Following a breakout performance at Florida to close out the 2019-20 season, all eyes were on Keion Brooks Jr. at the time of his announced return for a sophomore campaign. With growing confidence and production, the 6’7” forward’s presence as the lone returnee from last year’s rotation was invaluable for a team bringing in nine new scholarship players.
Now just a week away from the season, Brooks is recovering from a minor leg injury, one that has kept him out of five-on-five work since October.
“I’m taking it day-by-day still. I feel great,” Brooks told the UK media this afternoon. “It’s just a matter of when the doctors are 100% comfortable with me getting back out there competing at full speed. I’m still doing my individual workouts. I’m still a part of practice. I just need to take a little step back when it’s time to go five-on-five.”
In Brooks’ absence, buzz surrounding the sophomore forward’s anticipated backup at the four spot, Isaiah Jackson, has picked up significantly in recent weeks both internally and those in the know outside of the UK program.
Back in October, college basketball insider Jon Rothstein turned heads with a report noting that Jackson had been impressing in early practices and was going to have a “big role” for Kentucky this season. KSR’s Matt Jones and Kyle Tucker of The Athletic followed it up with individual confirmations of their own noting the rumblings behind the scenes were legit, while Kentucky’s current coaches publicly raved about the 6’10” freshman.
“I’ll tell you another kid that’s surprised me is Isaiah,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “He can do more than I thought.”
“I mean, he is a special, special shot blocker,” UK assistant Jai Lucas said of Jackson. “I think he is probably one of the ones that is going to surprise a lot of people this season. … I think he’s a name that people will start to talk about and mention as we start playing games.”
“That guy is a pro, he’s a professional,” freshman guard BJ Boston added. “He blocks every shot.”
With so much hype for Jackson and speculation that the high-flying freshman is pushing for a potential starting role alongside Olivier Sarr, Brooks isn’t ready to have that conversation.
When asked about the possibility of being “passed over” by any of his teammates while he’s out due to injury, Brooks said it’s “the least of [his] worries.”
“I have no words about being passed up by anybody,” Brooks said, not singling out any player individually. “Not to say I don’t wish my teammates well or anything, but I’m confident in my ability and confident in the work I put in. When I come back, I’ll be ready to go. That’s the least of my worries.”
After a successful end to his freshman campaign, the 6’7” forward says he is “hungry to be great” and is ready to have a highly productive sophomore season.
“I’m still hungry to be better, still hungry to be great. That last game we played, it was good for my confidence,” he said. “… As far as me not feeling like I’ve got momentum or can I come back and be as productive, I don’t feel that way at all.
“Like I said, I’m still working out. I feel like if you saw me working out, (you would see) that I looked pretty good as far as my health, as far as being able to run around and jump around. It’s just the contact of it all, I haven’t done that yet. But I still feel good about what I’m doing.”
Despite not being able to compete in five-on-five scrimmages and full contact drills, Brooks believes everything happens for a reason and sees the missed time as a blessing.
Now, he sees the game from a different perspective and believes he will build on that experience when he takes the floor this season.
“I’m a believer that everything kind of happens for a reason,” Brooks said. “I believe that God has a plan for me and I’m just not ready right now, but I know that I will be ready in the near future. So, that doesn’t really frustrate me. I’ve looked at it as a blessing. I’ve taken a step back and been able to really analyze what’s going on out there on the floor.”