With the loss of Nate Sestina for at least the next few weeks, Kentucky is going to have to make some adjustments. The Cats will need more from its other big men, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. They both stepped up to the plate Friday night against the University of Alabama-Birmingham. But that’s not all the Wildcats will need – UK will also have to see more from Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney.
If you ask John Calipari, they still have plenty of improvements they need to make, but they’re both on the right path.
“They’re both terrific basketball players. Here’s the greatest thing: with Nate being out, they’re both going to have their chances to do it,” Coach Calipari said after the game. “One played 21 minutes today, and the other played 19 minutes today. You’re getting your minutes to get your opportunity to go.”
Brooks, who earned 21 minutes, finished with five points (2-5 from the field and one from behind-the-arc). He added four rebounds (all defensive), one assist and one turnover. Whitney scored two points, both of which were free throws, while going 0-5 from the floor. He contributed two offensive rebounds, two assists and one turnover.
“I like what I saw in Keion,” Calipari said. “Kahlil’s going to be fine. He’s going to get better.”
In order to get better, they both have to be patient. As Calipari said after the game, “things don’t always go on your timetable.”
“You start working [and think] well, I’m going to work hard and in three days my stuff will change. Sometimes it may take a month,” Coach Cal explained. “I know how talented Kahlil is; I know how talented Keion is. But they’ve got to get away from anything offensively and be defensive and just let the offense come. That’s the easiest thing.”
The other easy thing they can do to earn playing time and make improvements? Rebounding. Calipari has emphasized the boards – especially the offensive ones – repeatedly this season. He insists players are earning minutes based on those numbers; it’s why Johnny Juzang played 12 minutes against UAB – “[Juzang] made shots today… But he stayed in the game because he rebounded,” according to Coach Cal. His rebounding numbers don’t necessarily stand out; he only recorded two total boards. However, they were both offensive, and that’s the effort Calipari wants to see.
If Brooks and Whitney can follow Juzang’s lead, they could find themselves in the same position, but with even more minutes.
“How about this: rebound like crazy! What if one of those two became a ‘four offensive rebounds a game’ guy? How much would you play them if you’re coaching [or] if you’re looking at my team?,” Calipari asked. “Well… that’s effort stuff; it’s not skill stuff. But I’m telling you: they’re both terrific basketball players.”
In an ideal world, Calipari says he sees Brooks on the court for 21-22 minutes and Whitney for up to 25.
“If he does the job defensively, he stays in,” Coach Cal said of Whitney. “And then figure out how you’re going to play offensively, what you’re comfortable doing. [Friday night] was great – he got fouled and made two free throws, looked really good, shooting the ball good. [Whitney] has just got to get in the game and do it.”
Over these next few weeks, both Brooks and Whitney will have that chance. It’s up to them to take advantage of it.