Freshman focus not there yet for young Wildcats


Kentucky Wildcats guard TyTy Washington Jr. (3) shoots a free throw during the UK vs. Duke men’s basketball game as part of the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Duke won 79-71. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

Freshman guard and former five-star recruit TyTy Washington finished his collegiate debut with nine points on 3-14 in a 79-71 losing effort against the Duke Blue Devils.

“That’s not him,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said about Washington’s debut performance.

Washington played just under 28 minutes, but had little to show for it. His struggles mirrored that of former Kentucky guard and current Los Angeles Clipper, Brandon Boston Jr. in the sense that they both tried to do too much; the game never slowed down. 

In Boston’s case, he didn’t have the supporting cast Washington has this season. Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler and Kellan Grady bailed him out, making a combined 5-10 three-pointers on the night while the freshman went 0-2 despite being known advertised as a deep threat. 

“He took more shots in this game than the two exhibition games,” Calipari said of Washington. “And part of that was me saying, ‘look, I want you to go at these dudes.’”

Against Kentucky Wesleyan and Miles College, Washington went a combined 6-6 from beyond the arc while totaling 33 points and eight assists between the two preseason exhibitions. As it turns out, Duke is a beast that forces you out of your comfort zone.

“TyTy played the way he did because we kind of wanted him to,” Calipari said. “Like, we’re playing exhibition games, he’s shooting nine and ten shots. You’re supposed to be a guy that can go get baskets, so I will take responsibility for some of the plays that he made.”

Washington failed to complete entry passes of wide open pick-and-rolls, took contested mid-range jumpers and didn’t make the extra pass when needed. He couldn’t find his rhythm—that played a major role in Duke jumping out to their game-high 15-point lead in the second half.

“I just said to him, ‘you know, kid, you don’t have to make every shot. You just can’t miss ’em all,’” Calipari said.

That isn’t his fault, though—that’s what happens when you’re the superstar of your high school and AAU teams. He’s used to having the game run through him, but that’s not going to work on a Calipari team that, if all the pieces fit, is 11-12 players deep including five to six guards.

Another piece to the proverbial puzzle, Kentucky’s other freshmen, Daimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins, played a combined 4:09 without either finding their way into the scoring column. 

Some of that can be chalked up to the fact that Kentucky couldn’t afford to gamble with unproven players against a sure-fire future first-round NBA draft choice in Paolo Banchero and a seven-footer in Mark Williams. Expect Collins and Hopkins to receive more playing time against the likes of Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary’s and more in the season’s early window.

Calipari has gone through this before with highly-touted freshman. He pointed to Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson in 2018, who both took their time to develop and have since enjoyed success as budding NBA stars.

“They weren’t there early,” Calipari said about his former players. “This team has some guys—I don’t know which guys will do it, but they got to step up.”

It won’t take long to find out whether or not other players besides Tshiebwe and Wheeler can step up to the occasion and help Kentucky bounce back from the Duke loss as they take on Robert Morris this Friday at Rupp Arena at 7 p.m.