UK Men’s Basketball Player by Player Season Preview
The start of the basketball season is rapidly approaching. The Cats will start things off against Michigan State on November 5th. The Spartans will likely be ranked #1 when the teams face off. That will give fans an early glance at how Kentucky will look against top competition. To prepare for the season we have a full player by player preview
Tyrese Maxey 6’3 Fr.- The roster is loaded with talent but the most talented player on it will be Maxey. He can score the ball in about any way you can imagine. He is a good shooter from beyond the arc, but he is also very good off the dribble and can score at the rim. The other exciting thing about his offensive game is that he has a tremendous mid-range game. He could play the point if needed and will do so from time to time, but mostly he will play off the ball. Think of him as a cross between Malik Monk and Jamal Murray in terms of athleticism and ability to score. He should immediately be a better defender than either of those players. He plays a tenacious brand of defense that will give teams fits when combined with Ashton Hagans. Another thing that fans are going to love about Tyrese is his constant positive attitude. He always seems to have a smile and that should be something that rubs off on his teammates. In terms of production, I expect him to lead the team in scoring this season and play somewhere around 28 minutes per game. He will be the team’s top candidate to win SEC player of the year. Enjoy watching him now, because he will be a lottery pick in the next NBA draft.
Ashton Hagans 6’3 So.- Hagans will be the first starting point guard that Cal has returned since Andrew Harrison came back and helped lead Kentucky to a 38-0 start to the season. Hagans was the SEC defensive player of the year as a freshman and his defense should only improve in year two. Most of his offense came from driving to the basket last season and that will not change. With that said, he spent the summer working on his outside shot and that should pay major dividends this year. His conditioning and strength should be better as well and that will help him finish at the rim more consistently than he did last year. As a freshman he averaged a little over 7 points per game, but I expect that to go up to 11 or 12 points as a sophomore. His assist numbers should increase, due to understanding the offense more. Ashton will almost certainly enter the draft after what should be an exceptional sophomore season.
Immanuel Quickley 6’3 So.- If I was going to choose one player on the roster as my breakout player of the year it would be Quickley. He worked extremely hard over the summer to transform his game and take it to another level. He spent time in Orlando working out and playing one on one with former #1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz. Immanuel was able to get advice and thoughts from Fultz, who said he would be watching Quickley this season. The confidence that Immanuel is playing with is clearly different from last season. He seems to be trusting his instincts a bit more and is just paying basketball, rather than over thinking things on the court. He may not end up in the starting lineup but he will be on the floor a lot this season. It will be especially true in late game situations. He is a tremendous free throw shooter and gives the Cats another good ball handler to go against late game pressure. There will be times that Cal puts Quickley, Maxey and Hagans in the game at the same time. That lineup could be extremely effective and fun to watch. I expect for Immanuel to play 20 to 22 minutes per game this season, but I won’t be shocked if those numbers aren’t higher. He averaged 5 points a game as a freshman and should at least double that number this season. He will be one of the teams most dangerous threats from behind the 3pt line as well. The way that Cal is recruiting guards for next year tells me that he thinks this will likely be the last season for Immanuel. With the improvements in his game I think it is extremely likely that he will enter the draft after this year.
Kahlil Whitney 6’6 Fr.- He is the most athletic player on the roster and will have plenty of highlight reel dunks this season. My best description of Kahlil is a two-inch taller Hamidou Diallo with a better motor and attitude. If Kahlil can live up to that, it will make him a very good player as a freshman and there is a chance that he will greatly exceed that expectation. He is a capable three-point shooter but is most dangerous as a slasher going towards the rim. His length and athleticism should allow him to defend multiple positions and be a strong rebounder. Outside of Maxey, Kahlil is the strongest bet to be a lottery pick in the draft next year. He will play around 24-25 minutes a game and average around 12 points a 6 rebounds a game. He will probably start from day one and will be occasionally used as a power forward when Cal opts to play a “small” lineup.
EJ Montgomery 6’10 So.- EJ could have stayed in the NBA draft and been selected purely on potential. He opted to return to Kentucky so that he could turn that potential into something more tangible on the court. He is long, lanky and skilled offensively, but last season he looked very raw. A summer of hard work and time spent with Kenny Payne and other trainers will help him learn to make use of all of his tools. EJ has the talent to be one of, if not the best big men in the SEC next season. Worst case scenario I think EJ can be counted on for 8-10 points a game and 6-7 rebounds. Best case scenario I could see him putting up 12-14 points a game and 8-9 rebounds a game. On top of those numbers, he should block a lot of shots when he is in the floor. This team has the guards and wings to win a national title. The question is if they have the front court to do it. The answer to that question begins with EJ Montgomery. I believe that he can be a dominate force but only he can make it happen on the court. If he plays up to his abilities it could land him in the top half of the first round of the NBA draft. I would project EJ to play around 23-24 minutes per game and average 10 points and 7 rebounds a game.
Nick Richards 7’0 Jr.- The time is now for Nick Richards. Entering his junior season, he is playing the game better than he ever has in his life and a huge opportunity is wide open for him. Now he must walk through that open door and take advantage of it. This team is loaded with scorers, what they need from Nick is rebounds and rim protection. His length and athleticism can not be matched by many guys in college basketball. He got a late start to playing basketball and that has made him play catch up in terms of development. With two years of college under his belt and countless hours spent with Kenny Payne it may start to click for Nick. He has sometimes gotten caught up in over thinking things when he is on the court. If he can clear his mind and let his physical instincts take over, he can be a huge asset for Kentucky. I project Nick to play 21-22 minutes per game and average 7 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks a game. The hope would be that Nick could blow past those numbers. Sink or swim, this is likely the last season in Lexington for Nick. We love Nick and are rooting like crazy for him to swim.
Nate Sestina 6’8 Sr.- Big Nate looked like a solid addition when he joined the roster this summer, but now he looks like a huge pickup. His shooting was supposed to be good, but it has been even better than advertised. When open, he could end up being the teams most dangerous 3-point threat. He is strong and also more athletic than advertised. He plays the game extremely hard and has a great attitude on and off the court. Immanuel Quickley said that Nate was the best teammate that he has ever had at any level. Many other players have echoed how good of a teammate Sestina is. He will really help the young players when the season gets rough. He will also be a huge help on the court as a floor spacer that can score from deep, but will also bang inside for points and rebounds. I am expecting him to contribute around 20 minutes a game and add about 9 points and 5 rebounds a game. Nate is going to be a fan favorite in his lone year at Kentucky.
Keion Brooks 6’8 Fr.- Keion can do a little bit of everything, which is why he will be extremely valuable to this team. He is long enough to play the four if needed, but his primary position will be at the three. He can score the ball from outside but can also score of the dribble and around the rim. His biggest issue at this point is that he needs to get stronger. He has already put on a lot of weight since he came to campus this summer, so progress is being made. He has flown a little bit under the radar for fans so far but they should be very excited about what he can bring to the roster. He projects as a probable two-year player in my opinion. This season he will play around 15-16 minutes a game and add 6 points and 4 rebounds a game. His versatility will allow Cal to adjust lineups and play different ways, depending on the opponent. What I like most about Keion, is his attitude and that he seems like a kid that is more interested in winning than anything else.
Johnny Juzang 6’6 Fr.- He is the resident 3-pt specialist on this team, but his game is much more versatile than that. He is a scorer that can put the ball on the floor and can score in the mid-range as well. He has several really good guards and wings in front of him, but he is good enough that he will force Cal to find time for him on the court. Juzang has drawn rave reviews in regards to his play over the summer. Some have suggested that he could even be capable of a Tyler Herro like season. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to put up the same kind of numbers as Herro, but he could play a similar style when he is on the floor. Personally, I am expecting Juzang to contribute 10-15 minutes a game and chip in 5 or 6 points a game. There is certainly a chance that he easily exceeds those numbers and ends up as a one and done candidate. For now I think it is wise to project him on the safe side and be pleasantly surprised if he contributes more. He should get minutes at the two and three spots this season. He seems like another good personality that will contribute to winning in any way he can.
Dontaie Allen 6’6 Fr.- This team has wings for days and Dontaie Allen is another good one. The former Mr. Basketball can shoot the ball extremely well from deep and score off the dribble in the mid range. He had his senior season cut short by a knee injury and he is still recovering from that. He is not yet a year removed from that injury, so the coaching staff is being very cautious with him. Due to the crowding at his position and the fact that he is still recovering from injury, I think it is fairly likely that he will redshirt this season. He is a talented player that I see playing a role similar to Darius Miller when he was at Kentucky. I think it would be wise to let him get a year of experience under his belt and get a healthy start next season. Just my two cents.