The Kentucky men’s basketball team is set to head to the Bahamas for a four-game exhibition tour starting next week. There, the Wildcats are set to take on two national teams (Dominican Republic U22 and Bahamas), a highly-regarded Canadian college team (Carleton University) and a professional team from Mexico (Monterey Tech).
Before then, though, the team participated in an intrasquad open scrimmage at Rupp Arena on Tuesday as part of the Kentucky Flood Relief Telethon.
It was a 20-minute full-contact five-on-five scrimmage, one that featured the entire 2022-23 roster excluding Lance Ware (injured) and Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso (arriving on campus August 20).
How did the Wildcats look? KSR was on-site for the open practice, and then got a few extra viewings in watching the event replay, courtesy of the official KSR YouTube page. Check out the player-by-player breakdown below:
After backing up Keion Brooks Jr. for two seasons, Jacob Toppin is playing with confidence and freedom for the first time in his career, a brand new player. The anticipated starter at the four spot, the senior forward put on a show offensively, finishing strong around the rim, knocking down 3-point jumpers — four to be exact — and showing off touch in the mid-range. He was in attack mode on every touch, driving with purpose and looking to score. As a shooter, he showed off a confident stroke as a trail man and on catch-and-shoot looks from the corner, firing with zero hesitation. The highlight plays were also there, with his biggest being a ferocious windmill dunk in transition.
Standing 6-foot-10, Toppin brings a unique combination of size, length and athleticism to the table. The skill, though, hadn’t caught up with the physical tools, leaving him as a long-term potential piece.
Now, it appears he’s ready to turn that potential into real production.
- Ripped through from the left wing, drove to Oscar Tshiebwe in the middle for a soft finish at the rim
- Catch-and-shoot 3-pointers as the trail man from the top of the key
- Beat his man off the dribble on the wing, straight line drive to the basket for a strong finish at the rim
- Windmill dunk in transition off a CJ Fredrick cross-court pass
- Helpside block resembling a volleyball spike on a strong take to the basket from Adou Thiero
- Tough floater through contact on a right-side drive
- Face-up on the left baseline, fadeaway with a hand in his face from Chris Livingston. Drilled it. Next possession down, catch-and-shoot look from the left corner
- Catch-and-shoot three from the left corner with a hand in his face from Antonio Reeves
- Catch-and-shoot three in transition from the left corner
- Defense collapses on a drive to the basket, crisp pass out to the perimeter for a clean look from three
The Illinois State transfer is very comfortable in isolation as an on-ball initiator, looking to break down defenders to set up clean looks at all three levels. He’ll use combination dribble moves to get the defense off-balance before attacking with either hand, using his high basketball IQ and feel to create easy finishing opportunities around the basket. He’s a score-first guard capable of getting you a bucket when necessary, a tremendous luxury to have.
Any concerns regarding Reeves’ inability to adjust from the Missouri Valley to the SEC were put to rest on Tuesday.
- Went coast-to-coast off a rebound, hitting a hesitation crossover move in transition to set up a smooth finish at the basket
- Guarded by Sahvir Wheeler in an isolation opportunity, Reeves danced back and forth on the right wing before ripping through on a crossover to the left, setting up an and-one finish at the rim. His best highlight of the night
- Attacked off the dribble from the right corner, cut through the lane for a soft left-handed finish at the rim
- Strong block on Sahvir Wheeler at the rim before going coast-to-coast for a drop-off to Oscar Tshiebwe for a dunk
Coming off a season-ending hamstring injury in 2021-22, Fredrick moved well in the five-on-five scrimmage, comfortable going baseline to baseline, coming off screens and running the dribble drive. He’s a quick-trigger catch-and-shoot specialist who wasn’t afraid to let it fly, hitting his fair share. Of the shots he missed, they rimmed out. Kentucky will continue to take things slow with Fredrick, but his role on this team is clear: make shots.
- Guarding out on the perimeter, he denied a clean look from Adou Thiero. Solid defensive stop
- Smooth floater in the paint on a drive from the left wing
- Stepback three from the left corner with Jacob Toppin’s hand in his face. Immediately followed it up with a deflection out of bounds on the other end
The five-star freshman showed he was comfortable initiating the offense, playing with unbelievable patience and understanding pace. He’s rarely rushed with the ball in his hands. Wallace seemed to always find himself in the right place at the right time for scoring opportunities both in the half-court and in transition. Smooth jumper that fell both in shooting drills and in the scrimmage.
Defensively, Wallace was engaged and looked to come up with deflections and steals. He swarmed ball handlers and found ways to poke balls loose.
He may not be the flashiest player on the floor, but the freshman guard simply produces on both ends.
- Recovers a bad pass, steps into a smooth 3-pointer from the right wing. Nothing but net on a quick release
- Contested and blocked a strong finish at the rim by Chris Livingston
- Quick leap for a one-handed punch on a dump-off from Daimion Collins
- Tipped one ball out of bounds, then got another on an Oscar Tshiebwe catch in the paint, leading to a transition bucket for Sahvir Wheeler at the other end
- Closed out the scrimmage with a stepback three off a dribble hand-off from Jacob Toppin, knocking it down in Oscar Tshiebwe’s face at the buzzer
Another high-potential player for the Wildcats, Collins looked better on tape than I remembered seeing live. The sophomore forward looked to show off his face-up game, taking (and making) several jumpers from the mid-range and three. At one point, he grabbed a rebound, brought the ball up the floor and crossed over into a free-throw line fadeaway jumper. The shot rolled out, but he was comfortable and confident in his release. The hesitation we saw from Collins in year one has slowly begun to fade.
Don’t forget about the athleticism, either. He had one windmill dunk in transition and a few other drive-and-slams, along with a few strong blocks and contests at the rim on the other end.
While his physical growth is clear, Collins still got pushed around in the post and struggled to finish through contact. He will need to continue to add weight in the coming months leading up to the season.
- Stepback jumper from the right elbow, high-arching shot with soft touch
- Fake dribble hand-off sets up a clean look from the left wing, smooth release and finish for the 3-pointer
- Windmill dunk in transition
- Got Oscar Tshiebwe to bite on a pump-fake from the right elbow and drove for a head-above-rim slam.
- Reached back to catch a lob from Sahvir Wheeler, still managed to finish with soft touch at the rim.
- Hit Chris Livingston with a pump fake to get him off-balance, drove baseline for a strong dunk at the rim, then blocked the freshman’s layup attempt on the other end
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, the freshman forward showed off his versatility, splitting his time at the three and four — essentially as a fourth guard. He looked to lead the charge off a rebound, comfortable bringing the ball up the floor to initiate the offense. As a scorer, he knocked down one 3-pointer, but mostly got his points on easy looks around the rim. Known for getting downhill and using his combination of strength and athleticism to score, Livingston didn’t attack off the dribble as often as you’d like.
- Hit a catch-and-shoot three from the left corner
- Saw one drive from the left wing, beating Toppin off the dribble for an easy finish at the rim.
- Waiting in the dunker’s spot on a dump-off from Fredrick, finished on the double-clutch lay-in around Toppin
- Finished on another dunk at the rim on a look ahead from Tshiebwe
- Hit Tshiebwe on a backdoor cut for a left-handed finish at the rim
It was much of the same for the reigning National Player of the Year. Tshiebwe scored on several clean-up buckets around the rim while hitting the occasional mid-range jumper. He looked to drive from the top of the key for strong dunks and lay-ins, something we didn’t see much of last season. The 6-foot-9 center also knocked down a 3-point jumper and wasn’t afraid to take a few more, earning cheers from the crowd.
- Breakaway dunk off a steal in transition
- Left shoulder jump hook over Livingston, no hesitation.
- Right corner 3-pointer
- Fake dribble hand-off, drive and dunk
Like Tshiebwe, Wheeler did what he does best. Got paint touches and crafty passes to set up easy buckets for his teammates. Knocked down one 3-pointer from the top of the key, but also missed on a few open looks. Very impressive finishes at the basket through contact and around length. Looked to push the pace and create transition opportunities. Carved his way through defenders for impressive finishes.
- Double crossover and spin move on the baseline leads to up-and-under reverse lay-in
- 3-pointer off a set screen from the top of the key
- Left-handed finish through contact at the basket
- Scoop shot at the rim in transition
The freshman guard was limited for undisclosed reasons, sitting out the second half of the scrimmage. During his time on the floor, though, Thiero was disruptive on the defensive end of the floor, coming up with a few deflections and a monster block at the rim. He looked to use his long strides to get paint touches, but was unable to put any points on the board.
The flashes were there, specifically on defense. As he continues to grow and find his identity as a college basketball player, the potential is there.
- Strong block on a baseline lay-in attempt from Fredrick, ripped it cleanly from behind with force