Who’s Who: What You Need to Know Before the Blue-White Game
Kentucky basketball fans have become accustomed to learning a brand new roster each season but this year takes it to a new level. With eight new faces to learn and only a handful of returning players the casual fan has a lot to learn. If you fall into that category and are going to the Blue-White game this Friday night here is a rundown of who’s who to get you up to speed.
First lets cover the returning players to refresh your memory.
#32 Wenyen Gabriel– The 6’9 sophomore is the Cats most experienced player having played in all 38 games last season and averaging 17.8 minutes per game. He averaged a modest 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season with his high scoring output being 23 points against LSU. He certainly showed glimpses of his potential last year but seemed to wear down as the season went on. In this off-season he has worked hard to take his conditioning to another level so that he won’t have the same issue this season. He is a strong candidate for a starting spot in the lineup and should make a bug jump in terms of production this season. If he does not land a starting spot he will be one of the first players off the bench each game. He is a capable three-point shooter as well as a high energy guy that can provide a spark. He will primarily play the power forward spot but could also play center from time to time if Cal wants to play a “small” lineup.
#1 Sacha Killeya-Jones– The lanky 6’10 sophomore had a tough freshman season in terms of getting on the court but he gained valuable experience on the practice floor. He had the opportunity to go up against Bam Adebayo on a daily basis and that helped him improve a great deal over the course of the season despite not getting a chance to show it in games. He has continued his maturation over the summer and reports are that he has been impressive in practice early on. He is one of the top candidates along with Nick Richards to start at the 5 spot. The practice experience he gained last year will certainly help him as he works to earn a spot in the rotation. His length makes him a capable shot blocker but it is his offensive skill that will be most valuable on this team. He is a strong shooter from outside which will help space the floor when he is in the game. A key for him to get more playing time will be rebounding the ball and playing more physical. Having only played in 15 games last season makes him similar to a freshman in terms of being an unknown to many fans. By seasons end SKJ will be much more known by Big Blue Nation.
#14 Tai Wynyard– The 6’10 native of New Zealand has been a Wildcat for a season and a half but he has yet to see much time on the court. He played in 15 games last year and showed occasional glimpses of being a player that could carve out a role on a team in the future. He is a rugged player that can mix it up inside when the game gets physical. He is probably behind both SKJ and Nick Richards at the center spot but he will give them valuable depth there. If foul trouble or an injury occurs Wynyard should be a serviceable replacement. Not every player on a team has to be a flashy future NBA star. Every great team has to have some role players to win a championship and Tai seems to be a perfect fit for that. He has been nursing a minor injury and may not play in the Blue-White game.
#12 Brad Calipari– The 6’0 son of coach Cal was mostly a victory cigar last year and will probably have a similar role this season. With that said he is one of the best shooters on the team and he works at his craft tirelessly. A time will come when he gets meaningful spot minutes in games, but this year is probably too early.
#10 Jonny David– A 6’2 walk on guard that is universally beloved by his teammates ever since he has been at Kentucky. He has a great attitude and seems to be a fun guy in the locker room that helps the team chemistry. He is actually a very solid basketball player that would be capable of getting minutes if a situation warranted it during the season.
#30 Dillon Pulliam– The 6’3 guard is another walk on with a great attitude and positive impact on the team. He does not seem to be as outgoing as Jonny but he has developed strong relationships with several teammates in the past. That is a big factor on a team that brings in a new set of young players each season. Dillon is a guy that can help guide them through all the things that can distract them from the basketball court. He is also a solid player that helps in practice and could play in a game if necessary.
The new guys
#3 Hamidou Diallo– The 6’5 guard almost ended up as the Cats first none and done before withdrawing from the NBA draft at the last-minute. He actually joined the Wildcats during the middle of last season but opted to redshirt and just practiced with the team. Both Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox credited him with helping them a great deal by having to play against him in practice every day. He was a consensus top 10 recruit that has out of this world athleticism. He also has amazing length that should help him cause havoc on the defensive end of the floor. He will be one of the Cats top scoring option and will do most of that as a slasher and in the open court. The biggest question mark for him is if he can make outside shots consistently. He has worked hard to improve that part of his game and if he can force teams to respect him from outside he could become a lottery pick in the draft. The sure thing is that he will leave fans with their jaws on the floor several times this season. He is a lock to start at the shooting guard spot and may play more minutes than anyone else on the team. He will be one of the funnest players to watch from the Calipari era because he can do things that humans just shouldn’t be able to do.
#5 Kevin Knox– He is a 6’9 forward that is as skilled as any forward Cal has had at Kentucky. He was a top 10 recruit that most “experts” predicted to go to Duke before he shocked the recruiting world by picking Kentucky. He handles the ball well and is a very good shooter from beyond the three-point line. His game is similar to Kevin Durant although that in no way means he is as good or will be as good as Kevin Durant. With that said Knox gives Cal something that he has never had at Kentucky. A skilled offensive true small forward. He will be a match up nightmare for opposing teams with his ability to score both inside and outside. He will likely be the Cats biggest threat from deep even if he is not on the level of Malik Monk and Jamal Murray. Cal is pushing him to drive the ball more frequently because he knows that teams will struggle to stop him off the bounce. He and Diallo seem destined to battle it out as the leading scorer on the team. In the end I expect Knox to edge out Diallo by a fraction for the top scoring honors. Some NBA draft prognosticators have Knox outside the first round of the draft but that is why they are prognosticators and not employed by NBA teams. Knox will almost certainly be one and done and he will likely be a lottery pick when all is said and done. After two straight seasons of having an undersized small forward fans will love watching Knox this season.
#0 Quade Green– The five-star 6’0 point guard won’t wow fans with insane quickness and athleticism, but he will earn their respect as a floor general. He was a consensus top 25 recruit and McDonald’s All-American. He is from Philadelphia and that gives his game a very tough edge and is a bulldog on the court. He should be a great distributor for a team with so many offensive weapons. He is also a very solid three-point shooter which is a big need on this team. He projects as a multi-year player that will stick around for at least a couple seasons. He does not possess the quickness of Tyler Ulis but his game will remind fans of Ulis in many ways. He is already showing his leadership skills on the court and for a team with such little experience that is huge. He will almost certainly be the starting point guard and be a huge piece of this teams success.
#25 PJ Washington– The 6’7 forward was a consensus top 20 recruit and will be a key player on the team from day one. He is an exceptional athlete as well as a skilled forward that can make shots from outside and handle the ball. He has an extremely wide wing span and is a physically strong player that can bully opponents in the paint. He will be a guy that is hard to take off the floor because he plays hard and makes winning plays. He will primarily play power forward but could also play small forward and even center from time to time. PJ will probably start a lot of games this year if not the vast majority of them. Either way he will be a candidate to lead the team in rebounding and provide a solid scoring punch every game.
#22 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander– The 6’6 guard has flown under the radar a bit among fans but has really gotten a lot of praise in the pre-season. He was a top 30 recruit and would be the crowned jewel of most recruiting classes. He is a combo guard that primarily played the point in high school. His ability to play either guard spot will make him extremely valuable on this team. He will probably be the primary backup for both Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo. Due to his size he could also play the small forward spot on occasion. He has extremely long arms and is a tenacious defender that will give smaller guards trouble. He is a good shooter from deep and is also capable of scoring on drives to the basket. The theme of this team is versatility and SGA fits that to a tee. Despite being a sub he will probably draw the eye of some NBA teams this season and will have a decision to make in regards to whether to enter the draft or not.
#4 Nick Richards– The 7’0 center from Jamaica is a work in progress but could end up having the best pro career of any player on this team. He was a consensus top 15 recruit and a McDonald’s All-American. He has only been playing the game of basketball for a handful of years but in that time his talent has sky rocketed. His offensive game is in the developmental stages outside of dunks and lobs for the most part. With that said Kenny Payne is working with him in the post on a daily basis and he seems to have the footwork and athleticism to improve at a fast rate. The thing he should provide from day one is a tremendous shot blocking threat as well as a solid rebounder and good motor. The most wide open starting position seems to be the center spot but if I had to guess I would say that Richards will start more games there than anyone else by seasons end. Kentucky has lacked a legitimate shot blocker since Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein left Lexington, but Nick should fill that role nicely. While he is mostly raw potential at this point he will still be a likely candidate to be a one and done player depending on how his season goes.
#2 Jarred Vanderbilt– He is another versatile 6’9 forward that will give Cal limitless lineup options. Unfortunately fans will have to wait a while to see him in action because he has a foot injury which required a small surgical procedure that could keep him sidelined until early January. He was a top 15 recruit that can play the 3 or 4 positions. He is an exceptional ball handler that sees the court well. He can play as a point forward and bring the ball up on a break. Cal said he is also a great shot blocker off the ball and would also be perfect to put at the free throw line on offense if teams play zone against the Cats. After multiple years without a true small forward Cal has three players that fit the position better than anyone he has had since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Once he is healthy Vanderbilt will likely be the first player off the bench to sub and could work his way into the starting lineup. There is some hope that he may not have to miss as much time as was originally thought. If he can at least be back by the start of SEC play it will be key for the Cats. Fans will love his personality from day one even when he is on the bench.
#13 Jemarl Baker– The 6’4 shooting guard from California was one of the last additions to the recruiting class for the Cats. He is a top 50 recruit that is known as a deadly shooter from beyond the three-point line. He is more than just a shooter but it is his shooting that could potentially help him carve out a spot in the rotation on this team. If he proves he can defend at an acceptable level for Calipari he could be called out to knock down shots if teams pack the paint on the Cats. His role on this team will probably be limited to spot minutes but it is possible that he could work his way into a larger role. Envision him in a role similar to what Mychal Mulder played last year. He could be a big piece for the Cats down the road as his game develops. He has been out with a sore knee and may not play in the Blue-White game.
With so many young players this team will take some lumps to be sure. With that said they have enough talent that when March rolls around they will be a candidate to make a run to the Final Four. Sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it.