Kahlil Whitney probably didn’t imagine his freshman season going like this. The former top 15 recruit hasn’t scored since December 21 (two points vs. Ohio State) and is averaging 0.5 rebounds and 7.5 minutes over the last four games; however, the Kentucky coaching staff continues to praise his attitude and effort in practice. Today, Whitney met with the media to talk about how he’s staying positive amid this slump.
“I just know my journey. I’ve put a lot of work in the gym here and it’s a blessing to be here so I’m forever going to keep a smile on my face and keep positive energy.”
The primary objective for Whitney right now, according to the coaching staff? Focusing on defense, not offense.
“For him it’s being solid defensively,” Payne said this afternoon. “It’s fighting to get rebounds. It’s shooting the ball – whether it goes in or not – shooting the ball with confidence. Because when you – ‘I’ve gotta make this shot, I’ve gotta have something good, I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta’ – it doesn’t happen. It’s when you let go and relax and do it with confidence, and if it goes in great; if it don’t and you shot it with confidence and you executed, fine, we live with it.”
It may not show up on the box score, but Payne said he sees signs of improvement from Whitney.
“I’m happy with the progress he’s made the last game, the last two games really where he shows signs that I’m going to lock down and be into it defensively,” Payne said. “We just need a little more.”
Whitney took turns guarding Georgia star Anthony Edwards last week and bothered him at times with his length; however, he also gave up a dunk on a backdoor cut that sent him back to the bench.
“I take pride in defense, so I want to be that guy that guards the opposing team’s best player and slow him down and just get him going,” Whitney said.
Whitney is doing his best to surround himself with basketball, watching mixtapes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in his spare time to learn more about the game, specifically defense.
“The way they play the passing lanes, the way they put their body on defense, put their body on the line and take charges and stuff like that. It’s really fantastic and crazy when superstars of that caliber can go out there and take a charge. I’m just trying to get my mindset like that.”
It also helps to have guys around you that have gone through the ups and downs of being a Kentucky Basketball player, such as veterans Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery.
“Quick is one of the hardest workers I know,” Whitney said. “He’s always in the gym. Like you said, last year he had a rough year and he learned from that. He was in the gym all summer gaining his confidence and now you can see it. The work he put in, it shows.”
“Nick has been here for three years and EJ has been here for two. They’ve just said that there are going to be ups and downs. They know more than anybody and I’ve already made it through the toughest situations in my life and I know a lot of you guys probably think this is driving me crazy and really affecting me, but it’s really not. I’m staying in the gym and trying to make myself better.”