Transfer Sahvir Wheeler picks UK, so is the 2021-22 Kentucky basketball roster finished?
LEXINGTON - Last week, Kentucky basketball landed five-star point high school guard TyTy Washington for its 2021-22 roster. Five days later, the Wildcats have found the veteran point guard to pair with him.
Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler committed to Kentucky Monday, choosing the Wildcats over Kansas, LSU and Oklahoma State. ESPN ranks Wheeler as the No. 15 available transfer this offseason.
“Sahvir is the kind of player that dictates the pace of the game, who gets easy baskets for himself and his teammates, and who can be disruptive defensively,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in a news release confirming the signing. “He is what you look for in a point guard in that he puts his teammates in positions to score, yet he can score the ball in bunches when he needs to. He was a second-team all-conference player as a sophomore and almost routinely put up games with double-digit assists, including setting the SEC Tournament record this last season with 13. I am excited for him to be a part of this program and my guess is our players will be too.”
As a sophomore, Wheeler led the Southeastern Conference in assists per game (7.4), averaging 2.5 more assists per game than any other qualifying player in the league. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Houston, Texas native also averaged 14 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He ranked fifth in the SEC in steals per game (1.7).
Wheeler, who led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7) despite averaging 4.4 turnovers per game, fits the mold of several previous Calipari point guards with a proven ability to get to the rim and create for his teammates but questionable shooting acumen.
He shot just 26.2% (34 for 130) from 3-point range in two seasons at Georgia. As a sophomore, he shot 22.5% (18 for 80) from beyond the arc. Wheeler did shoot 73.8% (76 for 103) from the free throw line. He tied for 12th in the SEC in free throws attempted.
In Georgia's win over Kentucky last season, Wheeler scored 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting with seven assists and two turnovers. Georgia coach Tom Crean credited Wheeler with the vision to create the Bulldogs' winning basket with 1.3 seconds left.
"I never hesitated for a second having him take the ball out of bounds because he’s so smart, and he’s savvy, and I knew he would make the right play," Crean said after the game.
While the NCAA has moved ahead with transfer reform that would allow all players meeting certain academic standards to transfer once without sitting out a season, Wheeler's eligibility for Kentucky next season remains uncertain. The SEC has a rule requiring all transfers from one league school to another to sit out a season that was not affected by the NCAA rule change, but several other leagues have dropped similar rules this spring and the SEC presidents are reportedly voting on abolishing the league's intraconference transfer rule in June.
Washington's shooting ability means he could play off the ball alongside Wheeler at times, but the two players could also split time at point guard with Davidson transfer Kellan Grady, Iowa transfer C.J. Fredrick and redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen accounting for most of the minutes at the two and three. Regardless of how Calipari splits the backcourt minutes, Wheeler's presence offers an important security blanket if Washington needs time to adapt to college basketball as freshman point guard Devin Askew did for Kentucky during an abysmal 9-16 2020-21 season.
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Is Kentucky basketball's 2021-22 roster complete?
With Wheeler and Washington in the fold, there is not an obvious hole to fill on Kentucky's roster, but there could still be more turnover with several stay-or-go decisions lingering.
Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson and senior guard Davion Mintz have both declared for the NBA draft but left open the possibility of returning to school. Jackson is considered a longshot to return as he is widely projected as a first-round pick this summer, but Mintz is not projected as a draft pick and could use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic to return to Kentucky.
The Wildcats' backcourt is suddenly crowded though, and Mintz, Kentucky's leading scorer last season, would not be guaranteed a starting spot if he returns. The chance to start earning money as a professional either in the NBA's G League or overseas could be a more attractive option for him at this point.
Sophomore forward Keion Brooks has yet to announce whether he will return to Kentucky. Brooks is not projected as a 2021 draft pick, but it has been rare for scholarship players to stay at UK for more than two years during the Calipari era. Brooks' father has dismissed rumors that the Indiana native might be considering a transfer, but his future at UK remains up in the air.
Reserve forwards Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware have indicated they plan to return to UK. They could compete with Brooks -- should he return -- West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe, five-star freshman Damion Collins and four-star freshman Bryce Hopkins for starting spots in the front court.
A surprise return from Jackson could lead to further shuffling in the frontcourt as players consider whether there are enough minutes to go around. Kentucky has been linked to multiple big men in the transfer portal this offseason, but another addition would likely only make sense if there are multiple defections from the group of Jackson, Brooks, Toppin and Ware.
Players have until July 1 to enter the transfer portal and qualify for immediate eligibility at another school next season. July 7 is the deadline for college players to remove their name from the NBA draft if they chose to return to school.