Just who is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?


Kentucky Guard #22 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander high fives teammates before the game against Centre College on Friday, November 3, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 106-63. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

UK basketball guard Shai-Gilgeous Alexander appeared on the roster with several questions from outside observers. Who exactly was this kid? Not many had heard of him.

He hadn’t competed on the AAU circuit over the summer of 2016 like so many of his teammates and hadn’t exactly shown himself off to many scouts. He played for his Canadian national team over that summer instead, keeping his skills hidden from many schools watching the Nike, Under Armour and Adidas circuits.

What Gilgeous-Alexander has turned out to be is a crafty guard with a nice shooting touch and an incredible seven-foot wingspan for his 6-4 frame.

“He has step-throughs. He has flip shots. He has an ability to get to the basket,” head coach John Calipari said.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s style of play has been described by some as an “old man’s game,” often electing to take a mid-range shot instead of threes and a crafty layup instead of a dunk. He plays hounding on-ball defense, using his long arms to impede would-be ball handlers on their way to the basket.

In the team’s first exhibition against Thomas-More College, Gilgeous-Alexander led all players with four steals, getting in the way of passing lanes and poking the ball out frequently.

He’s also been a player of about as many words as feats of extreme aggressiveness. After the Blue-White scrimmage, Gilgeous-Alexander simply said he needed to “play hard on both ends of the floor. Don’t ever stop. I had a couple times in the game I could have shot it.”

How did such a skilled guard slip through the cracks of the far reaches of college recruiting? Well, there are a couple reasons for this.

Initially, the Canadian guard had committed to Florida. He backed out of that commitment in October of 2016, reopening his recruitment process. By then, many players had made their decisions and were in the final stages of recruitment. With offers from the Gators, UK, Texas, Butler and Virginia Tech, Gilgeous-Alexander chose to become a Wildcat a little over a week into November.

Currently, he plays the point guard spot, alternating with star guard Quade Green. In practice, he said, he usually plays against Green, so he doesn’t get many opportunities to play alongside him.

Whenever the Cats need a small lineup, however, Calipari wouldn’t be ill-advised to put Gilgeous-Alexander in the shooting guard spot next to Green. On the other side of that coin, Gilgeous-Alexander can also use his lanky frame to play point guard whenever the Cats want to play big, like they have in the Blue-White scrimmage and against Thomas More.

No one is looking more forward to seeing how much the young guard will fit in with Green and the rest of the team than him.

“I think we’ll be great together,” he said.