When perceiving fatigue in his point guard during a preseason exhibition game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he could not play Sahvir Wheeler 35-plus minutes.
Wheeler’s play in UK’s 86-52 victory over North Florida on Friday night was a way of telling his coach, oh yeah?
“I really challenged myself to get in better shape,” Wheeler said after the game. “I feel really good.”
A career-high 14 assists to go with 12 points and just three turnovers can make a point guard feel really good. He played one second shy of 36 minutes, and is now averaging 32.5 minutes per game. Only TyTy Washington is averaging more playing time (33.4).
Wheeler said his effort to get in better shape was multifaceted.
A change in diet was part of the plan.
“I cut off my eating time at 8:30,” he said. “I let my food digest.”
And what he eats has changed.
“I don’t eat fried foods as much anymore,” Wheeler said. “At Georgia, I was a big Cane’s guy.”
This was a reference to the Raising Cane’s fast food restaurant chain.
Wheeler also said he ate at a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant when at Georgia.
“Just hop in my car at 10:30 (or) 11:30 at night and go over and get it,” he said. “But I don’t do that anymore. “
Black rice, brown beans and chicken — presumably baked or stewed — are staples of his diet, Wheeler said. He added that he drinks water instead of sugary liquids.
Wheeler said he’s also working out more.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said.
While teammate Oscar Tshiebwe has set a goal of averaging 20 rebounds per game, Wheeler has his own lofty target.
“I’m trying to average 10 assists,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s selfish or not. … I’m trying to make others better. But that’s definitely a goal of mine.”
Through six games, Wheeler is averaging 9.2 assists.
When asked about A’s being posted for each of his assists the way R’s are posted in Rupp Arena for each of Tshiebwe’s rebounds, Wheeler voiced reservations.
“It’d be pretty cool,” he said. “But we have something with the R’s right now. That’s good enough. Oscar’s doing something at an incredible rate, and I want Oscar to continue to feel special.”
UK and UCLA
North Florida Coach Matthew Driscoll anticipated an obvious question. With his team having lost to such teams as UCLA, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Arizona State in earlier games, how did he think UK compared?
UCLA was ranked No. 2 in the latest poll by The Associated Press. Texas Tech was among teams receiving votes.
“I would say of the teams we’ve played, you guys have the best package on both ends of the floor,” Driscoll said. “You don’t have a lot of shooters, but you have the right guys getting the shots.”
Of Kentucky he added, “This team has a chance to be really special.”
North Florida forward (and Lexington Christian Academy graduate) Carter Hendricksen struggled in his first game in Rupp Arena. He made three of 14 shots (two of 10 from three-point range) and scored eight points. He also had four turnovers.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Hendricksen said of playing at Rupp.
Driscoll saluted Kentucky for mentioning Hendricksen’s central Kentucky roots in the starting lineup introductions and the crowd for applauding when Hendricksen went to the bench late in the game.
“Really, really classy,” the North Florida coach said.
Earlier in the week, Driscoll said Hendricksen’s career goal is to be a general manager of an NBA team.
This led Driscoll to offer some career advice.
“I told him to get most of the Kentucky guys’ cell phone numbers,” the North Florida coach said. “It might help him out.”
Why this game?
How did North Florida get on Kentucky’s schedule?
Driscoll said he had a long-lasting relationship with Calipari and John Robic, the former special assistant to the head coach.
When Kentucky played its first two games of the 2019 NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville, the team practiced at North Florida’s facility, Driscoll said.
“Winning is very, very hard,” he said. “Our fans might not think that. But it’s really, really hard. Whether you win by one or you win by 30, we just want to keep adding to the left side of the column.”