Gilgeous-Alexander brings unique skillset to the table

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood on the court at Rupp Arena with his arms stretched wide. His coach wanted to prove a point.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-foot-6 guard, has a 7-0 wingspan and John Calipari, whilst coaching his team at the annual UK Pro Day, perhaps wanted to make sure all of the 90-some NBA personnel in attendance got a good look at just how preposterous that wingspan really is.

Whether it was to show the NBA folks seated at Rupp Arena for the event or whether it was to prove to Gilgeous-Alexander that he has the potential to be a special player – or both – Calipari made his point and his teammates have taken notice.

“He’s shown a lot,” freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He’s really impressive, as far as his wingspan. He’s a very versatile guy, can play either guard spot. He’s really impressed a lot.”

Ask any Wildcat who has stood out or surprised the most during the preseason and the answer is likely to be Gilgeous-Alexander, who hails from Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, and didn’t play in many of the same AAU tournaments as his teammates.

But in practice, Gilgeous-Alexander has shown an “old man’s game,” with his ability to find angles and get to the bucket.

At 6-foot-6 with a 7-0 wingspan, freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brings a lot to the table for Kentucky. (photo By Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)

“He is so long and lanky, he’s gained 10 pounds, so now he’s got a little bit – he’ll try to bully you a little bit, which he never did before,” Calipari said. “But he has step-throughs. He has flip shots. He has an ability to get the ball to the basket.”

Gilgeous-Alexander credits his weight gain to extended time in the weight room and a 4,000-calorie-a-day “diet.” Still he weighed in at UK Pro Day at 182 pounds and just 6.23 percent body fat.

Standing across from Gilgeous-Alexander each day in practice is Quade Green, who’s a half-foot shorter than his counterpart. And though they battle against each other in practice, Calipari says they can play together in a game.

“(Quade) is different than Shai,” Calipari said. “That’s what is great about him. Shai has a seven-foot wingspan, bothers the ball, deflects, does all that. He is more of a traditional point guard.

“Quade and Shai right now are competing,” he said later. “It’s a great battle. I’m starting one and then I’ll flip them and start the other. I say start – I’ll put them with different groups to watch them.”

With Gilgeous-Alexander’s height it’s easy to think he will be guarding the opposing team’s three at times depending on the lineup on the floor. Facing the 6-0 Green has forced him to watch his dribble. Defensively, the smaller Green has challenged Gilgeous-Alexander with how low he can take it and the angles he can find.

Gilgeous-Alexander has impressed his teammates with an all-around game an ability to get to the basket. (photo By Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)

“He’s lower to the ground, which is lower to the ball, so I got to protect it better and stuff like that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Green. “He’s really good defensively. I gotta find out different ways to get around him and maneuver. He’s just really good.”

Green, a Philadelphia native who loves to compete and earn everything he gets, battles against the tall and long Gilgeous-Alexander are part of why he came to UK in the first place.

“It’s great. I love it, every bit of it,” Green said. “I just love competition. I love people that’s not scared of that, that’s as aggressive as me, so that makes me bring another dog out of me. Another animal. In practice it’s fun playing against him. He steals some balls from me, I steal some balls from him, and we just go at it in practice.”

Gilgeous-Alexander, though he’s played point guard throughout his career, said he’s comfortable playing off the ball, as he did during his senior year at Hamilton Heights. When he’s playing with the ball in his hands, Calipari is working to have him “expand his vision” and see outside of his normal range.

All of the Wildcats are a work in progress, really. With the season opener against Utah Valley less than a month away, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Wildcats. But one thing Coach Cal does know – and wants every NBA scout to see – is he has a guard with a 7-0 wingspan.

“He can do it all,” freshman Jemarl Baker said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He can shoot, he can pass, he has a great feel for the game. But his length, he’s really disruptive and that’s probably his biggest strength.”