Keion Brooks

Keion Brooks Jr., right, is a versatile defender but he can also make “tough shots” to deflate defenses. (USA Basketball photo)

If McDonald’s All-American and Washington signee Isaiah Stewart is right about high school teammate Keion Brooks Jr., Kentucky basketball fans are really going to like what the 6-7 freshman does this season.

“To me, he is definitely one of the best players in the (2019 recruiting) class. He can do it all,” Stewart said.

They were teammates at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana, and played in the GEICO High School Nationals title game as seniors. Brooks averaged 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for La Lumiere last season.

“I played against this guy every day in practice one on one. I feel great about his chances at Kentucky,” Stewart said. “Coach Cal is going to work with him, KP (Kenny Payne) is going to work with him every day to get him to where he wants to be.

“Definitely feel like he has that game that translates easily to the next level. I love playing with him as a teammate and he is just a beast.”

What does the five-star wing player do best?

“Makes tough shots,” Stewart said with no hesitation. “You can guard him as hard as you can and he will rise up and still hit that shot.

“You can spend 20 seconds on the shot clock guarding him and he still hits that shot. He is like a heart-crusher because there is nothing you can do to stop him and he just breaks your heart with the shots he makes when you think you have him stopped.”

Away from basketball, Stewart says there is a totally different side to Brooks.

“Off the court he is just a quiet, humble dude. He’s definitely an old soul, and I love that about him,” Stewart said. “He loves listening to old music, some of that old-time hip hop. I listen to reggae and NBA YoungBoy and he will be listening to Fantasia or something like that. He put me on to that old school music, though. I was like, ‘Man, I have not heard this since I was like 8 years old. How do you know all these songs?’ But I love him and wish him the best at Kentucky.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari and his staff did their best to get Stewart, a 6-9 five-star power forward, to join the Wildcats, but he went with Washington.

“KP, coach Cal are great people. I have nothing but great things to say about them. When I see them, it’s all love,” Stewart said. “I know KP is going to work Keion so hard to make him accomplish his goals. A lot of people don’t see what KP does but he is a great dude, great guy. I am always willing to accept a great dude like that.

“I just liked coach Hop (Mike Hopkins) and the energy he brings. I told him I would run through a brick wall for him. Nothing against Kentucky. I just liked coach Hop. They have some great dudes at Kentucky. Kahlil (Whitney) can do it all. Good dude, too. Same with Tyrese Maxey. They should be really good next year.”

Ohio running backs commit

Kentucky hopes it took care of its future running back needs when Ohio running backs Torrance Davis of Glenville High School in Cleveland and Jutahn McClain of Fairfield High School both verbally committed to UK’s 2020 recruiting class.

“Davis is a big back that is going to make his presence known running between the tackles. McClain is a smaller, more agile player that can be lined up in some different positions,” said 247Sports analyst Josh Edwards. “It is a thunder and lightning type duo. Kentucky looks at them as their version of Auburn’s Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, who were coached by co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran.”

The 6-2, 220-pound Davis is ranked among the nation’s top 40 running backs while McClain is listed in the top 10 nationally for all-purpose running backs. Davis had offers from Tennessee, Penn State, Michigan State and Iowa State. McClain rushed for about 1,700 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2018 — along with 24 catches. He has over 2,400 career rushing yards. Even more impressive is that he has lost just one fumble in two seasons.

Kentucky has not signed two running backs in the same class since getting Benny Snell and A.J. Rose. Snell went over 1,000 yards each of the last three seasons and is now UK’s all-time leading scorer. Rose is expected to be the starter this season. 

“It is big (getting both commitments) because Kentucky is done at running back now. They can focus on other positions,” Edwards said. “Those players are coveted at their position, so it only strengthens their class and announced their arrival on a more national stage.

“McClain could have gone to one of the more traditional schools on his offer sheet, but he saw an opportunity at UK because Benny Snell paved the way.”

Glenville, where Davis plays, has been an Ohio State pipeline, and he’ll be the first UK player from that school if he signs with the Cats.

“Kentucky tried to pull a trio from there in the past led by Marshon Lattimore. It essentially has boiled down to ‘if the kid has a committable offer from Ohio State, he is going to take it.’ In this instance, the Buckeyes were probably not going to take Davis,” Edwards said. “Their loss is Kentucky’s gain.

“Glenville is led by Ted Ginn Sr., who is the father of current New Orleans Saints wide receiver and former Buckeyes great Ted Ginn Jr. The ties are strong between the two programs.”

Marrow still recruiting

Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow is continuing to put together what might turn out to be UK’s best signing class ever in 2020. He can even joke about the potential threat that new West Virginia coach Neal Brown, a former offensive coordinator at UK under Mark Stoops, might pose.

“I am watching him. I love him. We are recruiting a lot of the same guys,” Marrow said.

Marrow said Brown was at UK long enough to know the “blueprint” he has for Ohio works and that Ohio coaches also now know Brown because of connections Marrow and Stoops had.

“Neal spent enough time with me in Ohio that coaches know him. I am watching him but I know he will do fine because he will outwork everybody. It’s going to be interesting recruiting against him,” Marrow said.

“I know him and Mark talk a lot and they are very supportive of each other. But now we are recruiting some of the same people. He’s not here now. I can’t go easy on him, but then again he wouldn’t want me to. We are going to battle some (for recruits) I imagine.”

Richards and basketball

Kentucky junior center Nick Richards estimates he was about 15 years old when he first started playing basketball because growing up in Jamaica, that was not the sport of choice.

“Basketball is not really the common sport. It’s more about, we call it football, but in America they call it soccer. Cricket, track and field. I even did volleyball before. So, I was playing sports like that,” Richards said.

He came to the United States to visit his grandmother and soon was playing on a summer league basketball team in New York.

“I wanted to play basketball when I was younger. A basketball team saw me (playing in New York) and offered me a scholarship to play for them,” Richards said.

Another former Wildcat, Willie Cauley-Stein, also got a late start in basketball and was a late bloomer before becoming a first-round draft pick after his junior year.

“They both started playing basketball later than you would expect. Shoot, Willie was playing football. Those similarities are there, but they’re different kinds of players,” Calipari said. “If Nick is in the kind of position that is physically and mentally ready to do this, he blocks shots and rebounds above the rim. Be that guy.”

UK volleyball

Kentucky junior setter Madison Lilley is in California with UK volleyball teammate Gabby Curry training with the U.S. national team that will play in Peru in July and August in the Pan-American Games.

Lilley had already put in a lot of work this spring to help get the USA training camp invite.

“We run and lift in the spring and we really don’t do that heavy of lifting in the fall. It’s a whole different experience in the spring. We bulk up in the spring and then in the fall we lift light and lean out,” Lilley said.

“It’s a lot more on-the-court stuff in the fall. In the spring we max out and get big. It’s kind of a trick of the trade. It’s interesting to see how different programs approach that.”

She also enjoys the summer weight workouts, including those with other UK teams.

“Summer is really competitive. We compete with other teams. It’s us, gymnastics, women’s basketball, softball, soccer all training together,” Lilley said. “That gets really competitive.

“In the spring it is just individual development and trying to get stronger. We all lift differently and have different strengths. But in the summer it really gets competitive working out with those other teams and it really pushes you. I love that.”

Cousins’ play

Former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins became a big key for Golden State in the NBA Finals because of injuries to teammates. He had a double-double in Game 2 and made several key plays late in Game 6 before the Raptors won to clinch the title.

Still, considering the injuries Cousins had that made many wonder if he would even play this season, Golden State coach Steve Kerr was happy with everything Cousins did.

“He came in and gave us huge minutes and gave it everything he had, committed himself to the team and came off the bench and kept us going when we needed him,” Kerr said. “So tough season for him in terms of coming off the injury. And then getting injured again in the playoffs. 

“So it was not easy for him, but I think he contributed and I think he learned a lot and I think our guys really enjoyed being around him. I know I did. He helped us, he helped us win a lot of games.”

Quotes of the Week

No. 1: “It feels good. I wouldn’t say I’m old, but definitely one of the veterans on the team now, so I’m ready to take on that leadership role,” sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley on becoming more of a leader for coach John Calipari.

No. 2: “My Gamecocks have been having some trouble with them (losing five straight years). That is not going over well in our state. Basketball is one thing, but football is our sport. Kentucky is looking good,” two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammel on South Carolina, his alma mater, not being able to beat UK in football.

No. 3: “Typically freshmen get worse in the winter and spring before they get better. They definitely did that. They went through some growing pains and learning pains. Physically they are stronger. Mentally they are tougher. It is fun to see them struggle and plateau and then kind of peak like they have,” Kentucky volleyball coach Craig Skinner on sophomores Alli Stumler and Lauren Tharp.

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