By LARRY VAUGHT
What in the world happened with Kahlil Whitney?
How did he go from a McDonald’s All-American and projected preseason first-round NBA draft lottery pick to playing a combined four minutes in two Kentucky’s two most recent Southeastern Conference games and then stunning everyone by announcing Friday he was leaving UK?
On his radio show Monday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari talked again about needing to figure out how to get more from Whitney — who had five points in the last eight games. He has enormous athletic ability but that had not translated to the college game where elite skills are also needed.
Whitney posted on social media he had “learned a lot” from Calipari but still is leaving UK to “continue on my journey.” But journey to where?
If he wants to transfer to another school, he would have to sit out all of next season barring some unanticipated mercy from the NCAA because there’s no emergency pushing his transfer and he certainly cannot say he did not get chances to play and shine at UK. However, note that Whitney says he will be doing all he can to “prepare myself for what I’m capable of at the next level.”
Next level? Apparently that would mean the NBA but it is hard to see what kind of magic film study, individual workouts or different coaches could do in five months before the draft to change who he is.
What makes this even stranger is that Calipari had a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday. No mention of Whitney leaving. Kentucky players made available to the media didn’t mention it, either. Yet a few minutes after the press conference ended, Whitney’s statement on social media about his departure was posted.
He always seemed enthused and energetic even when he was not playing well. But a friend told me when she was in Las Vegas to watch UK play she sensed some close to Whitney were not happy with his role based on what she heard at the game.
Another friend told me today she was a “little concerned when he left the (Georgia) game and did not slap Nate Sestina’s hand (on the bench) when he came out of the game. It was the only one he overlooked.”
Again, maybe that’s searching for something that was wrong. Who knows? Another friend wondered about academics, but he had to be eligible at the end of the first semester to be playing in SEC games.
“I wish Big Blue Nation all the best. I’ve heard your voices and positive messages and I thank you for your continued love and support. I will always be cheering for UK’s success and for all of my brothers on the court,” Whitney said in his social media message.
Remember he always said his dream was to play at UK. He was a young man who liked doing community service outings. Teammates always complimented his attitude. Another friend got to attend a recent practice and said Whitney was doing extra work with the UK coaches before and after practice.
Again, just doesn’t seem like a player ready to bail on a team yet that is just what Whitney did Friday.
Fortunately for UK, freshman Johnny Juzang has emerged as a reliable bench option. However, UK is now down to eight healthy scholarship players. Not only does that present a problem if someone gets hurt or players get in foul trouble in a game, but having competitive practices now could be a problem. Already assistant coach Joel Justin has been playing point guard on the scout team. Kenny Payne might have to suit up in practice now, too.
It’s a perplexing situation and no one but Whitney — and maybe Calipari — really knows what drove this decision or what impact it is going to have on UK’s play the next two months.