NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last week, Kentucky coach John Calipari said freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was battling McDonald’s All-American point guard Quade Green in practice. Calipari went a step further Wednesday at SEC Media Day.
“He could start,” the coach said of Gilgeous-Alexander, a top-40 recruit but the second-lowest rated player in the Wildcats’ 2017 signing class. “Quade is doing fine, too, but they’re competing for that. And I would say they’re both going to play.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, who is a 6-foot-6 combo guard — meaning he could play on the ball or off, in place of Green or alongside him — has a remarkable 7-foot wingspan and has for months been described as a “sleeper.” But that no longer fits.
“With his wingspan, he’s really disruptive. Like, really disruptive,” Calipari said. “Offensively, his ability to get in the lane [stands out]. We need some perimeter shooting, and that’s got to be him.”
Teammates are not at all surprised (anymore) by Gilgeous-Alexander’s continued climb.
“He surprised me over the summer and he’s just kept it rolling ever since,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “He’s really into this. His focus is right. He’s got the length, all you need. Cal tells him every practice, ‘You have a 7-foot wingspan.’ He’s a talented player and he can shoot the ball. He’s still learning the game, just like the rest of us.
“We’re still putting all the pieces together, but I think Shai is going to be a really great player. Whether he starts or not, he’s going to play a really big role on this team.”
Gabriel said Kentucky’s defense starts with the point guard and Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to reach into passing lanes and poke the ball free for transition buckets will be big.
“It’s nuts” when Gilgeous-Alexander plays in the backcourt alongside 6-5 Hamidou Diallo, who has a 6-11 wingspan, Diallo said. “Me and Shai, we’re just two long players and we’re both competitive. I don’t think anybody can stop that in the country.”