Festivities at the annual Jordan Brand Classic tipped off today, with a competitive practice and scrimmage getting things rolling, followed by Media Day immediately afterward.
Three future Kentucky Wildcats, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, and Keion Brooks each took the floor for the Home team, with UK forward target Jaden McDaniels also teaming up with them.
After going through some drills, the Home and Away teams competed in an hour-long scrimmage, giving those in attendance a pretty solid opportunity to scout out the participants.
Here is what I saw from the Wildcats, along with some other specific players of interest.
Once again, Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey proved to be one of the best players on the floor. With elite scoring skills, defensive intensity, and overall leadership skills, he’s a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.
When it comes to making decisions, he’s excellent at feeling out his teammates and thinking two steps ahead. He knows when his team knows a big bucket, but he also knows when it’s time to be unselfish and find the open man for an easy basket.
Oh yeah, and his jumper is still the silkiest in the class.
Tyrese Maxey’s jumper: still the silkiest in the class pic.twitter.com/HAMdD65Yt6
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 19, 2019
Seriously, I have never seen Maxey miss two jump shots in a row. Never. I told you guys back at the McDonald’s Game that I felt he can be a 20-point-per-game scorer at Kentucky, and I really believe that.
Outside of pure basketball talent, Maxey has a contagious personality that rubs off on everyone he comes in contact with. Whether he’s celebrating with his teammates or smack-talking the competition, he always has a smile on his face, and everyone around him really seems to appreciate that.
One time this afternoon, the gym was too quiet for his liking, so he randomly started yelling, cheering, and clapping and wouldn’t stop until everyone else joined him. He likes everybody, and they all like him.
I usually try not to play favorites, but I can already tell you right now that he’s going to be the exception next season. It’s going to be fun watching him in blue and white.
For Whitney, like we saw at the McDAAG and the practices leading up to it, it’s really difficult to get a feel for his true game at events like this. The opportunities for true breakout moments are minimal for athletic small forwards because it’s a guard-heavy style of play, with big men feasting on cleanup baskets around the rim.
With Whitney not being a dominant shooter and not focusing on rim-running like the traditional forwards, he doesn’t get the ball in his hands too much. And when he does, it ends up being awkward isolation basket attempts against a clogged paint that rarely end well. As much as I love his game and believe it will translate well to the college game, this event just isn’t the right event to show that.
As far as what I did like, though, the 6-foot-7 small forward had several impressive fadeaway 12-foot jumpers fall, something he has been working on the past several months. That will be deadly at Kentucky next season. Beyond that, he was extremely aggressive on defense and really impressed on the glass. His timing and instincts are pretty strong, allowing for rebound opportunities on both ends.
His mechanics are there shooting, but the consistency is not. He also needs to tighten his handles just a bit. Those will be his two biggest flaws at Kentucky next season.
Keion Brooks Jr.
With Kentucky signee Keion Brooks Jr. missing the cut for the McDonald’s All-American Game back in March, this was my first time seeing the newest Wildcat in an All-Star Game setting against the best of the best in his class.
And the 6-foot-8 forward sure didn’t disappoint.
He shot extremely well both in warmups and drills, specifically in catch-and-shoot opportunities. His athleticism is there, he runs the floor well, and he has strong instincts while driving to the basket. In the scrimmage, he had just a few jump shot attempts, but he made his presence known in transition.
He tends to get a bit out of control at times, needs to tighten his handle, and he needs to hit the weight room a bit, but overall, I think Brooks proved he absolutely belonged on the floor today.
Kentucky target Jaden McDaniels is rated as one of the top 2019 prospects in the nation, but it’s apparent recruiting analysts are using that based on future expectations and potential, not how they’re expecting him to play at the college level.
As much as I love McDaniels as a future NBA prospect, I’m starting to get really worried about his instant-impact ability at the college level. He has a solid jump shot and his length allows him to contest shots on defense, but I genuinely feel that he disappears on the floor more often than he’s involved in the action and makes elite plays.
For every one play that I come away extremely impressed with the 6-foot-11 forward, there are three more that I hope for more. He had one phenomenal block in the post, and then followed it up just a few possessions later with a nasty alley-oop slam on the other end. It’s apparent he has all of the tools to be a future star in the NBA, but will things click for him in his likely one season in college? I just don’t know.
If you’re deciding between one season of potential graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. or one season of McDaniels, I think you’d have to go for the guarantee in Blackshear over potential in McDaniels.
Kentucky fans may not like the sound of this, but I think Louisville got their hands on a stud in five-star small forward Samuell Williamson.
He didn’t shoot particularly well during warmups or drills, but when the scrimmage started, Williamson turned into one of the best players on the floor. He was able to find his shots with ease, making something out of nothing more often than not. At one point, the rest of players stepped to the side and let the future Cardinal put on a show in isolation on four straight possessions.
At 6-foot-7, Williamson is long and can make incredibly difficult shots over smaller defenders. After a few made jumpers, some of his teammates, including Tyrese Maxey, began comparing him to current Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum.
“J-Tatum ain’t missing that shot,” Maxey said after one baseline 15-footer.
He’ll be a great player for the Cards next year.
For four months back in 2018, five-star small forward DJ Jeffries was set to sign with Kentucky. At the time
In my first time watching him since then, the 6-foot-7 forward really struggled. His shot was off, he wasn’t active on defense, and he really didn’t show off his tremendous athletic ability at all. When his shots weren’t falling, his body language left a lot to be desired, lightly jogging back down the court and letting up on the other end.
After talking to him at Media Day, he seems like a great kid, but I just didn’t like what I saw from him against elite competition. He very well might be a solid college player, but for today at least, the struggles were evident.