LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Jai Lucas wasn’t surprised when Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler emerged as one of the top players in the Southeastern Conference.
“It would be hard for me to imagine a guard in the country as fast as him with the ball in his hands,” Lucas said.
Wheeler was named first-team All-SEC by the media earlier this week and the Georgia transfer embraces the challenge going into his first season with the Wildcats. Wheeler averaged 14 points and a league-leading 7.4 assists last season at Georgia, but knows he must prove himself playing for a different program.
“It is a great feeling knowing that your work has been recognized from the previous years,” Wheeler said. “There is a whole season that is still to be played. We have guys on our team that are fully capable of being in that position at the end of this year.”
Lucas, in his second season as an assistant coach, has known Wheeler for most of his life. Wheeler attended Lucas' father John Lucas' basketball camps in the Houston area at a young age and spent most of his time in the gymnasium.
“I’ve known him since he was in sixth grade.” Lucas said. “He grew up in the gym with me. I was with the older guys and he was in the younger group in the gym together. I’ve always kind of known how good he is and getting around him and seeing him in person watching him grow up.”
Wheeler added that Lucas played a big role in his decision to transfer to Kentucky and knows Lucas is just a phone call away if he needs a helping hand.
“Coach Jai is my guy,” he said. “He’s the first person I call in the mornings to shoot and he’s the last person I call at night when I need something, whether it be 12 or 1 o’clock on the morning, he’s there and he’s my guy. … we have a special connection for sure and he’s made (it) way easier coming here.”
Although Wheeler came in with the credentials of a proven collegiate guard, Lucas has watched Wheeler improve since he arrived on campus last summer.
“Something with transfers, you get better and I think that’s one thing for him, he got better when he was in college (at Georgia),” Lucas said. “He has taken another step and I think with him being on a bigger platform, I think the nation will start to really see how good he is too.”
Lucas has enjoyed watching Wheeler grow up and become a marquee player in the SEC and is looking forward to seeing that trend continue this season with the Wildcats.
“That’s one of the great things about coaching, especially with somebody that you know,” Lucas said. “Our relationship is a little bit different because I have known him for so long. That’s one of the joys of coaching is when you see hard work pay off and seeing somebody get the benefit from it and so that’s been really good.”
As for his new surroundings, Wheeler admitted the transition hasn’t been a big adjustment and added the previous two seasons at Georgia proved to be beneficial since transferring last spring.
“There’s so much more love and support here,” Wheeler said. “You constantly get checked (and) the transition was smooth.”
Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at keithtaylor21