A little less than three weeks after showing up at Rupp Arena as a recruiting guest of the Kentucky Wildcats’ coaching staff, KyKy Tandy was back in the building Thursday. This time, he was in Lexington as a competitor.
Tandy didn’t get the win in his Sweet Sixteen opener, but he looked right at home on the Rupp court.
The 6-foot-1 junior guard made his first five shots of the afternoon and finished with 31 points — the highest individual total of the state tournament so far — in University Heights’ 82-65 loss to Campbell County in the first round.
Before the game, he sat on the UHA bench waiting for his name to be called for the starting lineups. Not too long ago, he sat in almost the exact same spot, chatting with UK assistant coach Joel Justus before the Cats’ home game against Missouri.
“The feeling out there was amazing,” Tandy told the Herald-Leader after his Rupp debut. “It was just an amazing experience.”
Tandy scored 10 points in the first quarter, getting UHA out to a quick 22-16 lead. He didn’t miss a shot until midway through the second quarter — about the time the Camels really keyed in on him defensively, running multiple players at him when he had the ball and trying to limit his ability to get into the lane.
“He’s a great player,” said Campbell County’s Tanner Clos. “He can shoot from anywhere with anyone in his face. I feel like we did a really good job containing him. We couldn’t have asked for any better job with the caliber of player he is.”
For those who hadn’t seen Tandy play in person yet this season, it was a pretty good example of what the nationally recruited player is capable of.
Tandy came into the state tournament averaging 30.5 points per game and hitting 47.6 percent of his shots from three-point range. On Thursday afternoon, he went 11-for-17 from the field, made three of five long-range attempts and hit all six of his free throws.
He still managed to weave his way into the paint despite the Camels’ defensive effort. He also showed off some terrific ball handling skills and made several nice passes to teammates.
“Obviously, KyKy is a phenomenal scorer, but, he’s also … been a great teammate,” UHA Coach Grant Shouse said. “He’s been a willing passer all season, and I thought he was today. So much of our offense relies on him scoring and going on little personal runs that he’s so good at doing. He was able to really fight his way through and make plays and score the ball.
“I thought, once he had the ball in his hands, he did what he’s been doing for us all season.”
Tandy does not yet have a scholarship offer from UK, but the Cats did invite him to attend their game against Mizzou as a recruiting guest not long after he scored 43 points in University Heights’ district title victory. Last week, John Calipari and Justus traveled to Henderson to watch Tandy help UHA win the 2nd Region title.
Florida, Tennessee, Cincinnati and Oklahoma are among the many schools that have already extended scholarship offers, and UK will be among the many others keeping tabs on Tandy’s development this summer, when he plays with Team Thad on the national Under Armour circuit.
“I look forward to seeing KyKy continue to develop,” Shouse said. “And I think some of you saw what he’s capable of today.”
Tandy smiled at the thought of being in Rupp just a few weeks ago as a recruit, then playing in the home of Kentucky basketball Thursday, but he said he wasn’t focused on that as he warmed up with the Blazers in the lead up to their first Sweet Sixteen game in 10 years.
“I wasn’t thinking about that,” Tandy told the Herald-Leader. “I was just thinking about the game and trying to get the win. We came up short, but I’m so proud of my team. Nobody expected us to come this far, and we just fought and fought and fought, and we made it. And I just can’t thank my coaches and teammates enough to help me get here. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. So I’m just really thankful.”