BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Bolstered by a collection of transfers and top-rated freshmen, as well as a core group of returners who combine to form one of the most experienced Kentucky men’s basketball teams under the direction of 13th-year head coach John Calipari, the Wildcats were picked to win the 2022 Southeastern Conference title by the league’s media.
UK was voted to win their seventh regular-season title under Calipari by the league’s media members. Should Kentucky achieve the feat, it would mark the program’s 50th overall regular-season title. No other school comes close, with LSU in second place with 11 SEC regular-season championships.
In addition to the preseason poll, four Wildcats were selected to the preseason All-SEC squads. Junior guard Sahvir Wheeler was picked to the first team, while graduate student guard Kellan Grady and junior forwards Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe were tabbed to the second team. Brooks and Wheeler also received at least one vote for the preseason pick for SEC Player of the Year.
It’s the 16th time since the 1998-99 season the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite. Calipari has directed his teams to regular-season SEC crowns in 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020. Kentucky has claimed the SEC Tournament title six times under his direction in 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Each school selected media members that cover their team and additional media from across the nation were selected by the conference office to comprise the voting panel. Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for two All-SEC teams.
Wheeler is joined by Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, Florida’s Colin Castleton, Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar and Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr. on the first team. Pippen was the choice of the media for the preseason player of the year. Joining Brooks, Grady and Tshiebwe on the second team were Arkansas’ Davonte Davis, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and LSU’s Darius Days.
Wheeler was an All-SEC Second Team selection by both the league’s coaches and the media as a sophomore at Georgia. He paced the conference in assists per game with 7.4, but he also led the Bulldogs in scoring with 14.0 per game and steals at 1.7 per outing. His 22 games scoring in double figures was also a squad best.
Wheeler was fifth in the country in assists per game and his total assists ranked third.
The Houston native broke Georgia’s single-season assist record with 193 dimes and needed just 24 games to break the record. He was also the league’s best in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.7 to become the fourth player since 2000 to lead the conference in both assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. He had eight double-doubles of the point-assist variety during his standout sophomore campaign, and also registered the first triple-double in program history with 14 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds against LSU on Feb. 23.
Brooks is one of UK’s leading returning scorers and is the top returning rebounder from the 2020-21 season. He averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game and had the highest rebounding average of 6.8 per game on the team despite missing the first nine games of the season with an injury. Brooks reached double-figure scoring in 11 of his 16 appearances and posted his first two career double-doubles.
He had 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists at Ole Miss, and logged 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds in the upset win at No. 19/20 Tennessee. Other season highlights for Brooks included grabbing nine boards, dishing out a career-high five assists and blocking a career-best four shots at Vanderbilt, scoring a career-high 23 points and snaring 11 rebounds in the first meeting with Tennessee. Brooks began his sophomore campaign at Florida with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in a double-digit victory.
Brooks has played in 47 games with nine starts over his first two seasons with Kentucky. He’s averaging 6.4 points per game and 4.4 rebounds for his career. On 16 occasions he’s reached double-figure scoring throughout his career.
Grady was a prolific scorer at Davidson who scored 2,002 career points on 47.2% career shooting. With 240 career 3-pointers, Grady has made at least 51 treys in all four seasons and shot a career-best 38.2% from behind the arc in 2020-21. He has 21 games with at least four 3-pointers. Grady reached the 2,000-point milestone in Davidson’s final game of 2020-21 and was the sixth player in program history to achieve the mark.
The Boston native has been one of the Atlantic 10’s best players from the very start of his college career. Grady is a four-time All-A-10 selection, including a two-time first-team pick. He won A-10 Player of the Week five times in his Davidson career in addition to five A-10 Rookie of the Week honors in his breakthrough 2017-18 campaign. Grady was named in A-10 Rookie of the Year that season.
Grady averaged 17.4 points in his time at Davidson, scoring 18.0 points per game his freshman season, 17.3 as a sophomore, 17.2 as a junior and 17.1 this past season. With an ability to play either guard position, Grady averaged 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 2020-21. He has scored in double figures 96 times in his career, 20 or more points 44 times and 30 or more six times. His career high is 39 points, set his freshman season.
Tshiebwe was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team and was a unanimous selection to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. He also made the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team, the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 8 First Team, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association District II Team and the Academic Big 12 All-Rookie Team.
The Congo native scored in double figures in a team-high 19 games and posted 10 double-doubles. He was first in the Big 12 in offensive rebounds per game with 4.1, second in rebounding and led the country in offensive rebounding percentage (19.0%)
Tshiebwe was off to another solid start this season, averaging 8.5 points on 52.3% shooting in addition to 7.8 rebounds prior to his midseason transfer to Kentucky. Tshiebwe spent the 2021 spring semester with the Wildcats. He practiced with the team but was not eligible to appear in any games.
Kentucky is slated to begin exhibition play beginning with its annual Blue-White Game on Friday. That game will air live on the SEC Network at 7 p.m. UK will follow that with two tune-ups against Kentucky Wesleyan on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. and Miles College on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. Both games will air live on SEC Network. The Wildcats open the regular season in New York for the Champions Classic. They will face No. 9 Duke on ESPN.