LEXINGTON, Ky. — De’Aaron Fox has a little nibble for Kentucky basketball fans craving some inside scoop on how the 2017-18 Wildcats are going to look. Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, three former UK stars and NBA lottery picks, are back in town working a youth camp and played pickup with the new team on Saturday.
“Quade [Green] played really well,” Fox said of the latest 5-star freshman point guard. Likely starters Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox weren’t around for the friendly competition, but “Jarred [Vanderbilt] really shot the ball well. Nick [Richards] is really active on the boards, catching lobs, blocked shots. Just what you’d expect them to do.”
Vanderbilt is a 6-foot-9 forward about whom shooting was one of the few concerns, but his shot looked improved in the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games. It’s also notable that he’s playing with no apparent ill effects from an ankle injury suffered in the Jordan game.
Richards is 7-foot center and fellow 5-star recruit whose intimidating post presence will be a welcome addition. But what about the veterans, such as they are at Kentucky?
Former Wildcat Derek Willis, also back in town for the youth camp, said he was struck by photos that emerged this summer of rising sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel — the only returning player not he roster who has started a game or played any meaningful minutes. The photos showed a dramatic physical transformation in only a few weeks.
“His body was in incredible shape. It seemed like he put in a lot of work for that,” Willis said. “So he’s probably made improvements, for sure.”
Another rising sophomore big man, Sacha Killeya-Jones, former McDonald’s All-American, started turning a corner before last season was even finished. While he strangely sat out Kentucky’s final 19 games, sources told SEC Country he refocused late in the year and impressed the coaching staff in the last month of practices.
“I definitely did see that,” said former UK guard Dominique Hawkins, another youth camp counselor. “He was going against Bam every day, and Bam’s definitely going to push Sacha at a high level. If you don’t come to play against Bam, you’re going to get dunked on. So I definitely saw Sacha pick it up at the end of the season.”
That’s hardly a complete scouting report, but it’s at least a hint of things to come for Kentucky basketball fans who needed a quick summer fix. We’ll be hearing much more about the new collection of Cats very soon.