By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There is an old adage that says,”Good or bad things come in threes.” Well, I’m here to talk about the UK Basketball related “good things” that come in threes. And here they are.
In looking at this UK team after two games a few things already stand out. The Wildcats have a triumvirate of guards that will be a nightmare for opposing coaches. Putting Tyrese Maxey, a do-everything guard on the floor to hit threes, run the point and distribute the ball, break the defense down off the dribble, grab defensive rebounds and get out on the fast break would be a huge boost to any college team’s ability to win games. Add to that Ashton Hagans, a guard who appears to be an octopus on defense with hands and arms everywhere tapping balls away, knocking passes down and pair that with his ability to get out on the break and finish at the rim and anyone watching college basketball would say, “What a great backcourt.”
But remember, good things come in threes. And the third member of this group is Immanuel Quickley, a knockdown 3-point shooter who can also get out on the break and finish at the rim. This trio of guards also bring a smothering defense to teams that can’t match the intensity that Kentucky brings with this group of guards. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s National Player of the Year candidate at point guard, struggled to get into a rhythm against this group last week in the Champions Classic. All three guards stand 6’3” tall and can terrorize opposing teams on offense and defense.
As if that wasn’t enough Kentucky also has a trio of inside players that can play great team defense, protect the rim and grab offensive and defensive rebounds and score in the interior. Nick Richards at 6’11” tall is an imposing sight to opposing players that decide to bring the ball inside. With his height and wingspan it is difficult for most players to get a clean look at the basket. Richards can also score on a variety of moves including a little jump hook and ally-oop dunk play that is created by Kentucky guards penetrating to the basket.
Newcomer Nate Sestina looks like he will play the role that Reid Travis played on last year’s UK them. At 6’9” and a muscular 234 lbs Sestina can post the ball down low, set the screen at the top of the key and with his excellent three pint shooting ability he can really hurt opposing teams off the pick-and-pop play. Sestina is a battler down low, clearing the boards for defensive rebounds and has been an excellent communicator on defense. He seems to make everyone better when he is in the game.
The last member of the “good things” trio is EJ Montgomery. Although he has struggled in the first two games and now appears to be nursing a lower leg injury Montgomery will be needed to perform up to his talent level over the course of the season. As a 6’10” interior player who has a soft touch around the basket Kentucky needs Montgomery to find his niche on this team and perform. He has too much talent to sit the bench in his sophomore season.
So now we get to the third group of good things that come in threes. You notice everything is coming up threes. That’s never a bad thing for a basketball team.
Anyway, poor jokes aside, this third group of threes is maybe not what you would expect. The third group of threes is three role players that could come up big for the Wildcats by the end of the season. They are Khalil Whitney, Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang.
These guys, so far in two games, have shown that on any given night they could be instrumental in helping the Cats win key games this season. Whitney appears to be a very capable outside shooter with a knack for scoring the basketball. As his defense and rebounding improve, at 6’ 6” he can guard out on the floor but can also provide a presence in the post by using his quickness and leaping ability. Keion Brooks showed in the Eastern Kentucky game that he is a physical force to be reckoned with. Friday night against the Colonels he was all over the floor grabbing rebounds, playing physical defense and hitting mid-range jump shots. As he continues to improve, with his high motor, he could be a guy that takes over that third inside player spot it EJ Montgomery continues to struggle with his injury.
Last but not least out of this trio of newcomers is Johnny Juzang. Juzang, at a slender 6’6”, appears to be pretty athletic with the ability to use his long wing span to make scoring difficult for opposing guards. He looks like a good two guard-type player because of his phenomenal three point shooting ability. He also appears to be an able rebounder as proven by his 7 rebounds in the last game against EKU. Juzang, Brooks and Whitney could be key players by the end of the season if they embrace the grind and put in the work that it takes to be successful.
And just to show that good things really do come in threes for this UK Basketball team, if Kentucky were to make it to the Elite 8 this year that would make 39 all-time appearances, or 3 times 13. If UK makes it to the Final Four it would be their 18th appearance all-time and that would be 3 times 6. Finally if the Wildcats were to go all the way and win the National Championship that would be title No. 9. And I don’t need to tell you math majors that 3 times 3 equals 9.
So, good things do come in 3s. And this season the best could come to the Cats if they can cut down the nets in Atlanta on April 6th. You guessed it, 3 times 2.