John Calipari wishes he had another big man on Kentucky’s roster. He is comfortable with what he has in junior Nick Richards, sophomore EJ Montgomery and new grad transfer Nate Sestina, but openly admitted his want for one more.
One more isn’t walking through that door, so someone else on the roster is going to have to play big. That someone is Keion Brooks, a newcomer who picked Kentucky because he trusts Coach Cal to, “help me achieve and accomplish my dreams,” he said.
Brooks came to campus in May as a versatile small forward, ranked fourth at his position in 247’s Class of 2019 player rankings. The scouting report on Brooks suggests he prefers to play more mid-range to outside, but he has found himself inside, pushing and shoving with UK’s three veteran bigs, during many of his first practices in Lexington.
“It’s brutal at times,” Brooks said of Calipari’s summer small ball experiment, which moves Brooks to the 4. “I’m kind of light, but I’m doing everything I can to go in there and bang. I’m not scared of contact or anything, so I feel like I should be fine. It’s just going to take some getting used to.”
It will take some more weight too; although, the summer workouts with Rob Harris, UK’s strength coach, certainly helped.
“I was able to put on some good weight, got a lot stronger,” Brooks said of his first few months in the program. “I’m a lot more explosive and faster than what I was. It was great to get with Coach Rob and really focus on my technique and form and some of those things that can help me on the court.”
Even with the busy summer that saw a complete transformation of his body, Brooks still has room to grow and develop to really compete in his new role.
“Physically he has to catch up,” said Calipari. “He knows. He’s learning things that’s never seen before, but he’s taking it all in… His body’s got to catch up to everything else.”
Until then, Brooks will rely on his versatility, one of his best strengths on the basketball court. He called it the biggest part of this game, and that being completely versatile has always been something he has worked on.
“Coming up, I always made sure I could do everything the bigs can do and everything the guards can do, just so I can be as versatile as possible and play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor. I just feel like Coach Cal can throw me around anywhere and I’ll do my best to accomplish what he wants me to do.”
We won’t know how Kentucky will play until the games get going, but it sure sounds like going small will be part of the plan. The lack of inside depth will demand a smaller lineup at times; other times, Calipari may just want cut them loose.
Brooks likes the idea of moving up for his team to go small.
“I feel like a small ball lineup is good because me and Kahlil (Whitney, the other small ball 4) are both athletic, we’re not afraid of contact and we’re both willing rebounders. I feel like playing small can help us get out in transition faster, switch a lot, and just be even more versatile on offense with more floor spacing for dribble-drive opportunities to the basket.”
With that explanation, this small ball thing sounds kind of fun. Who needs a fourth big man anyway?
It’s been great. It’s been everything that I’ve dreamed of, being able to come in and build everyday with my teammates to get better, and also learning from the coaching staff and just being able to be receptive and listen to everything they’re trying to tell me. It’s been great so far.
At the end of the day to me, it was just Coach Cal and the relationship that we had built over the recruiting process. He aligned with my goals and what I want to do. He told me he can help me achieve and accomplish my dreams, and I feel like he was the best coach for me in that aspect. I know I had a lot of other great schools I could’ve went to, but I feel like the relationship with Coach Cal stood out to me the most.