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One-Half and Done

By Dr. John Huang

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the news that Kentucky freshman Kahlil Whitney has decided to leave the University of Kentucky Basketball team. Whitney, a 6’6” 210-lb forward from Chicago, was a consensus five-star recruit and the 11th-ranked player overall in the 2019 class. Whitney announced his decision to leave the team through a tweet.

Considered a virtual “can’t miss” prospect, the athletically gifted Whitney got off to a promising start in his freshman campaign. He started eight games for the Wildcats, but recently saw his playing time diminish due to the emergence of fellow recruit Keion Brooks. Whitney averaged 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in just over 12 minutes of playing time. He’ll be the fifth McDonald’s All-American to leave UK–following in the footsteps of Quade Green (2017), Sacha Killeya-Jones (2016), Marcus Lee (2013), and Kyle Wiltjer (2011).

Whitney played just three minutes in the last two games

Surprising timing of announcement

Of course, the timing of his announcement surprised everyone. Coach John Calipari had just participated in his usual Friday dog and pony show with the media. The minute it was over, the news broke. Coincidence? I think not. I was on the way to the airport to catch my flight to Lubbock when I first heard.

Coach Cal released this tweet about an hour later. Sounds like a rubber stamp to me–but HEY, what do you expect him to say?

I’ll be honest, I was as surprised as anybody. You always wonder what’s going on in these players’ minds or who’s whispering in their ears. Was there something more going on behind the scenes? You would have to think that the incoming recruiting class had to have influenced Whitney’s decision. With the elite talent (6’7 Terrence Clarke, 6’9 Isaiah Jackson, 6,9 Lance Ware, 6’6 BJ Boston, 6’6 Cam’Ron Fletcher, and 6’3 Devin Askew) coming in next year, why would Whitney want to have to battle tooth and nail all over again?

No recent indications

Also, if you remember, just two short weeks ago, Whitney appeared for one of the pregame media appearances. At that time, he was already struggling with his shot and he couldn’t grab a rebound to save his life. Everyone expected him to be down and upset about his slow progress to date.

Instead of downcast gloom and doom, however, we got just the opposite. A smiling and upbeat Whitney told media members just where they could stick their negativity.

“I just know my journey,” he told all of us. “I’ve put a lot of work in the gym here and it’s a blessing to be here so I’m forever going to keep a smile on my face and keep positive energy…I know a lot of you guys probably think this is driving me crazy and really affecting me, but it’s really not.”

Just two weeks earlier, Whitney gave no indication that he was the least bit unhappy.

Now what?

At the time, I certainly believed him. Or perhaps I thought he was the world’s greatest actor. Regardless, he’s moving on. Whether it’s transferring to another school or preparing for the NBA, Whitney didn’t elaborate. He simply made it clear he was leaving Kentucky.

As to how this affects the current team, it’s hard to say. It seems Calipari has settled into a rotation he feels comfortable with—and that rotation did not include Whitney. But the pressure is now on Brooks and EJ Montgomery to deliver the goods and Nate Sestina to guard someone. And that’s not something anyone in their right mind would bet the farm on.

If nothing else, Kentucky’s front court depth has taken a big hit. Dreaded injuries need to stay away. So do foul trouble and any lack of conditioning. A completely healthy and conditioned Dontaie Allen is NOT walking through that door either. In other words, there is absolutely no more room for error.

Keion Brooks, EJ Montgomery, and Nate Sestina will need to take up the slack in Whitney’s absence.

Final thoughts

John Calipari always says that every one of these gifted players is on his own pathway and timetable. It’s still a bit puzzling for me why Whitney’s pathway had yet to materialize. In the short time we got to know him, Kahlil seemed like a super-nice, mega-talented, hard-working kid who had his priorities in order.

“I talk to my family every day,” he said, when asked how he keeps his life in balance with basketball. “I’m a church-going guy, come from a church-going family so it’s kind of easy for me keeping God first.”

Amen. Can’t argue with that at all. We wish him the very best!

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
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