The term “blue blood”, when used to describe a high-ranking program, airs much more often than it should, but Sahvir Wheeler knows the difference.
The latest transfer addition to next season’s Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team, Wheeler comes to Lexington after spending his first two seasons as Georgia – a member of the Southeastern Conference and a respectable school in their own right, but nothing close to sounding like “Blue Blood”. Wheeler is no stranger to the bright lights of SEC basketball, but playing on the main stage as the Kentucky Wildcat is a little different than his previous life in Athens.
The final Blue Bloods men’s college basketball roster is as follows: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas. Some say UCLA and Indiana have a strong case for joining the party, although the two have combined for a single Final Four appearance since 2009. For our purposes UK, Duke, UNC and Kansas – four schools with a little shade of blue as the main color – are the true Blue Blood programs, but even then only one school can claim the best of the best.
If you ask Wheeler, it’s not a contest that’s the best of the best – it doesn’t get bluer than Kentucky Blue.
“Kentucky ain’t a regular old school, it’s the highest level, it’s the bluesest in the bluesSaid Wheeler ESPN Paul Biancardi Monday during an Instagram Live.
Wheeler actually turned down another traditional Kansas Blue Blood before landing with Kentucky on Monday afternoon. In doing so, he will team up with first-year point guard TyTy Washington as a backcourt rotation for the ‘Cats, a group of positions empty just seven days ago.
After the show’s worst season in a century, which briefly changed the Kentucky basketball narrative, Wheeler understands that the expectations will be incredibly high for himself and everyone involved. Another 9-16 record is completely out of the question for the Big Blue Nation.
“Some of those expectations match mine,” Wheeler said of Kentucky fans’ expectations for the 2021-22 season. “Just like the work ethic, just like having a winning pedigree, a winning mindset, getting to the Final Four, winning a national championship. Being in the biggest stage, playing in the biggest stage in the biggest lights with the best players, that’s all my alley. This is what I live for as a competitor, as a basketball player, even outside of basketball, I always want to be among the best. Because you are what you surround yourself with. I am ready to meet any expectations and can’t wait to get started. I know the first jump balloon at Madison Square Garden this year, it’s gonna be a show. “
The first step in meeting those expectations is understanding where things went wrong in the past. Wheeler posted decent shooting numbers as a rookie, but those took a serious dive in Year 2. However, his ability to lead the attack shone when he was in his sophomore, even though he had to do so in a team with no equal talent around him. Forcing the problem was common for him, he was just never bailed out because he didn’t have the right amount of skill around him.
These are just a few of the areas where Wheeler knows he needs to improve before he can back up his preseason speech.
“Obviously the consistency of the shots is a really big thing,” said Wheeler of what he needs to improve. “Just have a repeatable movement. Sometimes I would start my shot at a different place where I’m on the right side of my body and ending on my left, that’s too much room for error. So the offseason I really focused on my left side, a smooth [motion], same exit point. I work on the set every day.
“Regarding the attendance / turnover ratio, watching the film, I had some unforced turnover at the start of the year and I have improved over the year. Like stepping on the sideline or stepping on the baseline, a few passes where I thought my man would know where to go and I threw him hoping he was there. Like ‘Go Sahvir, don’t throw it somewhere until you know it’s there.’ “
Like most gifted hoops, Wheeler’s ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA. Prior to choosing Kentucky, he had listed his name in the NBA Draft to receive comment on his position in terms of the road draft.
Which is why he chose Kentucky over Kansas, LSU and Oklahoma State – head coach John Calipari knows how to produce pros. This is why the country’s top prospects are used to committing to the UK. There is no school, Blue Blood or not, that can turn students into millionaires faster than Kentucky.
This record – in particular, that of Calipari – caught Wheeler’s attention. But it goes beyond Calipari’s ability to develop young talent. Wheeler feels like everything Calipari says is honest and genuine.
“Coach Cal is obviously a top coach,” Wheeler told Biancardi. “His CV speaks for itself. But from conversations we had on Zoom, texting and on the phone, what stood out to me the most was his personality. One thing he said briefly, but I think I really hit home, is that every game, every day, any Kentucky player involved in any NBA or pro game, the score in the box is sent to him and he goes through every game, he goes through every player and he sends the player what he needs… Not all coaches will. It just shows how much he cares about you on a personal level. He wants what’s best for you and he’s going to push you for it.
“And how honest he was. He gave me his plan, what was the expectation. Kentucky isn’t a regular old school, it’s the highest level, it’s the bluest of the blues. And how he was with my parents. My parents are not easily influenced and will not give their eldest son to anyone. He left them with a very, very good first impression. He took the time to get to know them, he made my mother go up on a Zoom, had a conversation with her, asked her various questions, obviously he is going to have a conversation with my father. I think he’s really genuine and he’s so much more than just a basketball coach who coaches NBA players. “
In his own words, the idea of someday making it to the NBA wasn’t the main reason Wheeler chose Kentucky. He feels a connection to his new head coach that he can believe in, a connection that will extend beyond Wheeler’s time at Lexington.
But there is work to be done now. Wheeler wants to take this program to the next level of college hoops. He’s more than interested, in fact he’s impatient. That’s why he came to the bluest of the Blue Bloods: to achieve greatness.
“Big Blue Nation, I’m ready to start, I’m excited,” Wheeler added. “I hope to bring Kentucky Basketball back to where it deserves it, this greatness. Nothing less. Glad to get to work, great to meet everyone there, and I hope that at full capacity we have Rupp Arena rocking.