LEXINGTON (KT) —In its first dress rehearsal of the season, Kentucky rolled to a 95-72 exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Most of the hype during the preseason has been on Kentucky’s four veteran transfers, but one of the team’s most-tenured players — junior Keion Brooks — set the tone for the Wildcats and was barely mentioned on Kentucky Wesleyan’s scouting report.
“He wasn’t exactly like on the top of our scouting report,” Kentucky Wesleyan coach Drew Cooper said. “… I say that with the most respect.”
Brooks tied freshman Ty Ty Washington for team-high scoring honors with 18 points. Brooks and Washington combined and made seven of Kentucky’s 11 shots from long range. Brooks connected on four shots from 3-point range, an early sign of his progress behind the perimeter.
“He played good,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He’s way better and way more skilled.”
Brooks missed the first nine games of the season last year and struggled to get into a rhythm. He played in just 16 games, with most of those coming during the second half of the season. Brooks scored double figures in 11 games and posted a pair of double-doubles. The junior forward came on late and gave the Wildcats a boost down the stretch of a disappointing season.
In the exhibition opener, Brooks gave the Wildcats an immediate boost and scored eight of Kentucky’s first 10 points. Showing no signs of an injury that held him back early last year, Brooks finished with 15 points in the opening half to lead all scorers. He missed just three field goals on nine attempts and made three of Kentucky’s five 3-pointers in the opening half.
“I’ve been working on extending my range,” Brooks said. “My teammates gave me open looks behind the three and I had the confidence to knock them down and that’s really all that it came down to.”
In his first contest with Brooks at the collegiate level, point guard Sahvir Wheeler said Brooks was “fantastic.” Wheeler added that he challenged Brooks on the defensive end of the court and Brooks responded in a positive way.
“He respected that and told him he was going to do better,” Wheeler said. “I know what he’s capable of and we know the kind of athlete he is. He’s in the passing lanes, coming through, dunking the ball … we just need that consistency from him on the defensive end. Offensively if he does that every night and I don’t know if anyone is going to be able to stop him.’
While Brooks set the stage, Washington put on a display in the second half with 13 points. The freshman newcomer connected on three 3-pointers, all in the final half. Brooks added the team learned a lot in the opener despite the lopsided victory.
“We learned that we are not as good as we think we are,” he said. “We have some stuff we need to tighten up. We have a good team as far as spacing the floor and making the right plays for each other. It was a good test to see where we are right now and I think, going forward, once we tighten things up, we will be a lot better.”
The Wildcats, ranked No. 10 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, will take on Miles College in the final preseason tuneup Friday before opening the season against Duke in the Champions Classic on Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Gametracker: Miles College at Kentucky (exhibition), 7 p.m. Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.