Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as Kentucky’s steadiest force on the court. His production over the last month has stood above the rest, but it’s the intangibles that have made a difference in his game, and the entire team.
As soon as John Calipari took the podium following Kentucky’s 20-point victory over Buffalo, he sang the praises of Wenyen Gabriel and Hamidou Diallo.
“The reason this has been the most rewarding season I’ve had in over 30, or however many I’ve done over this, is because what’s happening for Wenyen, what’s happening for Hami. You saw what he is and what’s he capable of today.”
Cal finished his statement with a little joke about the other player in the room, SGA. “I really didn’t enjoy coaching Shai, but he’s a good kid I guess,” Calipari said with a smile.
What makes Shai different than his teammates is his attitude and work ethic. When Kentucky struggled, he did not let it get him down. He just kept going to work. His perseverance has paid off tremendously.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 19 points yesterday, but he only made 5-of-18 shots. Instead of letting one bad day of shooting get him down, he responded by hitting 10-of-12 shots for 29 points. His production has carried Kentucky over the top, but Calipari believes his infectious attitude has been the biggest difference-maker for his young team.
“He has a spirit about him, a smile,” Cal said. “His spirit starts moving us that way. He was the one guy having fun. The other guys on this team two months ago, everything was a struggle. This kid was just smiling and laughing, and I kept bring it up, ‘be like him.'”
Shai had a few kinks to work out throughout the year. After hours of film and early morning workouts, he’s never been better.
“What he was missing, any kind of skip, he couldn’t see it. So you gotta keep showing him and you have to reward him. Now you’re seeing him come down and throw skip passes, but it took two months,” Cal said.
His patience and positive attitude has paid off. “He’s playing himself into being one of the best players in the country,” Calipari said.