A few hours ago, Kahlil Whitney announced he is leaving the Kentucky Basketball program. Whitney’s statement does not specify whether or not he’s transferring or simply leaving school to prepare for the NBA or to play overseas, but one thing is for certain: his career as a Kentucky Wildcat has come to an end. He is the fifth McDonald’s All-American to leave Kentucky in the John Calipari Era, joining Quade Green, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Marcus Lee, and Kyle Wiltjer.
Thank You?? Next chapter?? pic.twitter.com/P3z1RNzHa8
— Kahlil The Dragon Whitney (@KahlilWhitney) January 24, 2020
As the dust settles, let’s take a quick look at what Whitney’s departure means for Kentucky, who, don’t forget, plays a big basketball game tomorrow.
In terms of current production, not much
In 18 games, Whitney averaged 3.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 12.8 minutes. His production dwindled as the season went on. He had a career-high 11 points in Kentucky’s 91-49 blowout win over Eastern Kentucky back on Nov. 8. but didn’t score in double figures since. In the last seven games, he’s totaled only three points and three rebounds in 43 minutes (six minutes per game). While players like Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks stepped forward, for the most part, Whitney did not.
In terms of potential? Possibly a lot
Whitney obviously struggled during his time in Lexington, but there’s no denying his potential. We saw it in glimpses early on with freak dunks, and throughout the year, John Calipari insisted that Whitney could be this team’s x-factor in March.
“I’ve told the team, we’ve got a ceiling unless he plays for us,” Calipari said of Whitney on Dec. 17. “We don’t have anybody like him. He’s the one. But if other guys are playing better than him, I’ve got a responsibility to everybody and what he hasn’t done yet is figure it out. And he will. He’s a great kid. He’s trying.”
Who knows whether Whitney’s breakthrough would have come this season or not, and if it didn’t, if he would have stayed at Kentucky for a sophomore year or explored other options. Given today’s announcement, I have a feeling it would be the latter, not the former, although Whitney told reporters just last week he was willing to be patient.
“I just know my journey,” he said on Jan. 14. “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.”
“Nick [Richards] has been here for three years and EJ [Montgomery] 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.”
Kentucky’s not for everyone
Whitney was a McDonald’s All-American last year, ranked No. 12 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings. Coming in, he was described as a high-level athlete with a strong motor who shined in transition. Yet, as Calipari says time after time, Kentucky isn’t for everyone. When you factor in expectations, scrutiny, and the competition for playing time, playing basketball in Lexington is unlike anywhere else. It’s easy to say you’re ready for that challenge, but when your minutes disappear and your teammates pass you by, it gets a lot harder.
There have been rumblings that Whitney and, perhaps more significantly, the people in his camp have been unhappy for weeks; however, on the bench and in interviews with the media, he maintained a positive attitude, cheering on his teammates. Clearly, playing only four minutes in the last two games was the breaking point. In his statement, Whitney said he had conversations with the coaching staff about his future, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his announcement went public only minutes after John Calipari’s pre-Texas Tech presser was over.
After holding off on an official statement during the media opportunity, Calipari has since addressed the news via press release.
“First and foremost, Kahlil is a great kid,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “This is tough for me because Kahlil is a tremendous person who is going to do great things. I certainly don’t want to see him go because I wanted to continue to coach him, but I understand his decision and, as we always do here, will support him in whatever way we can.
“As I told Kahlil today, I hope he goes on and does his thing and makes us all proud. I know he will stay in touch with us and I know our fans will continue to support him as he takes this next step.”
Where does Kentucky go from here?
Obviously, Keion Brooks will continue to get more minutes, along with Johnny Juzang. As Calipari said yesterday, Nate Sestina needs to find his stride again. We haven’t gotten an update on Dontaie Allen recently, but I would imagine if he’s capable of playing, he will. We’ll see what impact this has on the team from an emotional standpoint tomorrow when they enter a rowdy environment at Texas Tech.
Looking forward, Kentucky has at least six new players coming in next season, so Whitney leaving will free up a scholarship. What impact this has on the team’s APR remains to be seen.
Where does Kahlil Whitney go from here?
Whitney’s statement didn’t say anything about transferring; in fact, it seemed to suggest he will go another route, preparing for the NBA Draft, the G-League, or a career overseas. While he clearly never found his footing at Kentucky, he’s so athletic someone will take a chance on him. If he does go the college route, Illinois could be a potential destination since he grew up in Chicago and they were on his final list of schools.
Whitney’s career as a Wildcat didn’t go how we all would have liked, but we wish him best of luck in the next chapter of his career. We’ll always have that walk down the blue carpet at Big Blue Madness.