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Kellan Grady’s coach on what to expect at Kentucky

Tim Cowie | Davidson Photos

Tim Cowie | Davidson Photos

What should Kentucky fans expect from Davidson grad transfer Kellan Grady? I dialed up my alma mater to find out. Matt McKillop, Davidson’s associate head coach and son of Bob McKillop, the Wildcats’ longtime coach, was more than happy to talk about Grady, the beloved four-year starter that will use his extra year of eligibility at Kentucky next season. Based on our conversation, the Cats are gaining not only a player who fills one of the biggest voids on the roster, but a person uniquely suited for the unusual challenge ahead of him.

Grady, a Boston native, arrived at Davidson as a Top 70 prospect and a first-team all-state selection with dreams of being the next Steph Curry. The Wildcats had a summer trip to Italy planned that year, so Grady was able to join the team in June to participate. McKillop said the 6’5″ combo guard immediately turned heads.

“He had a very big reputation, so it was very easy for our older players to have respect for him. His work ethic, his competitiveness, but at the same time, his respect for all those around him, his teammates, walk-ons, managers. I think that was unique too, of a freshman. Just the way he carried himself in all those different ways allowed for you to respect what he’s capable of on the basketball court.”

In the first game of his freshman season, Grady made quite the splash, sinking seven threes to lead Davidson to a 110-62 win over Charleston Southern. That night, Davidson made 26 threes, breaking an Atlantic 10 record and coming just two shy of the NCAA’s single-game record of 28 set by Troy in 1994. He started all but one game that season, averaging 18.0 points. In Davidson’s triple overtime loss to St. Bonaventure, he had a career-high 39 points, including 16-16 free throws, two to force double overtime and two more to force triple overtime.

“He was not shy of the big stage,” McKillop recalled. “He was very prepared mentally and physically to compete at that level all the way to the NCAA Tournament.”

Grady’s fearlessness showed on the biggest of stages. In the NCAA Tournament, 12-seed Davidson drew 5-seed Kentucky, and the black-and-red Wildcats gave the blue-and-white ones all they could handle. Kentucky won the game 78-73, but the school’s nearly 30-year three-point streak was snapped in the process. Grady finished with 16 points, a performance that he told Kyle Tucker that John Calipari brought up in their conversations the past few weeks.

Grady’s freshman year went so well that there was even some buzz he could be an NBA Draft pick. While playing in the NBA has always been Grady’s dream, McKillop said dealing with those expectations was a major adjustment for Grady his sophomore season.

“There was a lot of pressure on Kellan and that was very difficult for him to handle. Basketball had always come easy for him in a sense. He had played at a very high level in high school and had a lot of success. He’d done the same his freshman year of college and he was doing the exact same thing his sophomore year but there was a little different weight he was carrying, a different type of pressure that he will face in an environment like Kentucky Basketball, but I know he was able to get through that and be better off as a junior and senior because he’d been through it and because he had to deal with some pressure that he wasn’t necessarily ready to deal with.”

Grady still averaged 17.3 points his sophomore year, shooting 45.1% from the floor, 34.1% from three-point range and passing the 30-point mark on two different occasions. In his junior year, his game took on another dimension when his coaches challenged him to become a lockdown defender.

“We made a decision midway through his junior year where we wanted Kellan to defend the other team’s point guard. We usually put him in different positions, maybe guarding a two-guard or three. I think it helped changed Kellan’s defensive mentality. Not that he was a bad defender, but it started to give Kellan some pride in being able to stop some good players because he was the first line of defense, in a sense, by having to guard the other team’s point guard. And from that moment on, we didn’t change because he became a really, really impressive defender junior year through his senior year.”

While Grady’s defensive skills are music to John Calipari’s ears, his offense is what Kentucky needs the most. At Davidson, he was a prolific scorer, averaging more than 17 points each season and topping 2,000 points over four years. He scored 20 or more points 44 times and 30 or more six times. Grady brought it consistently against big competition, scoring 14 points against No. 17 Texas, 17 points against Providence, 22 points against UNLV, 19 points against Vanderbilt and 27 points against Dayton this past season.

Grady’s numbers stayed high even though he shifted to point guard his senior season. With him running the show, Davidson had the 20th most efficient offense in the country according to KenPom.

“The biggest reason we played him at the point was because it put the ball in his hands and allowed him to be a scorer,” McKillop said. “So, a different role than maybe you would have for a point guard in the past. But we wanted to have the ball in his hands. If he has the ball in his hands, he has more opportunities to score.”


 

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A post shared by Kellan Grady (@kellangrady31)

Grady came to Davidson because he loved Steph Curry, who put the school on the map in 2008 with an Elite Eight run. It’s not fair to compare anyone to Steph, a seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time MVP, but McKillop, who has coached both, sees similarities.

“Steph is the greatest shooter potentially of all time but Kellan has done it consistently at the college level,” he said. “Kellan is a very, very impressive shot maker. He can make shots in very difficult ways.”

In four seasons at Davidson, Grady hit 240 threes, and had four or more in 21 games. As a senior, he shot a career-best 38.2% from three, knocking down 58 treys on 152 attempts. While he’s always been a good shooter, Grady has worked hard over the past few years to perfect his three-point shot.

“I think it became more consistent,” McKillop said of Grady’s outside shot. “Just little tweaks, like balance or timing or being able to plant his left foot first or being able to plant his right foot first. I think he kind of just added a little bit year after year after year to be able to do things just a little bit better.”

 

Whether it is catching and shooting for a three or driving inside, screens are Grady’s specialty. At 6’5″, 205 lbs., he’s big enough to work his way into the paint and has the finesse to finish at the rim.

“I think the best things that Kellan does to get shots at the basket are the way he uses screens and the way he cuts. Potentially, the offense being different at Kentucky than at Davidson, maybe there will be more opportunities to take advantage of some of the things that Kellan can do in terms of getting into the paint with his physicality and his athleticism but the things that he is special at are how well he uses screens to get shots in the paint. He’s very capable of making difficult things look easy.”

…like another Davidson great…

“One thing that Steph does is he has the ability to finish around the rim and Kellan has that ability to be very creative, be very crafty. Put it in off the glass, or footers or teardrops, he has the ability to be very effective getting in the paint and finishing with some impressive style against very good teams.”


“So much more than a kid who steps on the court and makes jump shots”

Another characteristic that Curry and Grady share is adaptability, which could be the most important factor to his success at Kentucky. McKillop first noticed how easily Grady fit in with the team on the trip to Italy in 2017, and was reminded of it throughout his career at Davidson.

“Kellan is just such a unique person. He can get along with the 71-year-old head coach at Davidson or the 24-year-old youngest assistant at Davidson or his sociology professor. He can kind of adapt to any environment that he’s in and he’s so relatable to so many people from so many different backgrounds. That’s probably the most impressive thing about him. And that’s one thing I would also compare to Steph Curry. Steph seemed like you could put him in front of anybody and they could have a conversation and you’d think they’d known each other for a while. I would say the same thing about Kellan.”

The most poignant example of this came during the team’s summer trip to Poland in 2018. Bob McKillop took his team there not to play basketball, but to learn about the Holocaust. The Wildcats toured Auschwitz and met with survivors, one whom Grady sat down with while the rest of the team explored the site.

“Kellan sitting down with her and having a 45-minute conversation within 20 minutes of us touching down in Poland,” Matt McKillop recalled. “It’s those moments where it makes it all come together. Alright, this is why we do what we do. This is why Davidson is special because you get to attract kids like Kellan that can be so much more than a kid who steps on the court and makes jump shots. He can sit down with an Auschwitz survivor that is 70 years older than him and carry on a conversation that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”

That kind of empathy and desire to make the world a better place is in Grady’s blood. His grandparents were leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1950s and 60s, and now, he’s making his own stand for social justice. Last summer, he launched College Athletes for Respect and Equality, or C.A.R.E., in conjunction with the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, the group that organized Davidson’s trip to Poland. C.A.R.E. seeks to unite college athletes for the greater good and raise awareness about systemic injustice. Over the past year, the Kentucky Basketball team has also made calls for social justice, and John Calipari started the McClendon Minority Leadership Initiative to help diversify college athletics. Basketball is the obvious reason Grady is coming to Kentucky, but the program’s efforts in activism are an added bonus.


Tim Cowie | Davidson Photos

Playing basketball at Davidson and playing basketball at Kentucky are two very different things. Belk Arena seats 5,295 (in non-pandemic times), less than a fourth of Rupp Arena’s capacity. If Davidson’s campus is a beautiful, idyllic bubble where sports comes second to academics (or even third to community service), Kentucky’s is a gilded fishbowl where every move, Tweet, and play will be scrutinized by a fanbase desperate to return to the top. Add in the fact that by the time the season begins, Grady will be a 24-year-old on a team of mostly 19- and 20-year olds and that’s a huge adjustment, but McKillop knows he’s up for it.

“I think this will be very new for him, not just a new environment and a different level of basketball program, but a different makeup of roster. Also, him being older, I would hope that these freshmen come in and realize they can learn a lot from Kellan. His production at the college level vs. the Atlantic 10, it’s not the SEC, but it’s a very good league and we always had a very challenging and competitive schedule and I think Kellan has proven, even in his freshman year against Kentucky, that he can play and compete and score with the best people in the country and I hope that some of the young players that are coming into the program, I do hope that Kellan can be a leader to them.”

Grady’s goal has always been to play in the NBA. After four years at Davidson, he has a decent draft resume, but thanks to the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility for COVID relief, he’s got an opportunity to make it even better. Davidson does not have graduate programs, so Grady has to transfer to another school if he wants to keep playing college basketball. Transferring was an option McKillop didn’t even know Grady was considering until he handed him the paperwork to declare for the NBA Draft a few weeks ago.

“Kellan walks into the office and I said, ‘Oh great, I just printed this out and put in your name, you just need to sign it.’ He said, ‘Actually, I have something else I’m thinking about.’ We were pretty surprised. It’s just new to us. Knowing that Kellan has always wanted to be an NBA player and worked to go down that path as much as he could to get there. He mentioned that he was thinking of going in the transfer portal and seeing if there were options he thought could put him in better standing for the NBA Draft.”

A few days later, Grady returned to McKillop’s office “a bit stressed and overwhelmed” by the attention he’d received from college coaches across the country, but already had a few destinations in mind.

“There were some coaches that had made an impression on him in those 24-48 hours that obviously led to the decision that he made,” McKillop said. “I know that getting to the NBA was such a big part of his decision and the track record for Coach Calipari and for Kentucky in helping produce players that can play and succeed in the NBA level is probably second to none, so I’m very excited that Kellan has this chance to go to Kentucky and compete at a high level and hopefully put himself in better standing for being an NBA player.”

If this past season taught us anything, it is to temper expectations; however, it’s easy to see how well this could work out for both sides. Kentucky gains a much-needed scorer with boatloads of experience and intangibles and Grady gets a chance to make his case to be a professional on college basketball’s biggest stage. One Wildcat to another, an unlikely match years in the making.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

32 Comments for Kellan Grady’s coach on what to expect at Kentucky



  1. JT55
    9:32 pm March 30, 2021 Permalink

    I like the fact he can play point when needed. The A10 is a good basketball leauge. I think he’ll do well here



  2. Eddiemcwildcat
    9:51 pm March 30, 2021 Permalink

    Good read



  3. Bluehender
    10:07 pm March 30, 2021 Permalink

    Excellent read Tyler. Two observations…Cal needs to be thinking about screens to get this guy looks and…people who are worried about a point guard maybe shouldn’t be as worried. This guy may be able to wear a lot of different hats…



  4. Lip Man 1
    12:34 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Two words: Johnny Juzang. Another 28 points tonight. UCLA is in the Final Four.

    Wonder what Cal is thinking?



    • UKFanSC
      8:24 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      He wasn’t



    • 4everUKBlue
      8:46 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      I guess you didn’t see the interview a couple nights ago with Johnny and his father, the one in which Johnny said he wanted to go home and be a Bruin which he had always dreamed of being and his mother wanted him home during the plandemic. Not one word was said about Cal wanting him to leave.



    • IndianaSucks
      8:52 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      In that same interview, the father said johnny’s role at UK was limiting to what he can do on the floor and clearly that is true. It wasn’t just about family I don’t think. There’s almost always multiple factors.



    • sgd
      10:00 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Cal pigeon holed him as a 3 pt shooter and having watched him play, he has much more to his game. In spite of the interview, would different coaching, freedom and playing time been enough for him to stay.



    • 4everUKBlue
      8:59 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      he was not better than Immanuel or Tyrese, I’m sure was better offensively than Ashton , but not close defensively.



    • ClutchCargo
      10:06 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Why not just be happy for Johnny Juzang? I would imagine Cal is.



  5. KYJelly
    12:45 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Here’s a sobering thought

    If UCLA wins it all, Johnny Juzang will most likely be the tournament MVP



    • IndianaSucks
      8:53 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      That would be crazy but I got gonzaga by 20+ over them. I thought USC looked good in the tourney and would give them a game… Nope!



    • zoupman
      12:03 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      I agree with Clutch, just be happy for the guy.
      I really think he missed home.
      Cal has average 31 wins a year over last 15 years. Get off his ass.



  6. Uk326
    5:21 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Cal in his “next 10 years speech” talked about catching that “other team.” Referring to catching UCLA in championships. Would be a terrible look of the guy he let walk from Kentucky widens the gap for UCLA.

    Congrats to Johnny Juzang



    • Bluehender
      10:03 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      The fact that he was behind Maxey, Quickley, and Hagans didn’t help his cause while he was here. He wasn’t gonna play ahead of those guys..



  7. UKFanSC
    8:10 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    I would be thrilled if this kid is simply the next Johnny Juzang. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we let another Devin Booker walk right out the door



    • 4everUKBlue
      8:54 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      What makes you and everyone else so sure we LET him get away? He stated clearly that he wanted to go home and become a Bruin, that he grew up near UCLA campus and had always dreamed being a Bruin. Not to mention his mother really wanted him to come home, I’m not saying he was homesick, but he was very clear on wanting to go home a be close to his family and to be able to see his sister.



    • WKY Cat
      9:14 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      4ever….you seem to feel the need to defend EVERYTHING Cal and the program does. Which yes I know this will shock you but Cal has and continues to make mistakes. This is a discussion forum so people have different opinions. It’s ok that you don’t agree with some posts but take a break and stop replying to all of them defending Cal. People are starting to think your Cals personal knee padder.



    • IndianaSucks
      8:59 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Are you comparing Juzang to an NBA all star? I mean he’s good and has potential to get better but let’s pump the brakes on that for the moment. You’d be a good writer for KSR with that hype train mentality.



    • UKFanSC
      1:38 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      That’s fair. And I probably did get carried away comparing him to Booker. That said, he possesses many of the NBA-level attributes a person playing his position needs to have to be a Booker.
      As for his transferring to UCLA. I did not see the interview with him and his father so I cannot comment on that.
      If you were the individual that brought him to campus, then I believe you are the individual accountable for keeping him happy productive and interested in staying here. That’s my only gripe with Cal.



  8. runningunnin.454
    8:59 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Glad to hear Davidson taught him to play defense; otherwise, he would ride the pine; and, it’s hard to score from there.



  9. 4everUKBlue
    9:14 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Here’s a thought about Gonzaga going undefeated, if that happens you can’t really compare it to IU going undefeated because they had 5 games cancelled, the only one they could possibly have lost was the game against Baylor, I really wanted to see that game.



    • Bluehender
      10:05 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Well if things play out like they should, you’ll get to see it. Would be a great national championship game..



    • Megan
      12:40 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Here’s a comparison: Gonzaga would be 32-0, just like IU. Yes, yes, every situation is a little different. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compare them. Going undefeated is going undefeated, no matter the circumstances. Now, if the season ended after a handful of games for some reason, then you’d have an argument. But Gonzaga has played a comparable season. Note that IU had to win “only” 5 games in their tournament.

      I’m tired of hearing about IU. Like they were the only ones to do it. Nonsense. They were only the most recent team to go undefeated. I’d love for Gonzaga to do it just so I don’t have to hear about IU anymore.



  10. ibescootch
    9:28 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    Goodness, would y’all quit with the Johnny Juzang stuff. Congrats to him, but he made a choice and Cal and the staff made a choice. It’s over. No one in the world watched Juzang last year and thought, “Oh yeah, there’s the next NCAA tournament MVP right there.”

    Out of high school, he was a 4-star recruit, while Whitney and Quickley were both 5-star guys and he was simply just not better than them. It was his decision to transfer. Why would Cal push him out if both of those other guys were leaving?



    • Bluehender
      10:06 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Bingo ^^^^



    • millertim
      1:29 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Juzang wasn’t as good as Whitney???? WRONG!! Juzang IS a great shooter with the ability to score from different areas on the court. Whitney is a great athlete but not much of a basketball player. High school recruiting services tend to rank great athletes higher than actually bball players and sadly Coach Cal has bought into this myth. I seem to remember Coach Cal saying that Juzang could shoot but wasn’t a good defensive player… sound familiar? We’re watching what Juzang was ALWAYS capable of doing when given the opportunity to PLAY!! Hopefully, Coach Cal doesn’t do this to Allen another year!!



    • ClutchCargo
      2:54 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      ibescootch, I’m assuming you meant Maxey and not Whitney. If so, I agree.



    • ClutchCargo
      2:55 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      If not, then just reread millertim’s comment. 😀



    • Bluehender
      3:07 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Good point Clutch…



  11. sgd
    10:16 am March 31, 2021 Permalink

    It’s nice to hear the Davidson coach talk about coaching decisions. All we get from Cal is that the players have to figure it out for themselves and they need to be servant leaders. Cal is clueless.



    • Megan
      12:41 pm March 31, 2021 Permalink

      Pot, kettle.