Kentucky’s preseason trip to the Bahamas this week gives UK basketball fans a chance at an early look at the 2022-23 roster, and that means a first impression of five scholarship players who will be suiting up for the Wildcats for the first time.
Those five players — CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston and Adou Thiero — made their first appearances for the Cats in the 108-56 victory over the Dominican Republic National Select Team on Wednesday night. Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso will also join the Wildcats this season, but he did not make the Bahamas trip as a late reclassification and will be on campus later this month.
Here’s how the five new additions to Kentucky’s roster fared against the Dominican select team, with another game for the Wildcats set for Thursday night.
Finally, Kentucky fans got to see CJ Fredrick play in a Wildcats uniform against outside competition.
Fredrick sat out all of last season due to a hamstring injury after coming to the Cats as a two-year starter at Iowa, and he’s expected to play a major role on this season’s team, due in large part to his prowess as a three-point shooter.
Now in his fifth year of college — Fredrick sat his first season at Iowa as a redshirt — the 6-3 guard will play this week with a minutes limit as he continues to recover from that hamstring injury.
In Wednesday night’s game, he entered with 5:52 remaining in the first half and played just three uneventful minutes before halftime. He then started the second half and reeled off four assists — with zero turnovers — in a little more than three minutes of action.
In all, Fredrick played just 12 minutes and took just one shot (a missed three-pointer), but he’ll be an important part of this Kentucky team, and now he’s finally back on the court.
The lone incoming transfer for Kentucky this past offseason, Antonio Reeves arrives in Lexington with the reputation as a major three-level scorer, though this will be a step up in competition after he spent his first three college seasons at Illinois State.
Reeves — a 6-5 senior guard — led the Redbirds with 20.1 points per game and also shot 39.0 percent from three and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line last season. He’s unlikely to get as many offensive looks as a Kentucky Wildcat — Reeves attempted 15.3 shots and 5.9 threes per game last season — but he’s still expected to be a key part of the UK offense.
The experienced newcomer got off to a great start Wednesday night.
Reeves knocked down his first three attempts from beyond three-point range, showing a quick catch-and-release style that should come in handy if the Cats can keep the ball moving and open the floor this season.
He added another three late in the game, finishing with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from deep in 19 minutes of play.
Reeves also got his week started off right before the games began. It’s tradition for Calipari’s teams to end each gameday shootaround by coming together — players and coaches — at midcourt and taking turns launching shots from there. When someone makes the halfcourt heave, the shootaround officially ends.
On Wednesday afternoon, Reeves was the one to make the shot. In his very first pregame shootaround, no less. Not a bad way to begin his UK career.
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 10, 2022
The highest-ranked recruit in Kentucky’s 2023 class is Cason Wallace, a McDonald’s All-American from Texas who earned the reputation as a do-whatever-it-takes player in high school and on the grassroots circuit.
Wallace often played on the ball during his prep career, but he’ll share point guard duties with returning starter Sahvir Wheeler as a UK freshman this season. He also has the ability to be an immediate defensive stopper on the perimeter.
The 18-year-old showed off that pesky defense by pestering the Dominican players throughout the night. He also showed some boldness on the offensive end, leading the Wildcats with 13 shot attempts and finishing among the team leaders with 15 points, adding five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in a team-high 25 minutes.
Wallace has NBA lottery pick potential and will be Kentucky’s most-watched pro prospect this season.
Another five-star signee for Kentucky’s recruiting class, Chris Livingston was ranked early as a top-five player in the 2022 cycle before slipping down those lists as his high school career progressed. Still, he finished at No. 12 overall in the final 247Sports composite rankings, and he’s projected by some national outlets as a first-round NBA Draft pick after this season.
Livingston is versatile and athletic, and he often plays a physical style for a 6-6 wing. How exactly Calipari plans to deploy him this season will be an intriguing watch.
In his first college exhibition game, Livingston thrived.
He scored 11 points — going 3-for-4 from three-point range, including one from NBA territory — and added a team-high eight rebounds, often running down long and loose rebound attempts, outhustling the competition and his teammates to the ball. Livingston also had four assists with no turnovers, a terrific stat line for just 19 minutes of play.
The McDonald’s All-American ran in transition and showed some inventive touch as a passer.
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) July 14, 2022
Freshman guard Adou Thiero, like Fredrick, will be playing this week’s games with a minutes ceiling. In Fredrick’s case, it’s because he’s still rounding into shape due to injury. Thiero’s limit is for a much different reason.
The 18-year-old college newcomer is still getting taller at a rapid rate, and that has been accompanied in recent weeks by literal growing pains. UK lists Thiero — a late-bloomer as a high school senior — at 6-6, but he wasn’t that tall when he visited Lexington as a recruit back in April, and he might already be up to 6-7 as of this week. He said last month that doctors have told him he could realistically get to 6-11 before he stops growing. And he has guard skills.
Thiero is viewed as more of a long-term prospect for Kentucky’s program, and not much is expected from him this season. Still, he made his debut for the Wildcats on Wednesday night, and it was quite the first impression.
Less than 10 seconds into his UK career — on his very first defensive possession — Thiero snagged a cross-court pass out of the air and quickly took it the other way for an easy dunk. In the second half, he hit a three-pointer and had a second steal-and-dunk sequence, giving him seven points on just four shots in 10 minutes of play.
Thiero also showed off some intriguing athleticism, blocking three shots in his brief time on the court.
The projection has been for Thiero to play sparingly in 2022-23, but his future is bright, and Kentucky’s coaches have already been surprised by him after not getting to see much of his game during the recruiting process.
“Adou is a lot better than what I thought he was,” UK assistant coach Chin Coleman said late last month when asked if there had been any pleasant surprises in the summer practices.
“He’s still growing. But he’s still growing in between the ears, as well. Whether his body gets to whatever it’s going to be, I think the most important part is the cerebral part. And he’s young. He’s a freshman, and this is a little different for him. But, physically, athletically, he’s way better than I thought he would be. That was the most shocking for me.”