The term “Blue Blood” when used to describe a high-ranking program gets thrown around far more often than it should be, but Sahvir Wheeler knows the difference.
The latest transfer addition to next season’s Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball Team, Wheeler comes to Lexington after spending his first two seasons as Georgia–a fellow member of the Southeastern Conference and a respectable school in its own right, but nothing remotely close to resembling a “Blue Blood”. Wheeler is no stranger to the bright lights of SEC basketball, but playing on the main stage as a Kentucky Wildcat is a bit different than his previous life in Athens.
The definitive list of men’s college basketball Blue Bloods goes like this: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas. Some argue that the likes of UCLA and Indiana have a solid case to join the party, although the two have combined for just one Final Four appearance since 2009. For our purposes, UK, Duke, UNC, and Kansas–four schools with some shade of blue as its primary color–are the true Blue Blood programs, but even then, only one school can stake its claim as the best of the best.
If you ask Wheeler, it’s no contest who is the best of the best–it doesn’t get any bluer than Kentucky blue.
“Kentucky is not some regular ole school, it’s the highest level, it’s the bluest of blues,” Wheeler told ESPN’s Paul Biancardi on Monday during an Instagram Live.
Wheeler actually turned down another traditional Blue Blood in Kansas before ultimately landing with Kentucky on Monday afternoon. In doing so, he’ll team up with incoming freshman point guard TyTy Washington as the backcourt rotation for the ‘Cats, a position group that was empty just seven days ago.
Following the program’s worst season in a century, which has briefly changed the narrative around Kentucky basketball, Wheeler understands that expectations will be incredibly high for himself and everyone involved. Another 9-16 record is completely out of the question for the Big Blue Nation.
“Some of those expectations align with my own,” Wheeler said about Kentucky fan’s expectations for the 2021-22 season. “Just as far as the work ethic, just as far as having a winning pedigree, a winning mindset, getting to the Final Four, winning a national championship. Being in the biggest stage, playing in the biggest stage in the biggest lights with the best players, that’s right up my alley. That’s what I live for as a competitor, as a basketball player, even outside of basketball, I always want to be around the best. Because you are what you surround yourself with. I’m ready for all the expectations and I can’t wait to get started. I know that first jump ball at Madison Square Garden this year, it’s gonna be a show.”
The first step in meeting those expectations is understanding where things went wrong in the past. Wheeler posted decent shooting numbers as a freshman, but those took a serious dip in year two. However, his ability to run the offense shined when he was a sophomore, even if he had to do so on a team without equal talent around him. Forcing the issue was commonplace for him, he just never got bailed out because he didn’t have the proper amount of skill surrounding him.
Those are just some of the areas that Wheeler knows he has to improve at before he can back up his preseason talk.
“Obviously the shooting consistency, that’s a super big thing,” Wheeler said about what he needs to improve upon. “Just having a repeatable motion. Sometimes I would originate my shot from a different spot where I’m on the right side of my body and ending on my left, that’s too much room for error. So the offseason I’ve really been focused on getting to my left side, one smooth [motion], same release point. I’ve been working on shooting every day.
“As far as the assist to turnover ratio, looking back at the film I had a couple of unforced turnovers early in the year that I got better at as the year went on. Like stepping on the sideline or stepping on the baseline, a couple of passes where I thought my man would know where to go and I kind of threw it hoping he would be there. Like ‘Come on Sahvir, don’t throw it someplace until you know he’s there.'”
Like most gifted hoopers, Wheeler’s ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA. Prior to choosing Kentucky, he had entered his name in the NBA Draft to receive some feedback about where he stands in terms of getting drafted down the road.
Which is a direct link as to why he chose Kentucky over the likes of Kansas, LSU, and Oklahoma State–head coach John Calipari knows how to produce pros. That’s why the nation’s top prospects have a habit of committing to UK. There’s no school, Blue Blood or not, that can turn college students into millionaires quicker than Kentucky.
That track record–specifically, Calipari’s–caught the attention of Wheeler. But it goes deeper than just Calipari’s ability to develop young talent. Wheeler feels as though everything Calipari says is honest and genuine.
“Coach Cal, he’s a big-time coach obviously,” Wheeler told Biancardi. “His resume speaks for itself. But just from the conversations we’ve had on Zoom and text messages and over the phone, the biggest thing that’s been standing out to me is his personality. One thing he said briefly but I think really hit home to me was that every game, every day, any Kentucky player that is involved in any game in the NBA or pros, the box score is sent to him and he goes through every game, he goes through each player and he texts the player what they need… Not every coach is going to do that. That just shows how he cares about you on a personal level. He wants what’s best for you and he’s going to push you for that.
“And just how honest he was. He gave me his plan, what the expectation was. Kentucky is not some regular ole school, it’s the highest level, it’s the bluest of blues. And just how he was with my parents. My parents are not easily swayed and not going to hand over their first-born son to anybody. He left a really, really good first impression with them. He took the time to get to know them, he had my mom on a Zoom, had a conversation with her, asking her different questions, obviously he’s going to have a conversation with my dad. I think he’s really genuine and he’s a lot more than just a basketball coach who coaches NBA players.”
In his own words, the idea of one day making it to the NBA was hardly the main reason Wheeler chose Kentucky. He feels a connection to his new head coach that he can believe in, one that will extend beyond Wheeler’s time in Lexington.
But there is work to be done now. Wheeler is interested in bringing this program back to the upper echelon of college hoops. He’s more than interested, actually, he’s eager. That’s why he came to the bluest of Blue Bloods: to achieve greatness.
“Big Blue Nation, I’m ready to get started, I’m excited,” Wheeler added. “I’m hoping to bring Kentucky Basketball back to where it deserves, that greatness. Nothing less. I’m excited to get to work, excited to meet everyone there, and hopefully, at full capacity, we’ll have Rupp Arena rocking.”