Once again, the UK basketball team is going through an offseason of upheaval.
At least seven scholarship players from this past season’s team — eight, if you count Bam Adebayo, who has not yet made a stay-or-go NBA decision — will be gone when the Wildcats return to the practice floor this summer.
In their place will be a whole new group of UK players — seven, and counting — looking to lead the program to postseason glory before they, too, eventually head off to the pros.
Often, it’s hard to find the chemistry — especially early in the season — with so many newcomers, some of whom come to college with notions of individual glory.
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One of UK’s class of 2017 signees, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is in the state for Saturday night’s Derby Festival Classic in Louisville, doesn’t think that will be a problem with the 2017-18 Wildcats.
“I think it’ll be fine,” he said. “We’re all unselfish and see the bigger picture. It’s about winning. It’s not about us personally.
“I think we’re going to be special — really special. We got a lot of pieces that will play well together, and we’ll be fun to watch.”
Gilgeous-Alexander — a 6-foot-5 guard from Canada — has often been the forgotten man in UK’s recruiting class, which is again ranked as the best in the country.
The three other players who signed early with him — Quade Green, Nick Richards and PJ Washington — were all McDonald’s All-Americans and are in Brooklyn this week for the Jordan Brand Classic.
Jarred Vanderbilt, who committed to the Cats in late December, was also selected as a McDonald’s All-American.
Hamidou Diallo, the five-star shooting guard who enrolled at UK in January, got plenty of attention as soon as he stepped on campus, with some fans calling for him to play during the Wildcats’ stretch run.
While the focus was on those players, Gilgeous-Alexander plugged away at his own game.
He averaged 20.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game in his second season with Hamilton Heights (Tenn.), the school he came to from his native Canada a couple of years ago in hopes of sharpening his skills against better players.
“Just the competition level, and being able to challenge myself every day — get to be as good as I could possibly be,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of that move.
He added that it worked. Before he came to the United States, his “biggest” scholarship offer was from Binghamton University.
“And I don’t even know what conference they’re in,” he said with a grin.
Now, he’s a Wildcat, and he’ll likely be asked to play an important role on next season’s squad.
Green is penciled in as the starting point guard, and Diallo will almost certainly start as well, but there should be valuable minutes available for Gilgeous-Alexander, who is classified as a point guard and has tremendous size for the position.
“What I like about Shai is he’s a point guard at 6 foot 5,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He’s got a good physical makeup. He’s got long arms. I like his demeanor. I think he’s a facilitator. He’s pretty crafty, and he can go out there and create shot opportunities for others.
“I really like his ability to pass and distribute.”
Gilgeous-Alexander is at his best when he gets into the lane and makes a decision from there. He’s a talented passer, usually knowing where everyone else is on the floor. He can also finish in traffic, though he could stand to add some strength when he gets to UK this summer.
His outside shot could also use some tweaking.
Gilgeous-Alexander can knock down three-pointers — he was a 38 percent shooter from long range this past season — but he has a deliberate release and hasn’t yet shown consistency shooting on the move.
“When he is set and has time, he can make shots,” Daniels said.
Gilgeous-Alexander said he’s been working on that aspect of his game, fine-tuning his release and getting more elevation on his jump shot, in recent months.
“It’s coming along well,” he said.
Scout.com ranks Gilgeous-Alexander as the No. 45 overall prospect in the 2017 class. Rivals.com moved him up to No. 31 in their final rankings this week. 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer wrote Wednesday that he could be bumped to five-star status when that recruiting service’s final rankings come out.
Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t concerned about the rankings, attention or outside expectations as he prepares for his UK career. He’s looking forward to teaming up with Green, Diallo, new commitment Jemarl Baker and anyone else who might join the Wildcats’ backcourt for next season, and he’s not worried about playing a certain “role” when he gets here.
“I’ll just be the player that got me to Kentucky,” he said. “Just be myself.”
Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Freedom Hall in Louisville