Three observations from Kentucky basketball's 52-point win to open Bahamas exhibition tour

·7 min read

Daimion Collins started his trip to the Bahamas with a bang.

Two of them, to be exact.

Collins' rim-rocking slam dunks highlighted Kentucky basketball’s 108-56 victory over the Dominican Republic National Select Team on Wednesday night to begin a four-game exhibition tour at the Baha Mar Resort in Nassau.

With all the buzz surrounding reigning Naismith Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returning and the new additions to UK's roster, coach John Calipari offered perhaps the highest praise possible for Collins not long after the 2021-22 season ended.

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"In Daimion’s case, I think he becomes one of the best players in the country," Calipari said at the time. "I think the things he does normal players can’t do."

"Normal players" may be hard pressed to top Collins' one-handed slams against the Dominicans.

Starting with the ball past the 3-point line early in the first half, Collins drove to the basket and skied over two defenders for a dunk and drew a foul on the play. When the second half started, he picked up where he left off, driving the baseline and elevating over a defender for another jaw-dropping slam.

"I just attack the rim," the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward told broadcasters Tom Hart and Dane Bradshaw on the SEC Network after the game. "My pops, he always told me to play above the rim, so that’s how I just played."

Those two highlights offer just a glimpse into Collins' productivity during Kentucky's 52-point victory. He posted a plus-40 plus/minus rating in 23 minutes and overshadowed Tshiebwe's game-high 17 points.

Taking the court with Wildcats’ starters, Collins notched 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. One of those rebounds, which came off a missed 3-pointer from Antonio Reeves during the first half, was especially difficult to snag, but Collins held onto the ball and dished to junior Lance Ware for a powerful dunk.

"He made some great plays, some great decisions, was able to hold his ground, find guys and, obviously, you saw his athleticism and the way he shoots the ball," said Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, who was the acting head coach for Wednesday's game while Calipari watched from the stands. "I just think that he's got an extremely high ceiling, and we gotta keep working."

Here are three other takeaways from the win:

Sahvir Wheeler leaves exhibition with injury, returns for second half

With less than six minutes to play in the first half, Kentucky senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler limped off the court after Adou Thiero stole a pass and threw down a fast-break dunk at the other end of the court.

Video of the play shows Wheeler putting his hands on his knees, as if in pain, as Thiero intercepted the ball in mid-air.

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According to The Athletic's Kyle Tucker, who is in Nassau for the exhibition series, Wheeler left the gym with a trainer not long after checking out of the game. The point guard emerged from the locker room for the start of the second half wearing what appeared to be a knee brace, according to a video Tucker posted to Twitter.

Wheeler did not start the second half but eventually checked back into the game. The senior finished with six points on 2-for-6 shooting, four assists, one rebound and two turnovers in 21 minutes.

A good sign: Wheeler came up with one of his two steals of the game during the second half and finished the play with an and-1 transition layup at the other end of the court.

Kentucky newcomers Reeves, Thiero and Wallace shine vs. Dominican Republic

Reeves, an Illinois State transfer, certainly made an impact on his first game as a Wildcat. Ditto Thiero and fellow freshman Cason Wallace.

Reeves started the first half hot from 3-point range and led Kentucky with nine points at halftime. The 6-5 guard finished the game with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from deep, one rebound, one assist and a steal in 19 minutes.

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Thiero made his presence felt on the defensive end immediately after checking into the game during the first half with a steal and transition bucket — the sequence that ended with Wheeler limping off the court. The 6-6 freshman from Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, went on to tally seven points, three blocks and two steals in 10 minutes.

Antigua said Thiero has been "in and out" of practices leading up to the Bahamas trip due to growing pains, but the Wildcats' staff wasn't surprised by his Game 1 performance.

"He's a tough kid. He's physical; he's smart," Antigua said. "He just did what he was supposed to do. He was in the right positions (and) made plays. ... He's a kid that's earned the right to be at Kentucky."

Wallace, a former McDonald's All-American, tied Collins as Kentucky’s second-leading scorer with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting. The 6-4 guard also pulled down five boards, dished out three assists and blocked a shot and finished plus-40 in 25 minutes.

C.J. Fredrick's Kentucky debut is a quiet one offensively

Ahead of his first game in a Kentucky uniform since a season-ending hamstring injury last fall, C.J. Fredrick was the first Wildcat shooting before Wednesday's exhibition, according to a video posted to Twitter by WLEX-18's Keith Farmer in Nassau.

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The Iowa transfer had a quiet night, however, and struggled to get shots up when he entered the game off the bench.

Fredrick did not score a point and attempted just one shot, a 3-pointer, in 12 minutes. The redshirt senior did contribute four assists, a defensive rebound and a steal and earned high praise from Calipari during a film session Thursday.

Fredrick's scoreless outing was one of the few underwhelming aspects of Kentucky’s victory, but perhaps that was to be expected of someone whose health will be closely monitored as he returns to game speed.

Considering that Tucker reported Fredrick made 15 consecutive 3-pointers and was the Wildcats' top-performing guard during a five-minute shooting drill at Tuesday's practice, there’s a good chance the former Covington Catholic High School star will find his groove in the games to come.

Kentucky's exhibition tour continues at 7 p.m. Thursday, when the Wildcats take on Mexico's Tec De Monterrey. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Reach recruiting and trending sports reporter Brooks Holton at bholton@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky basketball wins by 52 points to start Bahamas exhibition tour