One of the biggest question marks on this Kentucky team so far is Kahlil Whitney. The 6’6″ 210 lbs. freshman wing came to Lexington as one of the highest-ranked recruits in the class and is undeniably an athletic freak, but has yet to find a way to channel that into productive basketball.
In the Cats’ 78-70 OT win vs. No. 3 Louisville — their most complete performance this season — Whitney played only two minutes; against No. 5 Ohio State in the game prior, he played ten, registering only two points, a rebound, and a turnover. As a result, draft experts are starting to question whether or not he has what it takes to be a one-and-done. That’s a lot of noise to tune out, but this afternoon, both UK Assistant Coach Tony Barbee and Tyrese Maxey praised Whitney for his attitude, with Barbee insisting that his breakthrough is coming.
“He’s been great,” Barbee said of Whitney. “And he’s working his tail off. He’s a typical freshman. We’ve had so many atypical freshman that people think that’s the norm; that’s the standard. Those guys that we’ve had that have come in and produced like they have right away, that’s not normal. He’s as talented as those guys, he’s just struggling with some areas of the game and he’s working his tail off in the video room, on the practice floor before and after, so his breakthrough is coming. And his attitude has been great about it too because we need everybody on this team for us to achieve at a level we think we all can and he’s a big part of that.”
Maxey agreed, pointing out that even though Whitney barely played vs. Louisville, he was one of the biggest cheerleaders on the sidelines.
“Just stay focused,” Maxey said of his message to Whitney. “Stay locked in, which he’s doing a really good job of. Staying motivated. Coach Cal said he was probably the happiest one during the Louisville game on the bench cheering for his teammates, which means a lot to us. We want him to succeed as well. Very proud of him.”
Barbee said the biggest issue for Whitney right now is maintaining focus and effort throughout the game and regrouping when things go wrong.
“All across the board,” Barbee said of what the coaching staff is focusing on with Whitney. “No specific area. It’s his offense. It’s his defense. It’s his attention to detail. Things that maybe he wasn’t forced to think about before he got here but those little details are now important because every possession matters and you can’t let one possession slip on either end of the floor with, say it’s a bad shot or a broken down defensive assignment. Whatever the case is, you’ve got to be able to move on to the next play. Those are some of the things we’re working on with him.”
Whenever it does click for Whitney, John Calipari believes this team will take a huge step towards reaching its potential.
“I’ve told the team, we’ve got a ceiling unless he plays for us,” Calipari said back on December 17. “We don’t have anybody like him. He’s the one.”
“Kahlil’s got to play at a level he’s capable of playing for us to be what we need to be and everybody knows it, everybody’s watching it. And it may take time. So what if it takes him a month? Who cares? They’re only going to watch him at the end of the year and at the end of the year is when this stuff really counts.”
A good attitude is a great start.