UK Recruiting

Kentucky basketball recruit Kahlil Whitney brings ‘wow factor’ to the court

Kahlil Whitney is proud to be a McDonald’s All-American

UK basketball commitment Kahlil Whitney has made it to this week's McDonald's All-American Game, and he's looking forward to showing Kentucky fans what he can do on the court.
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UK basketball commitment Kahlil Whitney has made it to this week's McDonald's All-American Game, and he's looking forward to showing Kentucky fans what he can do on the court.

They’ve been friends for a couple of years and came to this week’s McDonald’s All-American Game thinking they were pretty familiar with each other’s games, and then Tyrese Maxey threw Kahlil Whitney a lob that was a little too high.

Or so he thought.

“Kahlil Whitney is very, very athletic,” Maxey said. “Today, I threw him a bad lob, and he still got up there and caught it and dunked. I was like, ‘Man, this dude here is very athletic.’ He’s very high energy. He’s able to play a lot of different positions. Very strong. Rebounds the ball well. I can’t wait to play with him.”

John Calipari can’t wait to coach him.

Whitney was already a well-known recruit going into last year’s AAU season, but he went from a back-end Top 100 national prospect to one of the most-talked-about players in high school basketball in a matter of months. He started the spring at No. 82 in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings, moved to five-star territory by the end of the summer, and came into his recently completed senior season as the No. 8 overall player in the 2019 class.

It was a whirlwind time for Whitney, who — during that process — landed a scholarship offer from Kentucky and committed to Calipari shortly thereafter.

Whitney was 9 years old when fellow Chicago native Anthony Davis started his freshman season with the Wildcats, and UK was his “dream school” from that point forward.

“Anthony Davis was my favorite player growing up. When I got that offer from Kentucky, it was amazing,” he said. “It was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it, because everything came so fast. I was the No. 1 small forward in the country. Then I got the Kentucky offer. Then I committed. So it was a lot of blessings that were bestowed upon me, and I was just thankful.”

Whitney — a 6-foot-7 forward — put in a lot of work to make it happen.

After his freshman year, Whitney said he attempted to transfer within the city of Chicago, but the move would have forced him to sit out a season before he would be eligible to play for his new school. Instead, he moved to New Jersey — where his father, former Seton Hall star Kelly Whitney, lived — and enrolled at Roselle Catholic, one of the top programs in the state.

“My game has changed tremendously,” said the future Wildcat. “I put in long hours in the gym. I can put the ball on the floor now. I can create for myself. I can create for others. Everything came so fast. And I worked extremely hard for it.”

Whitney looked plenty comfortable making plays away from the basket through the first two days of competitive practices for Wednesday night’s McDonald’s All-American Game. For his size, he was adept at putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble — a growing part of his game that UK fans will surely see next season.

Defensive intensity has never been a problem.

“Cal said I could be a monster on defense. And I love playing defense,” he said.

Whitney’s McDonald’s Game coach, Kurt Keener, said he got more comfortable as the week went on and he was able to find his place on the West squad. Keener envisions great things for Whitney at Kentucky — and he’s expecting to see a sneak preview in the nationally televised game Wednesday.

“He has that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “He’s just a guy that has those things you can’t coach. You can’t coach that explosiveness, that length. He can score inside. He can score outside. And the more he gets comfortable with a system, the better off he’s going to be.

“I have a feeling — because of the nature of all-star games — he’s a guy that, I think when the lights come on Wednesday, he’ll do some ‘wow’ things.”

Once these all-star showcases are finished, Whitney is ready for the challenge at Kentucky. That’s why he picked the Wildcats — the fishbowl nature of the program and the knowledge that Calipari will demand his best in every practice and game, no matter where he was ranked as a recruit.

“Coach Cal actually coaches, and he pushes his players to the limit,” Whitney said. “That’s what I want, because when I get pushed to the limit, it brings the best out of me. … I like to be held accountable. That type of stuff motivates me.”

Above all, he wants to win. Every time he steps on the court. And he wants those around him to share his expectations.

“I’m a winner. I hate losing with a passion,” Whitney said. “I just feel like we’re going to come in, work extremely hard, and we’re going to try and win as many games as possible.”

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