UK Men's Basketball

Herro enters NBA Draft cautiously. Quickley says he’ll be back.

Tyler Herro rejects the ‘white guy who can shoot’ label

Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro talks about why he wants to prove he goes beyond the “white guy who can shoot” label. UK takes a six-game winning streak to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.
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Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro talks about why he wants to prove he goes beyond the “white guy who can shoot” label. UK takes a six-game winning streak to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

As a freshman, Tyler Herro may have set a record for most labels bestowed on a player. “Boy Wonder.” “Bucket.” “Dog.” Shooter. White kid who can do more than shoot.

On Friday, Herro added yet another label: early entrant in the NBA Draft.

Herro, who is projected in several mock drafts as being picked in the latter half of the first round, retained the option of playing for Kentucky next season.

Under new NCAA rules, Herro can sign with an NCAA-certified agent, receive feedback and still return to school.

Herro said he decided to enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft “in order to make the most informed decision possible, but also leave my options open. . . . If the evaluations tell me I need to elevate my game further, I would be thrilled to return to Kentucky.”

Herro’s father said that the feedback so far from the NBA he and his son received projected Tyler Herro in the 15-to-25 range of first-round picks. This created the potential dilemma of being picked late in the first round by a top NBA team, Chris Herro said. In that scenario, Tyler Herro’s decision to stay in the draft might rest on spending next season in the G League or developing further as a sophomore at Kentucky.

“Cal just wants to make sure he’s in a good situation because he doesn’t want him falling all the way to the end of the first round,” Chris Herro said of the advice provided by UK Coach John Calipari. “And then he’s not in a good situation. He said (Herro) could come back to Kentucky and, as Cal says, be the man.

“Cal’s just looking out for him.”

As a competitive person, his son bristles at the suggestion of not being good enough to be on an NBA team next season, Chris Herro said.

Returning to Kentucky for a sophomore season is enticing, the player’s father said. But that option also involves risk.

“We would love for Tyler to stay at Kentucky,” Chris Herro said. “It is the best situation in the world. . . . There’s nothing like it. I don’t care what you tell me.

“But there’s also a window of if Tyler goes back, (the NBA is) going to start — what? — Picking at him if he doesn’t play well. The next thing you know he falls in the draft, and there goes his hopes. That’s the biggest problem.”

During the 2018-19 season, Herro set a UK record for free-throw accuracy. He made 93.5 percent of his free throws (87 of 93). That broke the previous record of 91.2 percent shared by Travis Ford (1993-94) and Kyle Macy (1979-80).

Until he missed a free throw against Houston in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region semifinals, Herro had made 30 in a row in the previous 10 games. After Kentucky played North Carolina on Dec. 22, he made 70 of 72 free throws (97.2 percent) the rest of the season.

The record-setting accuracy on free throws came from a player who openly resisted being considered merely as a shooter.

“I guess I don’t want to be labeled just because I’m white that I’m a shooter,” he said in January. “If you don’t look at my skin color and we just go and play basketball, you’re not going to say I’m a white kid that can just shoot.”

In a news release, Calipari saluted the improvement Herro made as a player.

“What I’m most proud of is how Tyler became not only an efficient offensive player but an efficient defensive player,” the UK coach said. “He’s wired and driven like only a few others I’ve coached. I’ve had an absolute ball coaching him.”

Herro made his intention to be perceived as an all-around player clear as early as UK’s August exhibition games in the Bahamas. During a game, he used his left hand to drive and lay the ball in. Then as he began to retreat on defense, Herro winked at associate coach Kenny Payne.

“‘K.P., I’m a dog,’” Payne recalled Herro telling him.

When asked to define “dog” in basketball parlance, Payne said, “In my dictionary, it means an alpha. That ‘I will fight you for everything you get. I’m not a white kid who can shoot. I can play.’”

Herro’s game expanded during the season. When Herro had seven assists against Winthrop in November, Calipari playfully said, “For the worst passer I’ve ever coached in my history to have seven assists, that’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Herro led UK in assists at the time. He had a game-high six assists in the Midwest Region finals against Auburn, and finished the season with UK’s second-most assists (91).

“I’m the best passer,” Herro said with a smile when asked about being called the worst passer. “I like making plays for others. Whatever Coach wants me doing, that’s what I’ll be doing.”

By season’s end, it became expected that Herro would defend one of the opposition’s top scorers: Bryce Brown of Auburn, Corey Davis Jr. of Houston, and perhaps most memorably, Fletcher Magee of Wofford.

Even counting Brown’s 6-for-6 shooting after halftime in Kansas City, those three players made 17 of 45 shots (four of 26 from three-point range) against Kentucky. Calipari saluted Herro for accepting a decline in his own offense (12-of-35 shooting) as the price that could come with playing defense intently in UK’s last three games.

Payne attributed Herro’s willingness to defend to “not allowing anyone to say, ‘You’re just a shooter.’ ‘I’m a basketball player. I can do a lot of different things with the ball in my hands (or) off the ball.’

“He takes a lot of pride in it,” Payne added. “As a coach, that’s what you want. You want a guy to say, ‘I’ll guard him.’ He’s that guy.”

Herro credited having to defend Johnson in practices as a reason for his evolution as a defender.

Johnson vouched for Herro’s improvement on defense. “At first, he wasn’t the best defender,” he said. “But he has definitely changed it around a lot.”

How badly did Herro play defense initially? “He wasn’t, like, god-awful,” Johnson said. “But he wasn’t the best.”

Herro spoke of a “night-and-day” transformation as a defender. “When I got here, I really didn’t guard anybody,” he said.

A vote conducted by The Associated Press made Herro the Southeastern Conference Newcomer of the Year. The league coaches voted him to the All-SEC Second Team and All-Freshman Team.

Herro averaged 14.0 points per game. He made 60 of 169 three-point shots (35.5 percent) and had 91 assists and 60 turnovers. He alsoled Kentucky in average minutes played (32.6 per game).

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Quickley returning

Freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley announced in an Instagram post Friday that was later confirmed by UK on Twitter that he will be back at Kentucky for a sophomore season.

Quickley was not projected to be selected in this year’s NBA Draft but was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, and speculation arose that transferring out of a potentially crowded UK backcourt could be one possible path for the Maryland native.

Quickley played in all 37 games for UK as a freshman, starting seven, and averaged 18.5 minutes per game. He averaged 5.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He shot 34.5 percent from three-point range and 82.8 percent from the foul line.

Earlier in the week, fellow freshman point guard Ashton Hagans also announced he would be back next season.

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