Keion Brooks is doing more to earn more minutes at this time for the University of Kentucky.
The freshman forward has been productive in two straight games for UK as it continues to move toward a more solid rotation.
He played close to 16 minutes in UK’s 89-79 win over Georgia on Tuesday in Rupp Arena.
Brooks put up eight points and five rebounds against Georgia. His back-to-back buckets at the 12-minute mark began to turn the tide for the Wildcats, and his dunk at the 8:51 mark put the Wildcats up 13.
That came after Brooks had 10 points, seven rebounds at Arkansas, where he played 17 minutes. Brooks had gone 0-5 with no points and seven rebounds in UK’s loss at South Carolina.
It was against the Hogs that Brooks was essentially told he wasn’t getting off the floor by UK associate head coach Kenny Payne.
“It was real quick and short in the huddle during the timeout,” Brooks said.
“Keion Brooks, you’re going to grow up today,” Payne said to Brooks. “I’m for real, you’re going to grow up today.”
“Being out there in a tough environment on the road, playing against a good team, Arkansas, with Coach Cal gone. He was just letting me know, we’re going to ride with you no matter what happens
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and you’re going to learn from whatever happens on the floor,” Brooks said. “For him to tell me he has the belief in me to stay in the game, ride with you no matter what, you just want to play hard for your teammates and the staff.
“You want to do something positive, because you’re not coming out. KP can be scary at times, but he’s been doing a great job, the tough love part of it. He’s been preaching to me that he can’t believe in me more than I believe in myself. He told me after the game ‘I tested you, and you passed.’”
“KP can be scary at times, but he’s been doing a great job, the tough love part of it. He’s been preaching to me he can’t believe in me more than I believe in myself. Making sure I’m mentally strong. He’s making sure he’s in my ear letting me know that whatever I think it takes to win, I gotta amplify that even more because it’s different now. He told me I tested you, and you passed.”
Brooks is a 6-foot-7 freshman looking to help plug a spot where UK could use some help. UK has been looking for more steady production from the small forward spot.
“I love the fact that Keion (Brooks Jr.) has stepped in now and been that third big. And it’s what I told them. I said, Look, if someone’s playing well, they’re staying in and you have to accept it. When you get your chance, go in there and perform).
“Last game, because of foul trouble, Keion got those extended minutes and he felt good,” Calipari said. “But he started the game, when I put him in today, like, got pushed around. You can’t be that guy. You know you’re getting your opportunity, now you got to hit first. You can’t let the guy hit you and get pushed around. You hit first and create space. But again, he’s so good with the ball around the rim, getting it in. He’s got great hands.”
A couple of times where Brooks went way up for a missed shot that he jammed back in for a follow basket against Georgia showed he at least has good timing down.
“I’ve been continuously watching film, seeing if I can find open spots where I can get offensive rebounds, and defensive rebounds I can get my man and make sure he doesn’t get it,” Brooks said of his rebounding improvement. “My level of physicality has picked up, being strong enough to go for the ball. Being low and ready. You can’t be athletic and stiff-legged. I’ve got to be ready to play.”