By LARRY VAUGHT
Tyrese Maxey has had the kind of success his freshman season at Kentucky that many thought he would. He’s averaging a team-high 13.9 points per game along with 4.3 rebonds and 3.2 assists per game while averaging 33.5 minutes per game.
Freshman Kahlil Whitney, another McDonald’s All-American, had to think his numbers might be similar and so did a lot of other folks. However, through 15 games Whitney is averaging only 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game and playing just an average of 14.5 minutes per game.
Whitney is just 4-for-15 from 3-point range and 9-for-19 at the foul line. Overall from the field he’s 22 of 58, a 38 percent mark.
Kentucky coach John Calipari showed a lot of love for Whitney in UK’s win over Alabama Saturday and obviously believes for UK to be at its best in March, he needs Whitney playing at a far better level but one Calipari thinks he can easily reach.
Whitney has not pouted on the court. If he’s on the bench, he’s one of the first to cheer for teammates. He looks at times almost like he’s thinking too much and trying too hard rather than just using his enormous athleticism to rebound, defend and do other things that come naturally to him.
Maxey has seen what Whitney can do and says his message to him would be “just stay focused, stay locked in” to what the coaches tell him.
“He’s done a really good job of staying motivated. Coach Cal said he was probably the happiest one during the Louisville game on the bench just cheering for his teammates, which means a lot to us,” Maxey said. “We really want him to succeed as well and I’m very proud of him.”
File that away because Maxey is not one to give false praise.
Junior Nick Richards understands well what it is like to struggle to produce the way everyone expects. He went through it for two year before having his breakout season now as a junior.
He’s been impressed by Whitney’s “determination” during down times. “He never gives up. And his positivity. He’s always staying positive, no matter what, whether he’s having good games or bad games, he always stays that same consistent, positive guy,” Richards said.
So while Whitney has not been the Whitney yet I am convinced he will be, note that teammates say he’s determined and positive and they believe he will get things figured out soon.
Calipari feels the same way obviously.
“I hugged Kahlil after (the Alabama game). I’m like, ‘Kid, just stay the course. Please stay the course. I want you to be a stopper on defense, and don’t worry about anybody else. You guard your man. Go grab some rebounds, because you can put your head above the rim,'” Calipari said.
“ And then on offense, be a finisher. Shoot it when you’re in there. Don’t go in there to try to pass. Shoot it. And if you can’t get a shot off, you know it when you catch it; I don’t have a shot. Pass it, cut, and we’ll get you another shot. ”