Following another season in which Kentucky failed to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats this past week spent part of their summer bounceback preparations for the 2023-24 season in Canada participating -- and ultimately, dominating -- the 2023 GLOBL JAM. UK went a perfect 4-0 at the event and boat-raced Canada in the final 89-72 to take home the gold medal.
With Oscar Tshiebwe and most of the top talents from last season's roster moving on, UK did its damage behind an almost entirely new cast of characters between transfers and signees and did so despite being at less than 100%. Given that, it's hard to take too terribly much away from the week that was for UK -- but we sure can give it a go.
So here are a few takeaways from UK's trip to Canada.
Tre Mitchell proving to be nice addition
It's darn near impossible to add players of value late in the summer out of the portal or out of the high school ranks, but Kentucky might have done so in Mitchell, who transferred from West Virginia. Mitchell entered the portal last month on the heels of Bob Huggins' ouster with the Mountaineers, and he has already made his presence felt with the Cats, providing value as a shooter with size who can be multi-dimensional in how he impacts winning.
"Tre is really legitimate because you have a five who can shoot a 3, pass, can pass like crazy," Calipari said.
Mitchel was thrust into playing center after UK's top two bigs -- Ugonna Onyenso and Aaron Bradshaw -- sustained recent injuries, and he acquitted himself nicely as a do-it-all big who will be a nice weapon for a deep frontcourt.
Justin Edwards looks like a star
The top-rated UK freshman looked like the top talent on the team in spurts for the Wildcats in Canada. Edwards, a combo wing, had a great stretch of games for UK this past week and capped off his run with 23 points and seven boards in the finale, finishing with a plus-20 mark for UK when he was on the floor.
Edwards' size and versatility from the wing position has long been his most valuable trait, but his playmaking and disruption with the ball in his hands in particular was immense. He was able to get downhill at will and looked comfortable operating as a facilitator. His feel for the game and added playmaking next to a guard-heavy roster could elevate this team's offensive potency to new heights.
Antonio Reeves' presence
Reeves returned to Kentucky this offseason despite a brief exploration of the transfer portal, effectively giving UK a valuable depth piece in the backcourt who has experience. But with UK this past week he proved to be quite a bit more than that. He was named MVP of the GLOBL JAM after averaging 23 points and shooting 56.3% from 3-point range, including 18 points in the final while connecting on four deep shots. Reeves was the second-leading scorer last season and the team's most effective outside shooter, and his skill set appears to be a perfect mesh – at least so far – for a more well-rounded UK team. Speaking of which ….
Dribble, pass and shoot
John Calipari tends to slow-play his teams in the preseason and early in the year as a way to temper fan expectations – but even he couldn't help but gush a little about the potential of what this roster could eventually look like. With seven new signees and one transfer – more than half of which are guards in some capacity – Calipari's grand plan to build a more versatile team appeared evident.
"They all can dribble, pass and shoot," Calipari said. "It's not a track meet, it's not a wrestling match, it's basketball. So you may look at them and say they're small, they're skinny, they're this, but they can all dribble, pass and shoot."
Mitchell hurt his ankle late in the trip but seems to be fine. That doesn't appear to be the case for the other bigs on UK's roster, though, as Bradshaw is out indefinitely with a foot injury and Onyenso is out for "a while" after suffering a potentially significant ankle injury during the Canada trip practicing.
"You need some size for rim protection," said Calipari. "We didn't have it last year and that affected us."
Mitchell and Adou Thiero were able to help piece together some quality minutes at the center spot, but with two 7-footers in Onyenso and Bradshaw both ailing, UK's aforementioned frontcourt depth -- at least early in the season -- could wind up being thinner than previously expected.