” he asked. “I don’t know, you let them go. It’s easier to dial them back than it is to get them going.”

Freshman CASON WALLACE never missed a beat when joining one of college basketball’s blue bloods.
“He takes a lot of pride in his defense, a lot of pride in being physical. It was one of the things that we liked about him in the recruiting process,” Antigua said. “It was one of his calling cards – his toughness , his desire to defend and guard the opposing team’s best player. That mentality is special and it’s very rare for a freshman.

“He’s earned the respect of the veteran guys with his play and the way he carries himself,” Antigua added. “He carries himself much more mature than what you would expect from an 18-year-old.”

CHRIS LIVINGSTON joins Wallace as two of the top prospects in the Class of 2022.

“Chris and Cason are fearless,” Coleman said. “The fear they have is whether they’re good enough, so they work so hard. They’re fearless in the way they play, not being afraid of the car crash, attacking the rim, dunking on people, being those dudes who play downhill.”

ANTONIO REEVES is the team’s lone transfer and a 20-point scorer last year at Illinois State.

“Antonio has so many layers to his game,” Antigua said. “He’s not just a scorer, which is what his team needed him to do at Illinois State. He’s a guy with great size who can play the 1, 2 or 3. He can handle the ball, pass the ball. He’s a better defender than he’s been asked to be. He’s a three-level scorer with great feel. I’m excited to see him.”

DAIMION COLLINS gives Kentucky a rim protection aspect of the game that did not exist last year.

“God given gifts, he’s an avatar,” Coleman said. “What Daimion has done is improved his skills, his ball handling, his jump shot, his middle game. All of that has been improved. It won’t just be lob dunks for Daimion. He’s in the gym, he’s finding comfort in his game and what that is.”

ADOU THIERO was a late addition to the recruiting class, arriving without much hype.

“Adou is a lot better than I thought he was,” Coleman said. “The one for me would be Adou physically is prepared, physically and athletically he’s way better than I thought he’d be.”

If it sounds like Kentucky is field a versatile team, then you are correct.

“I like how we’ve got multiple guys who can play different positions,” Antigua said. “We can go really big, we can go really small, we can go really athletic, we can go really physical. That versatility is something that’s very unique.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *