The Kentucky men’s basketball team is getting a one-month head start on last year’s roster regarding the move-in process and getting shots up at the Joe Craft Center, along with a two-month head start on pickup games and five-on-five scrimmages. The 2020-21 roster didn’t arrive until June 28, with players not allowed to work out until July 2 and coaches not being allowed to start working out with players until July 20. Full contact five-on-five scrimmages didn’t begin until August.
As for the 2021-22 roster, players started the move-in process on May 28, with workouts beginning immediately afterward. On June 1, we actually got our first update regarding early standouts, with UK forward Jacob Toppin singling out five-star freshman Daimion Collins for his production in the early pick-up games.
“Daimion (Collins). He plays just like Isaiah (Jackson),” said Toppin. “He’s blocking shots. He’s dunking the ball. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
As a team, Toppin said that UK’s new and improved shooting is clear already and added that he believes the team can be “special.”
“We have a lot more shooters,” Toppin shared. “Even the freshmen, they’re shooting the ball very well. I’m watching them and they’re shooting it well. It’s going to be different. We’re going to be able to space the floor more, shoot a lot better, so I’m excited. … I’m excited to play with these guys. I think it’s going to be something special.”
During UK’s trip to Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, KY for the program’s summer satellite camp tour, Iowa guard transfer CJ Fredrick doubled down on that excitement, adding that Kentucky has a “complete team” loaded with skill and shooting.
“I think everybody looks good. Daimion (Collins) looks really good, Bryce (Hopkins) looks really good, TyTy (Washington) also very good,” Fredrick told KSR. “Everyone is very good. I just think we have a complete team. We’ve got athletes, we’ve got rebounders, shot blockers, shooters, playmakers, we got a little bit of everything.”
The early workouts and pick-up games have been refreshing for Fredrick, especially after a year of shutdowns and quarantines throughout the college basketball world. It’s a two-month head start the team plans to make the most of.
“It’s been a lot of fun, I’m sure for everybody. Last year it was really hard just to get all your guys in the gym,” said Fredrick. “Last summer, one guy gets COVID everyone has to kind of quarantine and no one can get in the gym, so we didn’t really have summer workouts last year. Just felt like someone was always quarantined. So just being able to do this and see how the guys play, it’s a lot of fun.”
Fredrick says early on- and off-court chemistry is crucial for a team’s development, something last year’s Kentucky squad was clearly missing. For all the valuable time the team missed together last season, they’re going out of their way to make up for it this summer and beyond.
“It’s huge. It’s where you build connections, it’s where you build relationships because you know you’re in the gym all the time,” Fredrick added. “So I think with COVID last year that took away from a lot of things, especially with a team like Kentucky. I’m sure that would be really hard during a COVID year–you can’t really build that relationship. But this year we’re starting to get back on the court a little bit and continue to build those relationships. … I’m really excited to be here and just continue to create a relationship with the guys and get ready to roll this summer.”
At this point last year, we were still three full weeks from players moving in, followed by a quarantine process, isolation and strict distance measures.
“It’s a big difference because last summer when we were able to start, it was like one ball, one player, one coach, one goal. It wasn’t the same, stuff was all delayed,” UK assistant coach Jai Lucas told KSR earlier in the week.
This time around, though, things are back to normal.
“They’ve been in there together doing stuff,” Lucas added. “When we started this year, we were able to jump right into it. It’s a big difference. It’s something you don’t expect to play a big part until you don’t have it, and that’s what happened last year. … It’s very exciting.”