- Next up in our freshman intro series is small forward Kahlil Whitney, who will be called upon early and often by John Calipari in Lexington.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 11 overall recruit, Kentucky's Kahlil Whitney. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Kentucky’s Recruiting Class
Kahlil Whitney is the highest rated of the freshman frontcourt assets coming to Lexington at No. 11. One of four small forwards in an incoming class ranked No. 2 in the nation—talented enough to knock Duke out of the top-two of recruiting class rankings for the first time since 2013—Whitney is joined by fellow five-star forward Keion Brooks (No. 24) and four-star wings Johnny Juzang (No. 34)—who also plays the two slot—and Dontaie Allen (No. 92) up front, as well as transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell and five-star combo guard Tyrese Maxey (No. 10) in a backcourt which also brings back some returning talent. Given the incoming contributors, Calipari should have no trouble reloading with what will be a largely new-look Kentucky crew. All three five-star freshman should make an immediate impact, with Whitney and Maxey expected, in particular, to earn some early starters minutes.
How He Fits
The Wildcats will have a few familiar faces returning to the floor, including EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. Hagans will likely run the floor for Kentucky with a season of experience under his belt, and the class’s top-ranked recruit, Maxey, is expected to slot in alongside him in the backcourt while Quickley comes off the bench. The frontcourt rotation is a lot less clear due to the depth of the incoming class combined with returning talent. Newcomer Brooks should help off the bench between the three and the four, while Juzang, a better sharpshooter, will likely see the floor in more of a guard/forward combo role between the two and three slots on the wing. Allen will likely make the most muted impact this season, especially with someone like Whitney expected to be an immediate starter at the three to help fill the Keldon Johnson-sized void that remains in Kentucky’s frontcourt.
The New Jersey native should slide into the small forward slot this season. Not as proven of a scorer as Johnson was, Whitney has some work to do offensively but brings a notable athleticism and more defensive upside to the position. The 6’6”, 210-pound freshman comes to Kentucky with an NBA-ready body and the ability to pose a physical threat at the wing and in the paint. His physical tools give him a ton of potential defensively and the versatility to guard multiple positions. He should also be able to help on the boards, which is huge given that this new-look Kentucky frontcourt is also without last season’s leading rebounder, PJ Washington, at the four. Whitney is explosive but he’s not the best ball handler or the most consistent shooter, skills which could use some work if the Wildcats want to get more out of him offensively without their top five scorers from 2018–19’s team that made it to the Elite Eight (the top three were drafted, Reid Travis graduated and Quade Green transferred to Washington after nine games).
Whitney can, however, contribute consistent points at the rim, and he's big enough to body his way through traffic in the lane to get to the basket. He’s a versatile defender and high-end athlete, but Kentucky will have to take what it can get offensively as he develops his shots and a greater range. With Brooks, Sestina, Montgomery, Richards and Allen all also competing for time up front, Hall of Fame coach John Calipari has a host of options for his frontcourt rotation even after missing out on N’Faly Dante, who wound up at Oregon instead. A real difference-maker at center is the one thing Kentucky’s frontcourt lacks, but with Whitney and Brooks bringing plenty of potential and Sestina adding some size and experience, the Wildcats should be alright.
Importance to Kentucky's Success/Team Outlook
Outside of Hagans, last season's starters (who doubled as Calipari’s top scorers) are all gone, but the Wildcats' highly-regarded five-man incoming class should bring enough talent to rebuild without any sort of slide. Whitney should be a big boost for the frontcourt during what will likely be his only season in Lexington. He brings an athleticism that will serve the Wildcats well on both sides of the floor and should be a bigger defensive help than many of the other youngsters. Whitney was also an important get in light of last season’s departures as a recruit ready to immediately fill a void for Calipari at the three. Kentucky brings back an experienced floor general in Hagans, which hopefully means a more seamless offensive transition for the new faces around him than last season, and Maxey has a ton of upside. With Montgomery and Richards bringing experience to a young frontcourt, Kentucky has unsurprisingly set itself up for another successful season and a deep March Madness run next spring.