When watching the national championship, Kellen Grady was just like the rest of Big Blue Nation, as he admitted in an interview with The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker, “I just kept thinking to myself, ‘We beat these two teams by (47 points) combined.’”
Before the now infamous loss to Saint Peter’s, there was a time when Kentucky looked to be the best team in the country.
Kellan Grady suggests that the team thought they were that good as well, saying, “I don’t think there was anyone better than us for two or three months.” When you look at the stats, it’s hard to argue against that view.
From the North Carolina game on December 18th to the Florida game on February 12th, Kentucky was second in Power Rating. Putting them only behind Gonzaga, who played a less than average opponent of 157.3 during these dates, compared to Kentucky’s 73.5. (Source)
With that said, there is a belief amongst some fans that Kentucky might have “peaked” too early and simply regressed.
In response to that thinking, Kellan Grady says, “You’d be naive to say we just magically became a worse team at the end of the year. You don’t by accident beat the shit out of Tennessee, beat the shit out of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, beat the shit out of Carolina.”
So what does Grady contribute to the disappointing end of the season? As we have heard from others in the program, injuries. However, this time from a player’s perspective.
“We were that team, but then a lot of adversity hit us, roles changed, and we just never could get back to where we were. Cal said it after we lost to Saint Peter’s: He was trying to coach a team we had a month before, but we just never were that team again.”
When the adversity hit, things changed for the worst and Kentucky never returned to form.
“I think people underestimate the toll that losing two starters takes. Having to learn to play without them, then get reacclimated when they come back, first change the way we play and then revert back to old roles, we just never really meshed again.”
Collectively, Kentucky’s most import backcourt pieces all had injuries towards the end of the season: Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, and Kellan Grady.
There are thousands of what-ifs in sports and many in Kentucky sports history. Add this season to that list. Without injuries, Kentucky dominated the two teams competing for the title. What if the team stayed healthy?
Sahvir Wheeler Says “Sky Is the Limit” for This Kentucky Team
Sahvir Wheeler may be one of the more controversial Kentucky Wildcats amongst fans.
On one hand, Wheeler is a Bob Cousy award finalist and two-time SEC assist leader, proving himself as one of the best playmakers in the country. On the other, he is an undersized guard that can play out of control and is an inefficient shooter.
Wheeler hears both sides of the aisle but has looked toward the critics to find motivation and at himself to find areas for improvement.
In an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, Wheeler talked about his self-reflection and looked at what worked and what didn’t last season.
“Playing fast. Playing fast worked. Being able to give it up sometimes and kind of run out, that worked. Just trusting myself, being confident, building relationships with teammates — because they want to see you succeed. All that worked.”
What didn’t work?
“I think sometimes I got a little out of control. I think defensively I took a step back. I think most of it was just because of the injury. Now that I feel healthy, I feel stronger, faster, more explosive, I feel like I’m back to where I was at the beginning of the year.”
Physically, Wheeler is in better shape after losing weight and cleaning up his diet in the offseason. Even saying, “I’m as fast, even faster than I once was”.
In August, the Big Blue Nation got to see the Wildcats and new and improved Sahvir Wheeler in the Bahamas, albeit against lesser competition.
Wheeler averaged 14.5 points on 61.1 percent shooting from the field and 93.3 percent from the line, but did struggle mightily from three, going 0-9. The senior guard also displayed more control, which was evident with a 24-6 assist-to-turnover ratio, equating to 6.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game.
Wheeler’s play on the court shouldn’t overshadow his importance off it, bringing toughness and his leadership to this team.
Five-star freshman, Cason Wallace talked about how great it is to have Wheeler to lead him. “It’s great having Sahvir right there. If I have a problem with anything, he’s always right there to help me.”
Coming back for a second year at Kentucky, Wheeler has all the confidence in this team and himself, citing the “sky is the limit and beyond” and that he is “coming back with a vengeance.” *cue the Batman music*
Read more of KSR’s interview here.
Also published on A Sea of Blue.
Kentucky Basketball Unveils New Home Uniforms
The Kentucky Wildcats have not been to the Final Four since 2015, which coincidentally is one of the last seasons that the checkerboard was used in moderation on the basketball uniforms. This was prior to the infamous pattern being featured very prominently on the sides of the jersey and shorts, which is what has been used for the past six seasons.
Over those six seasons, numerous players and many more fans have voiced their displeasure with the uniforms. The staff seems to have become pretty self-aware of this, with TJ Beisner making this trolling tweet in anticipation of the uniform unveiling.
Fortunately, the checkerboard is no more, at least on the home uniforms.
On Tuesday, looks of the new home basketball uniforms were released with Oscar Tshiebwe donning the new threads.
The uniforms feature a much more classic look reminiscent of Kentucky’s classic uniforms of the past, specifically the early 2000s.
The away uniforms are sure to be released soon, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the new home uniforms?
Also published on A Sea of Blue.
Kenny Payne Surprised at “Hatred” and Negative Recruiting at UofL
Over the past decade-plus, the Louisville Basketball program has been the country’s most reliable source of athletic-department salaciousness, ranging from affairs between the head coach and booster’s wife to an escort scandal to paying recruits.
It has been so frequent that the NCAA has not even provided consequences for all of the scandals yet. As of now, the NCAA has only issued consequences for the escort scandal, vacated their 2013 national title, and put them on four years of probation starting in 2017.
Five years later, NCAA has yet to issue any more consequences, but many believe it is just a matter of time before they are at least put back on probation.
Given that, many teams have used this to their advantage, using the provided ammunition against Louisville in recruiting. Most people familiar will college athletics and/or the world of recruiting would not be surprised by this.
That is unless you are Kenny Payne.
On Sunday, Payne talked to the media about being unprepared to face the negative recruiting. “I wasn’t prepared for universities to say, ‘Louisville’s going on probation, why would you ever go there?’ to deter these kids from listening and especially from people that I’ve helped in the past. It’s a lesson for me.”
While Payne did not list any names, he went on to say, “my relationships with certain people that have been in my life for 30, 40 years have changed.”
Could these comments be directed at another talented recruiter down the road, John Calipari? Calipari and Payne are battling for two top 10 prospects, Aaron Bradshaw and DJ Wagner. The latter of which, Payne hired his grandfather, Milt Wagner.
Whatever the case may be, Kenny Payne knows to recruit. During his time at Kentucky, he received commitments from a dozen five-star recruits and several four-star recruits.
For someone with that amount of recruiting success, it is difficult to believe that Payne wasn’t aware of the recruiting situation he was coming into.