Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks could be x-factors for the University of Kentucky. The two freshman forwards have to make normal progress, which may or may not happen at once for them. UK also has to figure out how best to use the nearly identical body-type wing players.
Brooks is a 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward.
Whitney is a 6-6, 210-pound forward.
Both are known to be strong and can be power players around the basket. Both are good defensive players who can guard a lot of spots on the floor. They each see themselves as versatile and each think they can be factors rebounding.
They seem to embody perfectly the "positionless basketball player" that UK coach John Calipari has spent a lot of time talking about the last couple of seasons.
Whitney has started all seven games this season, playing at least 13 minutes a game each time. Whitney has been a part of five different lineup combinations for UK. Only one of those combinations has had him and Brooks on the floor at the same time.
Brooks was with Whitney, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey and Johnny Juzang for a very short segment in a game. That would be the truest form of a small lineup UK could use.
Whitney has not been much of a scoring threat, going 0-5 against UAB last Friday.
He does have a good understanding of defensive concepts and how to work on that end of the floor.
"Fighting over ball screens, being help-side and talking," Whitney said of how UK's defense is improving. "I feel like communication is a big key for us and we want to really be special and communicate more."
Brooks is thought to be most at home at either small or power forward.
Neither player has shown to be a slasher offensively, but both can get off their feet quickly and would be legitimate threats on lobs for dunks, working off the wings.
Of course, Calipari is trying to get both to buy into the philosophy of defense and rebounding will get you on the floor more.
"You're seeing this guy that defensively -- the great thing for him is when you guard that way, even if the offense isn't going you can leave that guy on the court because he may not score a basket, he might turn it over every once in a while, but if he guards and rebounds," Calipari said before UK played Evansville. "He's capable of being that defender and that rebounder."
Calipari claimed to like what he saw out of both players in the UAB game. Brooks managed five points and four rebounds. The next few weeks, with Nate Sestina out and more minutes available in the forward spots, should be periods of growth for both Brooks and Whitney.
"Things don't always go on your timetable," Calipari said after UAB."Like, you start working. Well, I'm going to work hard and in three days my stuff will change. Sometimes it may take a month. I know how talented Kahlil is. I know how talented Keion is. But they got to get away from anything offensive and be defensive and let the offense come. That's the easiest thing. How about this, rebound like crazy. What if one of those two became a four-offensive-rebounds-a-game guy?"
Brooks played 21 minutes and Whitney 19 against UAB. Calipari thinks both will play 20 minutes a game or more.
"You're getting your minutes to get your opportunity to go," Calipari said. "I think Kahlil will stay around 21, 22. Get Keion at 21, 22, Kahlil up to that 25 minutes he needs. If he does the job defensively, he stays in. And then figure out how you're going to play offensively, what you're comfortable doing. He got fouled and made two free throws, looked really good, shooting the ball good, just got to get in the game and do it."
Neither Whitney nor Brooks are comfortable yet offensively, and that isn't unusual for UK freshmen.
"The things you got away with in high school, you're going to be uncomfortable for a while because it's stuff you've never had to do," Calipari said.
Nobody could doubt Whitney's heart after he performed a quick medical procedure while running down the court in the Utah Valley game. He dislocated a finger and popped it back in place, then almost grabbed a rebound.
Calipari has said he is toughest on Whitney and Tyrese Maxey in practices. Usually, the players who incur the most teaching from Calipari are the ones the coach thinks can perform at the highest level.
As the coach said, both will get the chance to earn more time as UK is less in game mode and spending more in practice time over the next month.
"Personally, I love to play games, but you know, you get better in practice so I'm looking forward to going to practice and watching some film to see what we can be better at," Brooks said.