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A year ago Kahlil Whitney couldn’t wait for John Calipari to “get the best out of me” but that sure changed

Kahlil Whitney enjoyed visiting with patients at the Ronald McDonald House at the 2019 All-American Game in Atlanta. (McDonald’s All-American Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

As I thought more about Kahlil Whitney’s unexpected departure from Kentucky last week, I went back to listen to interviews I did with him at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta last season and was reminded about how excited he was then to be coming to Kentucky.

“Coach (John Calipari) first offered me a scholarship after Peach Jam game via the phone. I told him it was the best thing ever and I basically never thought this day would come,” Whitney said. “I pretty much knew that day I was going to Kentucky.

“I am eager to let Kentucky fans get a chance to see me play. I hope they see everything. I am going to bring my full package out. Just getting to play here is a dream come true. Coming from a high school team to having all five-star guys on my team is special. It’s a great feeling.”

I also remembered how much he enjoyed visiting the Ronald McDonald House in Atlanta and visiting with children who faced difficult medical situations.

“It was great. It taught me a very good lesson to be humble,” Whitney said then. “Not everybody is as fortunate as you are. That’s why I take this game so seriously and respect everyone the most I can.

“Seeing those kids who had problems was so sad and to put a smile on their faces brightens my day and brightens their day. I just wanted to let those kids know that they have somebody who loves you and cares for you. I was happy I got to be here and put those smiles on their faces. I love doing things like that. I just like to put a smile on your face. I am a jokester, a clown. I like making people laugh and stuff like that. I am just a fun guy.”

But I also remember asking him about the comparisons many were making with him and then Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson.

He says those who have compared him to Johnson are accurate — with one exception.

“Me and Keldon both have that dog mentality We both like to get out in transition a lot,” Whitney said. “I feel like I can shoot the ball a little bit better than him, but other than that we are the same type player.”

Shoot better than Keldon Johnson? No way. And the “dog mentality” never quite surfaced in Whitney as he seemed to have spend too much time thinking about what to do instead of just making plays.

I also asked him about the pressures of playing at Kentucky and being pushed harder by Calipari than any coach had ever pushed him.

“He is ready to coach me and get the best out of me, and I’m ready for that, too,” Whitney said. “Coach Cal is a great coach and I can’t wait to get under his wings and play for him.”

Yet for some reason before the end of January his freshman season, that feeling about Calipari changed and Whitney couldn’t wait to get out from under Calipari’s wings.

2 comments

  1. From what I have read, so I’m not an expert, but it sounds to me like this kid was really torn.
    In one corner, people were telling him he shouldn’t be a “role” player, while Cal was telling him to work it out. On the other hand, he was finding out first hand that he was not the same player in college he was in high school.
    Not sure if it was him that didn’t want to wait and follow the process of learning or those who had his ear and finally won him over.
    It is a shame when parents and followers don’t let the process work its self out; but in this case, the evidence was very clear. Whitney was thinking way too much and not just playing ball.
    Who knows, this time next month, he could have been a key contributor to a UK run. He has a lot of talent, but he has to bring it to the court every game.

  2. Kahlil got his chance here. He started a number of games and saw significant minutes in others. He never made the most of it though. Being a poor free throw shooter was the killer. Taking ill advised shots and piling up turnovers from forcing the action added to his demise. His defense was up and down as was his rebounding. He seemed to let his offensive struggles affect the rest of his game. Coach could not keep playing him.

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