John Clay

First impressions of Kentucky basketball’s freshmen

Kentucky guard Quade Green (0) runs up the court after a steal against the Morehead State Eagles during the Kentucky Cares Classic at Rupp Arena on Monday, October 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Green scored 20 points in UK’s 92-67 victory.
Kentucky guard Quade Green (0) runs up the court after a steal against the Morehead State Eagles during the Kentucky Cares Classic at Rupp Arena on Monday, October 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Green scored 20 points in UK’s 92-67 victory. Lexington Herald-Leader

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Or so they say. That’s not quite the case in college basketball, especially for a team as green as John Calipari’s current crop of Kentucky Wildcats. Selection Sunday is a long, long way off.

That said, here are my first impressions of the newest Cats after two exhibition games, the 103-61 win over Thomas More last Friday and the 92-67 victory over Morehead State on Monday night:

Kevin Knox: It’s obvious why the 6-foot-9 forward from Tampa was considered Calipari’s most coveted 2017 recruit. Knox scored a game-high 27 points against Thomas More. He was 8-of-12 from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 from the foul line. He added 16 points Monday night against Morehead, three of his seven field goals coming on dunks. We need to see more of Knox’s game away from the hoop, but so far, so good.

Quade Green: The 6-foot point guard from Philadelphia has a confident personality — “I shoot it well all the time,” he grinned after making three-of-four three pointers on Friday night — and obvious talent. Calipari wants Green to give up the ball earlier, something the freshman admitted he didn’t do against Morehead. Still, he appears to be the leader for the starting spot at the point, the most important position on a Calipari team.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari talks about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green after Monday night’s win over Morehead State.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: The 6-6 Canadian isn’t far behind Green, however. Gilgeous-Alexander was a Monday standout, scoring 17 points and dishing four assists. (Green scored 20 points.) Gilgeous-Alexander has that long wingspan that makes him especially effective on defense and an interesting complement to Green’s game. I could see them playing quite a bit together.

Hamidou Diallo: The 6-5 kid from Queens doesn’t lack for confidence, either. Asked if he returned to school to show people he could shoot from outside, Diallo quickly pushed back on that assumption. He was 2-of-7 from three-point range in the two games, but he doesn’t have to hang on the perimeter to be effective in college. Diallo is so outrageously athletic he can beat his defender in multiple ways.

Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox reacts to teammate Wenyen Gabriel calling him a silent assassin after scoring 27 points in UK’s 103-61 win over Thomas More.

PJ Washington: Fell in love with the 6-7 forward from Dallas on Friday. Washington was smooth and effective against Thomas More, producing a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Calipari harped on Washington’s four turnovers compared to zero assists, but, hey, it was his first game. Monday night, however, you barely knew Washington was on the floor. He managed just eight points and four rebounds in 27 minutes. He also turned it over three times. Consistency is any newbie’s greatest challenge.

Nick Richards: The 6-11 rookie from Jamaica barely saw the floor Monday, playing just 12 minutes. He failed to take a shot or get a rebound, though he did block three shots. We saw more of him Friday, when Richards started and made six of seven shots, but grabbed just three rebounds. He needs to be more of a force under the glass, especially for a team that was outrebounded by Morehead.

Jemarl Baker: We have yet to see the 6-4 Californian and, according to Calipari we aren’t going to see Baker anytime soon. Another knee surgery will keep the sharp-shooter out for up to three months. Considering Baker was a late addition to shore up UK’s perimeter game, his absence leaves a hole. Calipari says this is a better shooting team than we think, but it was 11-of-32 from three for 34.4 percent in two exhibition games against lesser foes.

Jarred Vanderbilt: The script may have flipped with Vanderbilt and Baker. We were not supposed to see the 6-9 Vanderbilt for three months after a pre-camp foot injury, but Calipari said Monday the Houston native would be back practicing soon just to see how the foot holds up. A decision on his availability would presumably come shortly thereafter. So Vanderbilt is still a mystery as a player and a possibility. An earlier than expected debut, however, would be a definite bonus.

After Kentucky’s 92-67 win over Morehead State, UK point guard Quade Green talks about his game and being tested.

Centre at Kentucky

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

TV: SEC Network

Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt

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