COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Basketball’s under-19 World Cup team training camp last week provided an unusually early sneak peek at what could be the core of the Kentucky Wildcats next season.
Kentucky freshmen Hamidou Diallo, P.J. Washington and Kevin Knox were all with their coach, John Calipari, for at least a few days in Colorado. While Knox headed back to Lexington early with a hamstring injury — after looking at times like the best player in the gym — Diallo and Washington made the team and are on their way to Egypt with Calipari to chase a gold medal.
It’s a great opportunity for those key Cats, who along with Knox seem likely to start at Kentucky from Day 1, to get a head start. SEC Country’s trip to Colorado to watch them try out provided a unique chance to evaluate the new players and hear the thoughts about them from other high-level basketball people.
We asked players, coaches and national media in attendance for their impressions of the three Cats:
BRUCE PEARL (Auburn coach)
“The guys I’m highest on are Washington and Knox. I’m really high on those guys. Great size, skill set, know how to play, can shoot, pass and handle — and they’re tough. Hamidou is a brilliant athlete, but guess what? Washington and Knox are terrific. Just put them in space and let them play.”
DANNY MANNING (Wake Forest coach)
“[Calipari] has always got a talented team. He’s going to do a great job as always, and they’ll play hard, play together and very unselfish. [Washington] is extremely versatile; he’s got a very good skillset. He handles the ball well, passes it well, has a good feel and understanding of the game. [Knox] is a guy who does a lot of different things — talented, really skilled, had a great camp and can do it all, inside and outside, play and guard 1 through 4.”
MIKE DECOURCY (Sporting News)
“P.J. impressed me the most in terms of his readiness to play right now with what they need him to do at the position they need him to fill. He was the most ready to make an impact. He knows exactly what he is and exactly how to help his team. He plays hard, he drives the ball, he’s aggressive. I really like him.
“Kevin Knox gets to great spots. That’s a great sign. He’s such a gifted athlete and has such a good head for how to get through an offense. He’s always in the right spot; the next step will be becoming a guy who makes that shot when he gets to that spot. He has a lot of arc on his shot, and I don’t [know] if they can take that off in a year. A high-arching shot doesn’t get much love from the rim or the board; the best shooters usually have a lot less of that, so that’s something to watch in his development.
“Hamidou, I think this is really important for him, because he hasn’t played in so long. Of the three [it’s most important for him], absolutely. You’re starting to see a more confident player, a more fluid player, and he’s making shots. I think he’s more of a threat now. He’s a lot more confident now than the last time that I saw him, which was a year ago at the Peach Jam.”
LOUIS KING (5-star recruit)
“[Kentucky is] getting a lot. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re athletic and physical on the offensive and defensive end. I would say Hami [is toughest to defend]. He’s a more physical guard. He just bowls his way through on offense and tries to dunk everything.”
CAM REDDISH (5-star recruit)
“They’re all great players. They’ll just go 110 percent. They’re unselfish.”
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY (5-star recruit)
“You can tell their bodies have matured, and they really know the game. I actually got to play with Kevin last year and he’s really gotten better. It’s cool to see.”
AUSTIN WILEY (Auburn)
“I had the pleasure of knowing those guys for a while. Kentucky’s getting a real special group. All athletic, know how to play basketball, unselfish. They’ll win a lot next year.”