Maybe it was the fact that he was playing in front of so many friends and family members, or maybe he’s just that talented. Regardless, Aaron Bradshaw showed on Saturday that he’s ready to make an impact for this Kentucky men’s basketball team. 17 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks in 29 minutes during just his second-ever college game proved that.
“Somebody told me to sub him and I’m like ‘Are you out of your mind? Are you watching this?'” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said postgame. “But he needed to come out some and also, you know who rebounded better with him in the game? (Tre Mitchell) Because Tre’s now not having to beat down — he let’s Aaron do that.”
Bradshaw’s presence was felt throughout Kentucky’s 81-66 win over Penn, which was held at the Wells Fargo Center up in Philadelphia. Bradshaw played his high school ball at Camden in New Jersey, just across the river from Philly. He already had an incentive to play at a high level, but that was elevated in a homecoming game.
“It was a surreal feeling to be back home in front of my family, especially with my brothers, playing with this team,” Bradshaw said. “I was just having fun out there.”
Saturday’s performance was a considerable step up from Bradshaw’s college debut one week ago, when he finished with just three points and two rebounds in 13 minutes. He’s quickly getting into a flow, and it’s raising Kentucky’s floor. He was a game-high +17 against Penn.
“To have someone that protects the rim and is that skilled, I think it takes their program to another level,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said. “His presence was a big difference.”
Bradshaw isn’t starting for Kentucky, but that could very well change in the near future. His influence on both ends of the floor changes how Calipari can coach his team. There’s now a “break-in-case-of-emergency” option on defense.
Kentucky’s guards getting beat on that end isn’t going to result in an easy layup anymore — opposing teams have to go through a seven-footer now. On offense, Bradshaw cleans up the close misses and can stretch the floor enough (he went 1-2 from deep against Penn) to keep the spacing open. Some will point to Kentucky “only” taking 20 three-pointers against Penn, but eight of them went in and the Wildcats won the rebounding battle by 10.
There is a clear give-and-take with Bradshaw in the game compared to the small-ball lineups Calipari had been rolling out, but so far, there appears to be more give than take.