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Last Season’s Players Say They Will Continue to Support Kentucky Following Calipari’s Departure, “I’ll Come Back, For Sure”

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Former Calipari era players say they will continue to support Kentucky following Calipari's departure.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Towards the end of his fifteen season tenure at Kentucky, many fans had mixed feelings about John Calipari. However, his players never wavered in voicing their appreciation and love for him as their coach, and still do.

“To me, he’s the best coach in the world,” Reed Sheppard said at the NBA Draft Combine last week. Sheppard, an in-state product and the son of two former UK stars, has his own pre-existing ties to Kentucky basketball. What about the other players, the ones who came to Lexington from across the country to play for Calipari?

Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader asked three players from last year’s roster, Rob Dilligham, Antonio Reeves, and Justin Edwards. It should come as no suprise that they would support Calipari as heads to Arkansas, but they affirm they will continue to support Kentucky. In the end, that is the university that they represented and the fanbase they were supported by.

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“I’ll go to the game where they play each other. That would be even, right?” Dillingham said with a laugh, when asked if he would attend any Kentucky or Arkansas games in the near future. “I love Coach Cal. I appreciate him for the opportunity. And you see him — he’s put so many players in the NBA. He’s done a great thing at Kentucky.”

As for where Dillingham will return, it will be Lexington not Fayetteville.

“I’ll come back, for sure, to Kentucky. Obviously, they protected me,” Dillingham said. “It wasn’t just (Calipari). It was the fans. It was the teachers. Everybody there. I love Mitch Barnhart, the Athletic Director. I love all of them. So I really liked the UK experience, because they helped me as a whole, and they treated me like family.”

Reeves, who will go down as John Calipari’s last All-American at Kentucky, makes the point that he played for Calipari and Kentucky, and will support both.

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“I’d say both. I played for him. So, of course, I’m gonna cheer for him at Arkansas. Why not?” Reeves said. “The fans at Kentucky — I definitely can’t leave them behind. So I definitely gotta go back and just show them love whenever I get a chance. And I came from Kentucky. So I can’t just leave that behind.”

Edwards is one of the few that has had the opportunity to talk to Coach Pope since he took over at Kentucky.

“I’ve talked to Mark Pope. He was here (Draft Combine) today,” Edwards said, “I dapped him up. He told me if I was ever in town and needed a gym that I was always welcome to use the Craft Center. And Coach Cal told us the same: any alum or players that he had (at Kentucky), if they want to come work out, they can always use the gym.”

“Those guys are two genuine guys. You can tell that they’re caring people.”

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Edwards’ quote summarizes it greatly. Both are good people and coaches that care about the program.

At the end of the day, Calipari did a lot of good for Kentucky Basketball and will be honored for it in the future. However it was time for a change, or as Calipari said in his departure video, “a new voice”. That new voice is Mark Pope, who is making an effort to bridge all the generations of Kentucky Basketball.

John Wall, arguably the face of the Calipari era, was seen meeting Pope for the the first time this past weekend at a Nike EYBL event in Indianapolis.

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Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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