This morning, the University of Kentucky confirmed that forward Nate Sestina had fractured his left wrist in practice on Tuesday evening and would miss the next three-to-four weeks.
But what does his injury mean for the Wildcats moving forward?
Including Dontaie Allen and walk-on Zan Payne, who are recovering from previous injuries, Sestina’s wrist injury marks the eighth different player to suffer an injury this season.
The list is absolutely bonkers.
- Dontaie Allen: ACL
- Zan Payne: Knee
- Nick Richards: Ankle
- EJ Montgomery: Ankle
- Ashton Hagans: Leg
- Immanuel Quickley: Chest
- Kahlil Whitney: Dislocated Finger
- Nate Sestina: Wrist
On the year, Kentucky has played with nine scholarship players in just three games, with that number likely set to hold over the next several weeks as Sestina recovers.
Depth is a problem in the frontcourt
Going into the year, Kentucky only had three scholarship players in the frontcourt in EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Sestina.
In the regular season opener against Michigan State, all three big men saw action, though Richards was coming off a left ankle sprain and was forced to come off the bench.
From there, Montgomery dealt with a high ankle sprain he suffered against MSU, keeping him out against Eastern Kentucky, Evansville, and Utah Valley. In that time, the Wildcats maintained just two scholarship players in the frontcourt.
Montgomery returned to play 15 minutes off the bench in a 20-point win over Mt. Saint Mary’s, the first time since the Michigan State game that Kentucky had all three players in the frontcourt available. They followed it up with a 25-point blowout win against Lamar, arguably the team’s most complete game of the year.
Now with Sestina out for the next month, frontcourt depth is back to being a serious issue. Calipari said this morning that the injury will keep the graduate transfer out approximately three to four weeks, with the Kentucky head coach telling reporters this afternoon that some doctors were saying it could be potentially as early as two weeks.
No matter how long Sestina is out, the next few games for the Wildcats won’t be easy.
It’s time, EJ Montgomery
Through three games, Montgomery is averaging 6.0 points (50% shooting, 33% from three), 4.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 17.3 minutes per contest.
Solid numbers, sure, but the expectations going into the year for the former top-ten recruit with first-round draft grades this past offseason. In his first media opportunity following his decision to return for a sophomore season, Montgomery told reporters that NBA scouts felt he would likely be a sure-fire lottery pick with a second year of college under his belt.
At this point, though, Montgomery is playing like a solid role player, not a lottery pick.
For Kentucky to reach its national title dreams this season, Montgomery has to take the next step forward and become a consistent threat down low on both ends of the floor. His PER-40 numbers are solid – 15.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per contest – but it’s one thing to have projected numbers, and it’s another to actually put them up with an increased workload and minutes.
With Sestina out for the next several weeks, the opportunities are there for the 6-foot-11 forward to find his groove. Will he capitalize?
Roles will increase for Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr
Going into the year, Calipari said he would be forced to utilize a small-ball lineup after Kentucky was unable to sign another big man this offseason. That was with the three scholarship bigs they already had.
With Sestina out for the forseeable future, John Calipari will need to utilize freshmen wings Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. at the four spot moving forward.
This season, Whitney is averaging 6.2 points (42.4% shooting) and 2.7 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per contest, while Brooks is producing 5.5 points (46.7% shooting) and 4.0 rebounds in 17.3 minutes.
Meanwhile, Sestina is putting up 7.3 points (44.4% shooting) and 7.2 rebounds in 27.8 minutes each night. The Bucknell graduate transfer has been a consistent force on the glass, but given the minutes and opportunities, the production is not too far off from the freshman wing duo.
Where Sestina thrives, however, is as a leader both on and off the floor, something Whitney and Brooks are not expected to emulate in his absence. Where they can make up the difference, however, is by picking up on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor. Both elite athletes with legitimate length, they have each seen spurts of major success in both categories, though consistency has been the key issue.
For a 6-foot-7 , 215-pound athlete with a 43-inch vertical, there is no reason Whitney can’t shine more in the paint, especially on the glass. With Sestina out, the team will need him to offer more interior clean-up help rather than floating on the perimeter looking for jump shots.
Like Whitney, Brooks has also gotten a bit too comfortable on the perimeter taking jump shots, though he has had several moments of brilliance in transition and in post-up opportunities. With his role expanding in the coming weeks, that’s where help will be needed.
Dontaie Allen’s return to practice is vital
Kentucky freshman wing Dontaie Allen is set to return to practice on a full-contact basis in the coming days, which could prove to be quite helpful for a team short on numbers right now.
This afternoon, Calipari said that while Allen “didn’t move great,” he still managed to play a little bit of half court today. And from here on out, his workload in practice is only going to ramp up.
As a senior, Allen averaged 42.9 points and 14.2 boards and dropped 50 or more in six of his first 12 games before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on Dec. 22, 2018. The four-star recruit out of Pendleton County is a known bucket-getter, something that should pay off in practice almost immediately, even if it doesn’t translate to game action quite yet.
With Whitney and Brooks expected to see their minutes and opportunities jump, having a 40-plus PPG scorer to go up against in practice – even as he continues to recover – can’t hurt. At the very least, it’s another body to throw into the mix when you’re down one in Sestina.
John Calipari on Sestina
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of what we do,” Calipari said of Sestina’s injury. “I mean, he just fell, and you know, it’s his left wrist; it’s not his right. He may be out three weeks, maybe out four. Hoping the shorter, but I’m not going to rush him. They even said, ‘Maybe two,’ and I’m like, ‘Stop.’ It was just he fell like that [shows how he fell.] Not that one [holds out his right hand], the other one [his left hand.] Not his shooting (hand), so.”