By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Reed Sheppard has probably been the biggest surprise of Kentucky’s freshman class. Even though he had a brilliant prep career at North Laurel and ranks among the state’s top 10 all-time leaders in points, steals and assists, he was not as highly ranked as some UK freshman teammates.
However, he’s made it clear to coach John Calipari that he’s ready to help the Cats this year.
“He is steady, steady Eddie. He is smart. Shoots it pretty good. He is playing better defense. He is — what a teammate, gets the ball to the right guys,” Calipari said.
One particular play in the exhibition game against Georgetown stood out to Calipari.
“Again, he made a play driving it, right? He kept going and then threw a ball. What are you thinking about? I said, ‘Just make easy plays,’” Calipari said. “When he is making easy plays, he is making hard plays look easy, is what he does. But, no, we’re really — I’m excited about him.”
Lyon County guard Travis Perry, a UK recruit and already the state’s all-time leading scorer, is not surprised at what Sheppard has done, especially after watching a Kentucky practice last month.
“Reed has gone in there and made an immediate impact. I kind of knew Reed would go in and do that, he’s the kind of guy who fits in anywhere,” Perry said. “He plays the game the right way, that’s what keeps you on the floor.
“Reed is going in there, playing hard. He’s going to be playing a lot of minutes, I assume, with the way he’s played this summer.
“Going to Kentucky, you realize there are going to be a lot of high-level guys, five-stars, future first-rounders and lottery picks, competing against you every day. That’s something that works both ways. You can compete and make a way, make plays, get a lot better from it or you can go in there and lay down. I’m not the kind of guy who would go in there and lay down. You want to go there and compete against the best competition, that’s something Reed has embraced.”
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is one of many national media members who watched Sheppard play in UK’s exhibition games in Canada and Rupp Arena.
“Here’s one consistent takeaway: Only things happen when Reed Sheppard is on the floor,” Rothstein posted on X.
Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua likes the way Sheppard keeps the game simple.
“He just plays basketball,” Antigua said. “His defensive instincts are great. He is shooting more consistently and confidently, which is a huge plus, and he can play either guard spot comfortably.”
Sheppard also cares only about one thing — winning.
“This is what I’ve wanted my whole life,” the UK freshman said. “I don’t want to go out and shoot 30 shots a game. I want to go out and be able to make the right basketball plays.
“I just just want to have fun and block out what everyone says and just do what I know I can do. I’ve worked for this for 18 years now and now finally being here, I’m just having fun and just enjoying it all.”