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Men's Basketball

Aaron Bradshaw and His Off-Court Development, “He’s Taking Responsibility”

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A playful character off the court, Aaron Bradshaw has become one of Kentucky's most mature players.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Coming to Kentucky as a former No. 1 recruit is a lot of pressure, expected to be a star freshman and ultimately a one-and-done player going to the NBA. That pressure can be made worse when those expectations aren’t met, which could allow for some resentment and selfishness.

Not for Aaron Bradshaw.

Once ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class, Bradshaw came to Kentucky with those same expectations. A playful character off the court, Bradshaw has grown to be one of the most mature players on this Kentucky team, despite things not going to plan.

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First, he suffered an offseason foot injury that sidelined him for six months, including missing GLOBL Jam in the summer and the first month of the regular season. Amidst that, had to endure unfair rumors about if he would ever play for Kentucky. Rumors he showed frustration toward and called “BS” at Kentucky media day.

Upon returning to the court in December, Bradshaw put up a double-double in just his second game, then followed it up with some game-winning plays over North Carolina. It looked as if he was going to live up to that ranking. Then came the struggles, in large part due to the physicality of the SEC.

After averaging 21 minutes in his first eleven games, he has averaged just 10 minutes in the eleven games since. That includes playing single-digit minutes in four of the last five games and looks to be the third big man in Kentucky’s rotation.

His decreasing playing time has coincided with his dropping draft stock. Before the season he projected as a top-10 pick. In December/January, a first-round pick. Now, Bradshaw is not listed on nearly any draft board.

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Bradshaw has reason to be upset, but if you look on the bench you will struggle to find anyone happier. Cheering for his teammate’s success and the team’s success.

Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

Just look at this photo. A jubilant smile on Bradshaw’s face as Kentucky beat a Top 15 Auburn team on the road, as double-digit underdogs. By his expression, you wouldn’t know that he had only played three minutes, his lowest minute total of the season.

This started back in the offseason. Unable to play improve on the court, Bradshaw examined for ways to improve off the court. “My main focus is becoming a better teammate,” he told me at Kentucky media day. “It’s not going to be every day I am going to step on the court and play the whole time. There are times I am going to be on the bench.”

A “great teammate” he has been, throughout interviews this season, nearly every player, unprompted has attributed such to Bradshaw. That joy and encouragement toward his teammates even holds for the two players he battles against for playing time, Zvonimir Ivisic and Ugonna Onyenso, who also may be his two closest friends on the team. “The Seven Footers” they call themselves.

“If they’re playing better than me, it’s not their fault, it’s my fault,” Bradshaw said. “Him or Ugo playing better than me, it’s not a bad thing. That’s selfish. If they got it going, they got it going… We all love each other.”

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That love has helped each of them lean on one another and overcome hardships this season. Bradshaw and Onyenso with injuries, and Ivisic with his eligibility case. “Aaron is my guy. We’re together every day, on/off the court,” Ivisic said. “He’s helped me a lot. School, practices. Everything that I needed him for, he’s been there for me. He’s my guy, my brother.”

Through the challenges, Bradshaw has also trusted his Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari, who he says is the reason he came to Kentucky.

“Coach Cal really knows what he is doing. He’s doing it on purpose,” Bradshaw said. “I was never a person on the bench. Now that I am, I gotta figure out other ways to impact the game.”

Against Arkansas, Bradshaw found ways to impact the game and he played his best game of 2024, putting up 15 points and 5 rebounds, in just 12 minutes. Calipari, who has since been told of Bradshaw’s comments, applauds his attitude. “Instead of blaming or doing any of that, he’s taking responsibility and he’s playing better.”

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For Bradshaw, he has not had the on-court production he hoped for, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting better. Becoming a better man, teammate, and friend off the court.

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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