By LARRY VAUGHT
He was not Kentucky’s leading scorer. He didn’t play the most minutes or even grab the most rebounds.
However, freshman Keion Brooks Jr. continues to show that by March — if not sooner — that he could turn into the X factor for Kentucky this season.
Coming off a 15-point, five-rebound outing against Fairleigh Dickinson, he responded with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, four rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot in Saturday’s 67-53 victory over Georgia Tech.
What I like is that Brooks is the “fighter” that Kentucky coach John Calipari likes. He just has a knack for making plays that don’t show on a stat sheet.
— In the first half he had a nice drive and finished with his left hand. Rather than celebrate, he busted his butt to get back on defense and came out of nowhere to block a Georgia Tech shot.
— Late in the game he was surrounded by defenders with the shot clock running down. Rather than panicking, he kept his poise, found Immanuel Quickley open on the baseline and he hit a 5-footer.
— With Georgia Tech trying to make a late rally, Brooks went on the floor to dig out a loose ball. He also drove into the lane, got fouled on his left-handed shot and made two free throws.
It’s the kind of effort and consistency UK needed, especially with EJ Montgomery following his 25-point outing in UK’s last game with an 0-fer. In 20 minutes, he was 0-for-4 from the field, did not shoot a free throw and had just three rebounds. He did have one assist but no blocks or steals and reverted to his early season blahs.
Compare Montgomery’s outing to freshman guard Tyrese Maxey, who was 0-for-9 from the field. But he got to the foul line six times, and made them all. He also had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in 38 minutes. His defense also remained solid.
“He was solid,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said about Brooks. “But they have a bunch of good players. All eight are high level and all eight will play in the NBA.”
Brooks certainly could be one of those players. Even Calipari knows that. But the word he liked best about Brooks again was “fight” and that’s one thing Brooks has done from game one.
“He is a skilled basketball player,” Calipari said. “I even saw him stay in front of people when everybody else was getting beat. I was proud of him.”