Kentucky needs Kahlil Whitney to “impose his will” at all times

Kahlil Whitney, left, had a stat line Friday that assistant Joel Justus says should be the standard for him. (Vicky Graff Photo)


LEXINGTON — Maybe Kentucky fans didn’t see exactly what they were expecting from Kahlil Whitney in UK’s exhibition win over Georgetown College when he missed all five shots he took and did not get a single rebound.

Against Kentucky State Friday night, Whitney had five of UK’s first 10 points in the 83-51 win and finished with 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field along with five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots in 27 minutes.

Whitney hit a variety of shots and looked like a five-star recruit — he was ranked as high as 11th in the 2019 recruiting class — who has been projected as a potential 2020 first-round NBA draft pick.

I asked assistant coach Joel Justus, who did the postgame press conference for an “under the weather” coach John Calipari, if that was a fair expectation of what the athletic Whitney’s statistical line should look like every game.

“I think that the thing that stood out the other night (against Georgetown) was his rebounds in the first game. Then tonight he comes back and has five rebounds, 15 points,” Justus said. “He was involved in the game much more tonight.

“I think that’s what Cal has really got after him, to be a guy that’s involved on the ball, off the ball, rebounding, deflections. He’s such a live body and he should be a guy that’s a tremendous two-way player and then he makes shots. So that comes as a byproduct of being involved in the game, being a guy who is trying to kind of impose his will on both ends of the floor.

“I think that you can expect that out of Kahlil. Then the jump shots, I think, are an added bonus.”

Whitney said there was a simple explanation for his improved play, which came at a good time considering UK plays No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday in New York.

“It was my confidence. I went to the gym after the first game. The first game I was 0-5 (from the field), so I had to get back in the gym. Other than that, just playing hard at all the times, I took a lot of plays off the first game and I had to keep my foot on the gas at all times today,” Whitney said.

Kentucky fans are going to learn that as athletic as Whitney is, he’s also just as blunt answering questions. He’s brutally honest and also confident enough to admits he took plays off — an obvious no-no for anyone playing for Calipari.

He also understands his athleticism should be a plus for the Cats this season.

“That plays into everything. Sometimes my shots are not going to fall so I have to do other things like rebound, deflect plays and just play on the ball,” Calipari said.

“Coach put emphasis on being physical, a lot of box-out drills and bodies banging against each other. We have the number one team coming up on Tuesday. They have big guys on that team so we have to be physical. He really wanted us to be physical in every aspect of the game today, both physically and mentally.”

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