Keion Brooks's Versatility Will Be Valued on a Reloaded Kentucky Roster
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 24 overall recruit, Kentucky's Keion Brooks. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Kentucky’s Recruiting Class
At 6’7”, Brooks is one of four small forwards in an incoming Kentucky class talented enough to knock Duke out of the top-two of 247Sports's composite recruiting class rankings for the first time since 2013. An Indiana native, Brooks was long thought to be leaning toward his home state Hoosiers before committing to Calipari. The loaded group coming to Lexington features Brooks, four-star wings Johnny Juzang (No. 34)—who also plays the two slot—and Dontaie Allen (No. 92), five-star combo guard Tyrese Maxey (No. 10) and fellow five-star small forward Kahlil Whitney (No. 11). Add in grad transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell and Calipari should have no trouble reloading. After leading Indiana's La Lumiere School to a 28–0 record his senior year, Brooks brings additional depth to the Wildcats frontcourt rotation and a capable spurt scorer to a team that will hopefully find its footing a little sooner than last season’s squad.
How He Fits
The Wildcats will have a few familiar faces returning to the floor, including EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. With Hagans running point with a season of experience under his belt and an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, expect excellent distribution to talented group of versatile scorers, including Brooks. An athletic asset, Brooks does the bulk of his damage as a sort of face-up shooter who makes high-energy plays. He’s a relentless rebounder and a threat for put-backs and dunks, and also brings an improving mid-range game. There is, however, still work to be done on Brooks’s three-point shooting. He’ll hit the open threes on occasion, but Brooks lacks a consistency that he’ll need to be a legitimate perimeter threat in the college game. With Maxey, a prototypical Calipari guard—athletic, fast and physical—likely slotting in at the two and Juzang’s sharpshooting around, there’s not as much need for Brooks to do serious damage from deep. His shot from the arc will develop with time but until then he’ll provide points in the paint, finish around the rim, defend well and make plays on that end.
While Whitney will likely fill the hole Keldon Johnson left attacking the basket off the bat, Brooks adds depth both at wing and to a solid frontcourt. With Montgomery, Richards, Sestina and Allen all also competing for time up front, he’ll be fighting for playing time in a tough rotation, but Brooks will still see the floor. The newcomer provides a strong all-around option for Calipari to use at the three or the four, doubling as a strong rim protector and a scoring threat in the paint. He provides a little more length than Allen, Juzang or Whitney, but will need to bulk up to survive the physicality of the college game. The plus side is that Brooks should have the flexibility to slide into a small-ball lineup or use his scoring and defensive abilities to help further away from the basket, depending on how Calipari chooses to play it. The Fort Wayne, Ind. wing is quick and capable, as is the rest of this year’s Wildcat crew, and should provide instant upside in a more prototypical three-slot while his range widens.
Importance to Kentucky's Success/Team Outlook
Gone are three starters from last season’s starting five and all of the team’s double-digit scorers. But with a strong incoming five-man class, Calipari has depth to lean on until he settles on his best lineup. Expected to be an instant-impact contributor, Brooks brings a versatility that will serve the Wildcats well. Kentucky brings back an experienced floor general in Hagans, which hopefully means a more seamless offensive transition for the new group of talented scorers on the floor alongside him. With Montgomery, Richards and Sestina bringing experience to a young frontcourt, Kentucky has unsurprisingly set itself up for another successful season and a deep March Madness run next spring.