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Should We Learn Anything from Kahlil Whitney Kentucky’s Exit?

Former class of 2019 no. 12 prospect Kahlil Whitney signed with Kentucky to play college ball, became a Wildcat, and even before flipping the first page of the 2020 calendar hanging on his wall he’s decided to leave the school. What does this tell us about the relation between prospects and blue blood programs, if anything?

NCAA Basketball: Lamar at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

We’re some days past one of the most earth-shattering decisions to be announced of late around the world of college hoops. Kahlil Whitney dropped a bomb via his personal Twitter account:

So there is that.

With the lengthy message you just read, former top-12 player (as ranked on 247Sports Composite) of the 2019 HS class is leaving the Wildcats to pursue other career paths. While the obvious—or should I say classic?—move would be to just move places and transfer to another college, which is something more than a handful of players do each season, Whitney never mentioned that exact word and just left it all open by just stating that he won’t be part of the Kentucky team from this point on.

This was being Whitney’s freshman season in the Wildcat frat, and he leaves the school with 18 games under his belt. He got to start eight of those 18, though it’s been more than a month since he did for the last time (Dec. 21 against Ohio State in a 71-65 loss). In the full slate of games he played, Whitney scored 60 points (3.3 ppg), grabbed 31 boards (1.7 rpg), and dished out eight dimes (0.4 apg) playing as a forward for Kentucky. Those numbers, simply put, were all on the mediocre side of things.

All in all, and using Sports-Reference.com Play Index, Whitney is closing his Wildcat stage having accrued a paltry 0.3 Win Shares on 12.9 minutes of playing time per game. That limited run certainly limited his chances to rack up numbers, but so far this season there have been as many as other 129 freshmen putting up better numbers than him in the same or fewer number of minutes per game.

I’m not saying Kahlil is a fiasco, or that he’s cooked and his career done for good. Far from it. Whitney was ranked as a virtual top-10 player no more than a year ago among all HS seniors in America. That is no slouch. He was considered the second-best shooting forward of the country, let alone New Jersey where he played ball at Roselle Catholic. Although he opted to sign with the Wildcats, he ditched offers—mostly—from Illini, Georgetown, SMU, Oregon, Miami, Florida State, and Louisville, all of those colleges making his final list of choices.

Taking the step to move from Roselle to Kentucky was always going to be a tall task. Not that Whitney wasn’t going to be up for it, but considering how such blue blood operates the chances of this happening were there from the get-go.

The Wildcats handed five scholarships last season, one of them being Whitney’s. Along with the NJ product came no. 10 Tyrese Maxey, no. 23 Keion Brooks, no. 32 Johnny Juzang, and no. 104 Dontaie Allen. The last three, per 247Sports, were also sharing position—small forward—with Whitney. That didn’t matter a lot, though, as Kentucky was waving goodbye to Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro, which opened some roster holes for the incoming freshmen. At the end of the day, though, it turned out Juzang played more of a guard-role in the 15 games up to this write-up, while Brooks (18 games, 16.6 mpg) jumped Whitney in the pecking order in terms of freshmen and EJ Montgomery (15 games, 23 mpg) took hold of the position as a sophomore on the team.

Kentucky is a one-and-done powerhouse. The Wildcats, led by John Calipari, basically churn out pros in six-months bursts. The problem with this system and those supposedly soon-to-be-millionaires is that if they don’t really play, or if they play and the flop by the slightest of margins, they risk everything going forward in terms of making their living as pro basketball players—being part of the NBA, that is.

Whitney has cut ties as soon as he has realized the danger he was running into. While it is up to him now what to do next—the options are wide open as he could transfer and showcase himself at the collegiate level next season at other college such as Illini to bolster his profile, move to play pro basketball before trying to make the jump to the NBA, train by his own and get ready for the draft,...—something is clear, and that is that hugely packed classes of stars put together by top-tier colleges are as flashy as they are hazardous for high school boys.

No one is going to change the trend, now or ever. Kentucky will keep getting the top-10 prospects year in and year out. Duke will try to outclass them and will often do. North Carolina and the rest of blue bloods will follow suit, and prospects will be cool signing with them. The better the team they join, the higher the chances they get to appear everywhere and get sooner to the point they ultimately want to reach, the aforementioned Association.

I never had to make that choice, so I’m probably talking dumb here, but when considering which school to go play ball for these kids should take everything into consideration. Will Illinois, Georgetown, or SMU offer fewer chances at winning the Natty? Sure. Will they have lower-end facilities? Probably. Will they give kids better developmental environments while preparing them to jump to the pro-ranks? I’m almost a hundred percent sure of that. There are no shortcuts to take here, and that should be clear inside each of these kids’ heads.

If you’re sure you’re a one-and-done, go for it, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But at the slightest of doubts—and you’ve seen how a former no. 12 prospect just balked after a bunch of weeks trying—you should consider taking the longer-yet-rewarding-and-less-pressurized path of getting to a better (or at least more suited) place to align yourself perfectly with a future around pro hoops.

I will always keep my hopes high on more variety coming to the NCAA level when it comes to recruiting and school-picking, and I can only think cases as this one will ring an alarm for more than one kid out there. Take notice and make the right move.