LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kahlil Whitney is in the midst of a freshman slump, but he’s not letting it get to him.
“I just know my journey,” Whitney said. “I’ve put a lot of work in the gym here and it’s a blessing to be here so I’m forever going to keep a smile on my face and keep positive energy.”
The Chicago native was ranked as a five-star recruit during his senior season of high school. Whitney was the second highest-rated player in Kentucky’s class, so expectations were high for him. At a school like Kentucky where so many players excel in one year and leave for the NBA Draft, the freshmen who don’t set the world on fire from day one sometimes stand out negatively. However, Whitney expected his freshman season to have highs and lows.
“There were definitely going to be some ups and downs no matter what situations you’re in,” Whitney said. “I definitely felt like I put in enough work and now I’m just waiting for everything to click.”
Whitney’s minutes have dwindled over the past month. In the past seven games, Whitney has played double-digit minutes just three times and is averaging 8.8 minutes per game in that span. He’s not scored yet in SEC play. His last bucket came in a 71-65 loss to Ohio State on Dec. 21.
But Kentucky’s coaching staff isn’t concerned with Whitney’s offensive output. At 6-foot-7 and a seven-foot wingspan, Kentucky’s staff believes Whitney can become a force on the defensive end and on the glass.
“High, high-character kid,” associate head coach Kenny Payne said.” Works hard. Tries hard. And in situations like this where you try so hard and it’s just not quite working right, you have to take incremental progress. So, for him it’s being solid defensively. It’s fighting to get rebounds. It’s shooting the ball – whether it goes in or not – shooting the ball with confidence. Because when you – ‘I’ve gotta make this shot, I’ve gotta have something good, I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta’ – it doesn’t happen. It’s when you let go and relax and do it with confidence, and if it goes in great; if it don’t and you shot it with confidence and you executed, fine, we live with it. I feel confident that he’s going to fight through. I’m happy with the progress he’s made the last game, the last two games really where he shows signs that I’m going to lock down and be into it defensively. We just need a little more.”
Whitney isn’t the only player on Kentucky’s roster to not have things click right away. Nick Richards — who is developing into a possible NBA draft pick this season — and EJ Montgomery have both had similar stretches as Whitney. Those two players have offered advice for Whitney.
“Nick has been here for three years and EJ has been here for two,” Whitney said. “They’ve just said that there are going to be ups and downs. They know more than anybody and I’ve already made it through the toughest situations in my life and I know a lot of you guys probably think this is driving me crazy and really affecting me, but it’s really not. I’m staying in the gym and trying to make myself better.”