It’s not typically you get a two-time All-SEC level guard and Bob Cousy Award finalist back for a senior season, particularly at Kentucky. That’s the case with Sahvir Wheeler, who’s returning for his second 12 months in Lexington and fourth faculty season total after ending third within the nation and first within the SEC in assists at 6.9 per recreation to go with 10.1 factors, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 2021-22
That’s the great — and there was a entire lot of it. That does not imply, although, it was a excellent debut marketing campaign for Wheeler at Kentucky. The 5-foot-9 level guard nonetheless averaged 3.0 turnovers per contest whereas taking pictures simply 44.1% from the sphere and 30.8% from three. He had ten video games of 4 or extra turnovers and began the 12 months 4/23 from three (17.4%) earlier than ending on a excessive observe (12/29, 41.4% 3PT his final 16 video games).
At his greatest, Wheeler was an electrical playmaker, arguably one of the best in faculty basketball. He was a artful scorer across the rim who may create for his teammates, push the tempo and be a disruptor on the defensive finish of the ground.
At his worst, he was erratic as a ball-handler and passer with inefficient taking pictures and poor shot choice. The highs had been undoubtedly excessive, simply as the lows had been inarguably low.
Growing confidence in 12 months two
Wheeler is aware of it, too. And he is utilizing each as a blueprint for his recreation going into the 2022-23 season, trying to maximize the great whereas minimizing the unhealthy.
He’s assured that would be the case in 12 months two as a Wildcat.
“Um, (my confidence) simply comes from a lot of laborious work and realizing what did not work final 12 months and what did work,” Wheeler informed KSR in an unique interview down within the Bahamas. “What can I enhance on?” What can I sharpen? And what can I proceed to work on and proceed to do this was profitable final 12 months?”
So what did work for Wheeler in his debut season in Lexington? What allowed him to develop into a Bob Cousy Award finalist for the nation’s greatest level guard?
“Playing quick. Playing quick labored,” he mentioned. “Being in a position to give it up typically and form of run out, that labored. Just trusting myself, being assured, constructing relationships with teammates — as a result of they wish to see you succeed. All that labored.”
As for what did not, that was clear for the Houston, TX native, too. When he tried to do an excessive amount of and drive the problem, he struggled. Injuries additionally performed a half.
“What did not work, I feel typically I acquired a little uncontrolled,” Wheeler informed KSR. “I feel defensively I took a step back. I feel most of it was simply due to the harm. Now that I really feel wholesome, I really feel stronger, sooner, extra explosive, I really feel like I’m back to the place I used to be initially of the 12 months.”
A sensational week in paradise
That development was clear throughout Kentucky’s four-game exhibition tour within the Bahamas, as Wheeler quietly put collectively a phenomenal week, averaging 14.5 factors per recreation on 61.1% taking pictures and 93.3% from the road. He additionally had a 24-6 assist-to-turnover ratio, good for six.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers per recreation, alongside with securing 1.75 steals per contest.
His 3-point shot did not fall (0-9 total), however Wheeler missed simply 5 pictures contained in the arc throughout 4 video games, good for 81.5% from two. After knocking off the rust in recreation one (six factors, 2-6 FG, 4 assists, two turnovers), the senior level guard was nothing in need of sensational in video games two by means of 4.
The greatest model of Wheeler was placed on full show.
“These few video games, I really feel like I performed fairly good flooring video games as far as being beneath management, taking part in with tempo, utilizing my pace and burst,” he informed KSR. “I do know I’ve acquired a loopy burst the place I can go from zero to 100 whereas everybody else remains to be at 50 and a thousand miles behind me. To be capable of use that and form of manipulate the protection, be on cruise management and discover guys who had been scorching.”
That final half is essential — “discover guys who had been scorching.” As a crew, Kentucky shot 38.1% from three on 26.3 makes an attempt per recreation, together with 5 scholarship gamers taking pictures at the least 40% from deep. Teammates acquired open and the playmaker rewarded them with crisp passes for clear appears to be like. In return, the shooters rewarded Wheeler (and the crew total) with pictures made. Everyone wins — by a mean margin of fifty factors, at that.
Acing the take a look at
There’s a clear sense of consolation and familiarity for Wheeler, a ‘been there, performed that’ mindset going into his senior marketing campaign. The veteran level guard is aware of the coaches’ expectations, he is aware of what it takes to win and practice to get there. He noticed this crew at its greatest final season, and he additionally noticed it at its worst — he was on the ground for each.
He’s acquired the solutions to the take a look at, now he simply has to place pen to paper when the season rolls round.
“Just having a 12 months beneath your belt taking part in for Coach Cal, taking part in beneath Coach O (Antigua), Coach Chin (Coleman) and Bru (Flint),” Wheeler informed KSR. “Just realizing the system, realizing what it takes to win and realizing what’s going to trigger us to lose after taking part in in these video games final 12 months. I’m coming back with a vengeance.”
Oscar Tshiebwe’s return to Kentucky was the most important speaking level of the offseason, and deservedly so. He was the primary unanimous National Player of the Year to return to highschool since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in 2008. And then within the Bahamas, it was concerning the star performances of Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves, the quick influence of freshmen Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston and Adou Thiero, jaw-dropping dunks of Daimion Collins and the return of CJ Fredrick.
Those round Wheeler wish to be sure his play did not slip by means of the cracks.
Don’t overlook concerning the standout level guard
“He’s very underrated. He is basically a nice passer and he’s all about successful,” assistant coach KT Turner mentioned. “One factor he does as a level guard is he is aware of who’s on and the place to get them pictures. He’ll discover you and he will get his teammates a lot of open pictures.
“He retains up with the sport, notices what occurs. He is aware of who’s scorching however he additionally is aware of who hasn’t had a shot in a whereas.”
The senior playmaker can be a much-needed veteran presence within the locker room, doing his half to make sure his youthful teammates aren’t left behind.
“It’s nice having Sahvir proper there,” Cason Wallace informed KSR. “If I’ve a downside with something, he is at all times proper there to assist me. I can ask him learn the protection or how he’ll play on protection. He offers me a good reply each time.”
Earning respect within the locker room
He’s a participant his teammates can not help however respect. The continuous depth and toughness he brings on each ends of the ground not solely conjures up these round him to do the identical, but additionally wears down Kentucky’s opponents within the course of.
“Just how he brings it day-after-day,” junior ahead Lance Ware informed KSR. “Even in apply, how he picks up the ball. When you might have a level guard who can choose up the ball off the tip — lockdown defender, flip him three, 4 occasions earlier than he will get throughout halfcourt. We see him doing that, the least we are able to do is play some protection.
“He has to choose up 94 toes and run the offense. It takes a lot out of him and we respect him for his job. We all have the utmost respect for Sahvir. We must do our half as a result of he cannot do it by himself.”
To put it merely, Wheeler is a tone-setter for the Wildcats.
“Sahvir will choose you up 94 toes,” Ware added. “By the time you get back throughout halfcourt, you are like, ‘Woah, I’m already drained.’ That helps a lot. He units the tone for us. If he goes out and will get a few steals — like he did towards North Carolina, keep in mind? He got here out and acquired like three straight steals. It simply demoralizes you.”
A crew effort on each ends
His teammates worth the depth he brings on protection and the demoralizing influence he could make. Wheeler hopes that particular person manufacturing can result in unmatched success as a crew, particularly on that finish of the ground.
It takes everybody to be nice.
“We’ll see (what our defensive potential is). I simply know we’ve the possibility to be a actually good defensive crew,” Wheeler informed KSR. “Just by our size, athleticism and our versatility one by means of 5. I do know I’m not the tallest dude, however I can guard one by means of 4 nearly, possibly some fives, relying on who it’s and what crew they’re. But everybody else can guard one by means of 5, they’ll swap and we acquired pace and twitch. So for those who beat us, we are able to rotate vertically, we are able to problem anybody. If they make that cross, we are able to shut out.
“The sky is the restrict and past. It’s as much as us to proceed to harp on the small print of what it takes to be a nice defensive crew.”
Returning for an additional season in Lexington, Wheeler is coming back with one thing to show.