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Making sense of Kahlil Whitney’s decision to leave Kentucky

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.

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.

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.

54 Comments for Making sense of Kahlil Whitney’s decision to leave Kentucky

  1. CJKAssassin123
    1:48 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Bet he ends up going to the G-League or plays overseas. He can make money while getting ready for the NBA draft.

    • DelrayCat
      7:18 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      Speaking of draft….are we now looking at a potential scenario in which UK loses EVERY SINGLE SCHOLARSHIP PLAYER going into next year?????? That is freaking crazy to contemplate. UK may have 9-10 freshmen next year.

    • KYhammer
      12:00 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      Delray, where is EJ going?

    • DelrayCat
      1:57 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      OK, sure they may keep EJ, Brooks, and Quickley. But they all could just as easily go pro themselves and take a chance. We’ve seen significantly lessor players leave. Hopefully they all stay and give the Cats 3 proven starters at least going into next year…but it would not surprise me to see them all go. That would be crazy and unprecedented in college basketball history…and I admit maybe even a little exciting, but definitely not a recipe for success in 2020-21.

    • DelrayCat
      1:58 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      OK…and don’t want to forget Juzang and Allen. Still there is LOTS of room for newcomers and maybe another grad transfer or two.

  2. TTA2
    1:56 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

  3. bluecat15
    2:00 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Can anyone say Rodrick Rhoades ?

    • ukkatzfan
      2:30 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      He wasn’t a RR in my opinion ? I would have liked for RR to stay at UK for 96. I remember RR as being the one piece of the 3 rumored players coming to ky that actually came to ky. Othello Harrington and Jason Kidd being the other 2. Oh how I was wanting Kidd to wear blue. 🙁

  4. michaelb
    2:01 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Dang i liked this player

  5. TTA2
    2:02 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    It seems to me that the most immediate consequences are losing a quality practice player and the extra five fouls we might need at some point. Front court fouls are valuable when one bad half can send you home. We are one sprained ankle away from having an extremely short bench.

    • GoCatz
      2:13 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      Good points

    • makeitstop
      2:25 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      Yea the practices won’t be the same bc he can do things the walk ons can’t and he did provide insurance. Kind of surprised he bailed midway through the season… doesn’t make a lot of sense to transfer bc he’d have to sit the whole year absent some hardship exemption and he clearly thinks his place is the NBA so sitting a whole year should be ruled out. But he sees how practice is going and Brooks and Juzang the lights are coming on and they’re not looking back. He seemed like a smart, nice kid who just couldn’t quite put it together yet, sorry to see him go before he got it together bc he does have skills. That whole “everyone has a different path” speech didn’t inspire him I guess.

    • UKgrad80
      5:41 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      Last week it was a blessing to be here now he is outa here. Kids these days are so impatient and will say anything just can’t believe them!

  6. kacat2
    2:31 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    “Freak dunks”, when exactly did that happen, during BBM? The kid is a good athlete but “freak athlete” is tossed around way too much. Zion Williamson is a “freak athlete” and this kid isn’t anywhere close to him. He is a kid who could run and jump with very limited basketball skills. Now he is just a quitter. Not a freak, just an accomplished quitter who will be forgotten as quickly as his career lasted.

  7. tmcclan16
    2:41 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Hard to see a guy leave in the middle of a season and quit on his teammates but that’s today’s players for ya. Obviously I hope he finds success wherever he may fall. Good luck young man!

  8. WKY Cat
    2:46 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    The trend has begun for all programs.

  9. Han
    2:53 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Best of luck to him. He’d looked unhappy on the bench late in games the last few when guys like Brooks and Juzang were getting minutes and he wasn’t, so the only surprising part of this is he’s doing it in the middle of a season.

    So many people were predicting him to be a star for us and one-and-done, but unfortunately he’s another in a list of players who didn’t immediately “get it” and decided to leave. Our “Kentucky Effect” history under Cal have helped us recruit a lot of players full of potential, but it also has kept other guys away and driven some away. Price you pay.

    Hopefully Brooks and Juzang continue to develop, EJ flips the light switch, Sestina can be good enough on offense and intangibles to make up for defense, and maybe even Allen start playing. Though he hadn’t found a way to connect yet, Whitney was another body for us, and with as bad as reffing has been lately, there are games where we need everyone.

    • StuckinLville
      5:37 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      What makes sense is he is a quitter and gave up when times got tough. This kind of attitude does not make it at UK. He should have at least finished the season to see what happened. Many players start clicking this time of year and if he isnt and he refuses to work through it, that’s on him. So while UK was his dream school, he was not the right fit for the school.

  10. DelrayCat
    2:57 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    I wonder if this student-athlete just dropped out of classes and never came back. Interesting how Daniel Orton has been labeled the most disliked player in UK history for leaving UK and not finishing his summer classes. At least Orton didn’t quit on his team mid-season. Even Quade left at the end of the first semester so not to adversely affect APR. I guess it is a sign of the times.

  11. UKfansNKY
    3:00 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Best of luck young man. Great HS player, struggled @ the College level. Needs work

  12. UKfansNKY
    3:00 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Best of luck young man. Great HS player, struggled @ the College level. Needs work

  13. UKfansNKY
    3:00 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Best of luck young man. Great HS player, struggled @ the College level. Needs work

  14. UKfansNKY
    3:01 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Why did it post 3 times? lol

  15. UKfansNKY
    3:01 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Why did it post 3 times? lol

  16. UKfansNKY
    3:01 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Why did it post 3 times? lol

  17. IrishCat
    3:20 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    If we weren’t going to be so loaded on the wing next year, he probably stays and develops. I don’t read too deep into this. He probably made a good decision.

  18. ScoggDog
    3:50 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Every kid does, and should, have the option to pick where they play college ball. It’s not like when you raise your hand, take the oath, and join the military. It’s just kids picking teams.

    I did enjoy reading the way Cal and the kid handled this. A joint press release, no animosity from either side. I wish the young man well. And I also think better of Calipari for how he handled this. But I’m not really surprised. That’s just how Cal rolls. And for how much I hate how he won’t call a timeout or play a zone or sticks with certain players over others – I do believe Cal is doing what he thinks is best for these kids as he sees it.

    Can’t fault the man for that.

  19. KentuckyRob
    4:16 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    It is what it is. Nothing you can do except move forward. I wish the kid nothing but success and happiness!

  20. chrislarkey
    4:32 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Hard to wish someone good luck when they quit on their team midway over playing time.

  21. CALfacts
    4:36 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Getting a little concerned. Can’t recruit a big, hard to develop a big, now losing one. Recently no problems with guards, but doesn’t seem like type of ball coach is preaching, is conducive for bigs? Something changes soon I hope to get us over the hump to the final 4! Yes I know we almost made it last yr but if we had that big, might have won it all.

    • nocode96
      5:25 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

      A) can’t recruit or develop a big? what are you smoking bro? Let me introduce you to Nick Richards, one if they best bigs in the country. EJ was a top 10 player period. He’s taking some time to develop, but still. We have a couple solid bugs coming next year, with an extreme likelihood of at least one more in Cliff, and we could still get brown.

      B) Whitney is not a big, not even close.

      C) we had PJ Washington last year, one of the best bigs in the country

      Name me one big that we missed on the last couple years that is currently tearing up the competition either in college or pro. I’ll wait. At best you can name Vernon Carey and I’ll say it right now that I much prefer junior nick to anyone we “could’ve” had.

  22. Looother
    5:03 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    This kid is very immature to quit on his team at the half-way point due to PT. He needs a better posse…

  23. Aar
    5:24 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Of all the players who have left UK under Cal, I was looking forward to watching Whitney develop the most. As much as I suspect his departure will hurt the Cats this season, I understand his handlers’ decision to capitalize on his remaining value now rather than taking another season or two to rebuild it. All the best young man.

  24. JT55
    7:56 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    What a coward. Times get tough and he takes his ball and goes home. Way to quit on your teammates. Hopefully he has to play overseas in some half lit arena.

  25. Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
    8:08 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    As long as we stay healthy, we will be fine. Best of luck to him but he was highly overrated. Odd timing on his pet as well.

    • Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
      8:08 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink


  26. satcheluk
    8:11 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Looks like Tarzan. Runs away like Jane.

  27. Jeffrey_M
    9:51 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Call me ignorant, but I was completely unaware that college players could just up and drop their team mid season. Has this always been the case, or do I just have a bad memory? Since it doesn’t happen that often, I guess I was just unaware of it.

    I get the feeling (and feelings can be wrong) that Whitney’s simply upset because he’s not getting the playing time he wants. A little too antsy in being where he wants to be when playing amongst such a talented group, perhaps? With a little patients, I think he could’ve done great things here, but we’ll never know.

    But regardless of his reasons for leaving, it would seem that quitting on one’s team mid-year, without following through and seeing your journey to the end, is a poor reflection on one’s character. Isn’t part of basketball about being a loyal team-player? What kind of impression does this make on his next potential team? Maybe he’s afraid that staying here and continuing to practice puts him at risk for injury, and since injuries can hamper one’s career, it’s best to pull out now. I’m just trying to figure out what’s good about abandoning your teammates when there’s still a lot of the year left to play. Fear of injury is the only thing I can think of. Or, perhaps, college players just have the right to leave their teams whenever they wish, and don’t need a “reason”? That just seems like a strange rule to me. But, it is what it is.

    Anyways, I seriously wish the young man all the best in whatever he does. And I look forward to seeing the remainder of the Cats grow as they fight together to compensate for this void.

  28. kjd
    10:26 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    Ranking was all on potential. Not a skilled basketball player at this point, just athletic.
    Can’t imagine him being drafted by an NBA team.

  29. NKY Wildcat
    11:13 pm January 24, 2020 Permalink

    What’s he going to do here if he can’t hang around with the guys all the time. Leave the lodge and go to a dorm? Just go to classes? Find some other weight room he can get into with his student ID? What’s it like at the same school when you quit the team? How would he feel if another teammate quit on him? I’m sure they will wish him the best and treat him as a brother, but the others have more loyalty to each other than their own self-importance.

    The new design of the site means this is the first comment I have been able to post since joining a year ago. Before then I could only like posts.

    • Megan
      11:35 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      He’s not just leaving the team. He’s leaving the University of Kentucky. That’s the first line of his tweet.

  30. Bruce Dickinson
    5:07 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    If he is wanting to get ready for the draft wouldn’t it make more sense to stay where he can practice everyday? I’m sure he is a great guy and all but he needs more time to work on his game and there is no shame in that.

  31. wildcats2012
    5:31 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    This is why instituting the three year rule like college football makes more sense in the long run. Kids don’t rush into a decision based upon “I’ll only be there one year”. They have to actually plan out their college career for a significant amount of time. Sorry to lose a player, but clearly things weren’t working out.

    • bankerbh
      7:44 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      Yours is one of the most reasonable comments and I agree. Too many people on this site are rushing to judgement on this young man. He is doing what he thinks is right for himself. Unfortunately, his decision comes in January and not in April or June like the others who “quit’ on the program to pursue their dreams. For the one and dones, we often hear about the athlete doing what is right for them and pursuing their dreams and making life changing money. Maybe he is just doing the same and sees leaving as the only path. Finally, how many commenters have a D1 student athlete and know what they go through? It is grueling. They put in a ton of time practicing and to not get in the game is difficult. If they have potential to get to the next level, they need to find a program that fits them best. It just wasn’t here.

  32. John Henry
    7:16 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    How about a career as a rapper. He has the looks for it and it pays well. The life expectancy is short but you do get fame and riches. Rapper Kahlil, you da man

  33. JT55
    8:20 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    This reflects poorly on him. Shows alot about the way he was raised.

    • Megan
      11:43 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

      It’s not enough to demean the young man. You have to insult his parents?

  34. makeitstop
    8:32 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    His “mentor” and AAU coach publicly questioned why he wasn’t getting more minutes. The more I read and read by the lines it looks like his “camp” was chirping in his ear. It does hurt us, not just bc of the APR but bc it’s not like we can trade for another player, sigh a free agent or call someone up. In college ur roster is set. U lose someone ur just short a man… in practice and on the bench. Yep, more I think about it, the worse it looks for him.

  35. Ace Duncan
    9:46 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    Pouting and quitting on the team because of playing time is the new normal for AAU divas. I found it interesting that the announcement details came from his AAU coach.

  36. Han
    11:29 am January 25, 2020 Permalink

    A lot of trolls on here. Ya’ll need to stop attacking the character of an 18 year old who decided he made the wrong college decision. His decision doesn’t hurt you, and Lord knows a lot of you have made plenty of dumb decisions. Get off his back.

    • makeitstop
      12:20 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

      Han, I don’t countenance attacking the character of anyone for making a career decision but I hv questioned my own choice of schools 3 times, stuck it out through the year, and never regretted it later. Kids run into adversity and think they made a bad choice and really they just ran into life. Leaving midway through a semester does hurt a team and doesn’t help the student. That’s not a character issue but it is fair to question his judgment and the quality or motives of his “advisors.”

  37. CrystalBall
    12:08 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    5 star athletes leaving the program has to hurt future recruiting.

  38. J. Did
    1:09 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    Told my wife Tuesday during the UGA game that I bet Kahlil would transfer. Did not realize how soon that would come to fruition. Sorry to see him go; but ego and aspirations have a voracious appetite. The list of 5 stars who left does not bode well in terms of future NBA career. So he should do whatever else is in his best interest to get to the NBA ASAP – which depending on his timetable may not involve collegiate transfer. He needs to talk to Pat Riley.

  39. Clyde X
    5:55 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    Happy trails, Kahlil.