What Kentucky SF Kahlil Whitney Could Be Part 2 (Exclusive Interview)

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Part two of two long form on Kahlil Whitney (for part one, featuring interviews with coaches and teammates, go here)

Kentucky freshman small forward Kahlil Whitney has elite role models, both on and off the court. He models his game after another man who is 6’6″, Toronto Raptors SF Kawhi Leonard, a two time NBA Champion, NBA Finals MVP and three time NBA All-Star.

Leonard is in the conversation for greatest current basketball player on the planet right now, with most people ascribing that status to LeBron James, who Whitney describes as one of his “favorite people.”

Photo credit UK Athletics

“He’s a big time role model, the things he does off the court, if you hate on LeBron, then something must be wrong with you,” Whitney said during our exclusive interview this past Friday in Lexington.

The blue chip prospect that currently captivates the attention of Big Blue Nation referenced Lebron’s Family Foundation and the “I Promise” initiative. Most impressive to Whitney is the school James built in Akron, in a low income area.

“Where I come from the schooling system is not that good,” said Whitney.

“So putting a great schooling system in Cleveland, in the projects, there’s a lot of poverty over there, so having those kids be able to look up to him, have him be there and be able to say that they go to his school- that’s a blessing for those kids.”

“He’s a great person, he does a lot for the community and that’s what I want to do when I get older”

Kahlil Whitney hails from the North Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago. It’s a high crime, low income area on the west side, just south of the Eisenhower expressway, and Garfield Park; adjacent to Homan Square.

Whitney’s escaping the mean streets, and focusing on developing his extraordinary talents and abilities is a familiar story to anyone who follows the game of basketball closely. He opened up about this when I asked him what sets Chicagoans apart from other basketball players.

“Definitely toughness,” he responded.

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“Just to say you overcame, is a huge part; of your life growing up you don’t know if you’re going to make it out of the city or not.”

“A majority of my friends are drug dealers and stuff like that, so there’s two routes you can choose and sometimes people choose the wrong route. I’m grateful that I was blessed, and had a support system, and choose the right path.”

Kentucky Coach John Calipari has recruited and then developed superstars from Chicago before.

L.A. Lakers center Anthony Davis went from the South Side/Perspective Charter School to Lexington where he won the player of the year award, a national title and became the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Tyler Ulis was a McDonald’s All-American from Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights. He was an All-American, SEC Player of the Year and he went to a Final Four.

And then of course you have Derrick Rose, from Simeon High School, who played for Calipari at Memphis for one season, then went on to become the #1 overall NBA Draft pick in 2008. He won the NBA MVP in 2011.

Additionally, you have Charles Matthews (St. Rita) was a blue chip prospect before he signed with Kentucky, and played one season in the bluegrass state.

Matthews then transferred to Michigan, where he played for two seasons and then early entered the NBA Draft.

“I know that he recruits a lot of Chicago guys,” Whitney said.

“I would say that Anthony Davis is one of the best players to come through here, and that played a big part in my recruitment.”

“In Chicago guys you get toughness, and you need those guys on your team.”

None of the Chicago schools were in the mix for Whitney when he limited down his list to the final cut of schools that he considered attending.

One school from the state, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, made the final round however.

“It was down to Florida State, Oregon, Georgetown, Kentucky and Illinois,” he continued.

“When you’re getting recruited by Kentucky, it really speaks for itself, but seeing the group of players that came before you and seeing the success they had, it basically pushed you towards that school and that’s what it did to me.”

Many are wondering when the Kahlil Whitney breakthrough is going to happen, and what his game is going to look like when he does. Kentucky coaches and players herald his work ethic and they assure us his time is coming soon. I asked him what he’s currently focusing on to try and make that happen. He is the one individual player that can certainly help UK be all that they can be this season.

“My feel, my pull-up, seeing stuff before it happens, shooting, ball-handling,” he answered.

Kentucky fans are wondering when we’re going to see “the dragon,” and when we do, the SEC better beware.

In case you were wondering, it was his father who came up with the dragon nickname. One of the greatest life lessons learned from the historically popular sitcom “Seinfeld” was you can’t give yourself a nickname; it has to find you.

Whitney was deemed the dragon during one of his last AAU tournaments. Coming off a very low scoring output performance, Whitney broke out in the next game.

“I had a bad game, I scored only six or seven points, and I couldn’t get it going,” he told.

“And my dad had a conversation with me, kind or cursed me out, and the next game I had something like 47, 48 points and I just heard him calling me the dragon in the crowd, and the next thing I knew everybody in the crowd was calling me that.”

“And it’s been my nickname ever since.”

Kentucky’s come from behind win at Georgia Tuesday night was an extremely entertaining basketball game, but Whitney only played 11 minutes, as he picked up two fouls (along with one block and one rebound) in that period of time. Although it was another discouraging outing, people need to be patient.

Enter the Dragon time is coming soon.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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