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Cason Wallace brings tough football mindset to basketball floor at Kentucky

Jack Pilgrim08/12/22

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Article written by:On3 imageJack Pilgrim
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Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

Kentucky freshman guard Cason Wallace signed with the Wildcats as a top-five prospect in the class of 2022. Known as a fierce competitor with a relentless will to win, his dog mentality separated him from the nation’s top perimeter players. Other players may be more skilled or shoot and score better, but no one has the grit and tenacity the 6-foot-4 native of Richardson, TX brings to the table.

Wherever Cason Wallace goes, winning follows.

“I play on both ends of the court. I like to play defense, but I’m also going to get buckets. I’m a team player, and I’m just going to have fun. … If they need me to get a bucket, I’ll get a bucket. If they need me to get somebody open and make the right reads, I’ll do that. Whatever we need to do to win, I’m gonna do it.”

He didn’t develop that physical, hard-nosed, win-at-all-costs mentality on the basketball floor, though. It all started on the gridiron, where Wallace thrived as a multi-position athlete who played on both sides of the football.

“I was a quarterback, receiver, safety,” Wallace told KSR on Thursday. “I liked to run, catch the ball, Moss people [laughs]. Defense, I like filling the gap, hitting people, you know. I’m pretty physical.”

And he didn’t just play. Wallace was good — very good, in fact.

Photo Credit: Mike Wallace

As a quarterback, he was a big, strong, physical dual-threat presence who could make the throws, but also take off and run if necessary.

“At quarterback, I can read the field,” he told KSR. “I’m good at reading other players, so I know how to lead people with the pass — outside shoulder, back shoulder, all of that.”

“Man, he would’ve been like Cam Newton (if he kept playing),” his father, Mike Wallace, added. “Big quarterback, chill in the pocket, not always wanting to run, will go through his progressions and throw it. Cason was pretty good man.”

His team’s pass protection struggled, forcing Wallace to scramble and take unnecessary hits. That sparked a move to wide receiver, a position he got the hang of rather quickly.

“I’m an elite receiver because I’m pretty fast and I can catch it really well. Plus I can jump high,” he told KSR. “Throw a deep route, I’m catching it and coming down with it.”

“Cason could catch, man,” his father added. “He could catch.”

All the while, Wallace started at free safety and was known for delivering helmet-rattling hits from time to time.

“I believe they would end up switching him positions (if he continued with football),” Mike Wallace told KSR. “If not receiver, probably free safety. He loved defense, now. Cason loved to hit, loved to hit. He played free safety and quarterback in the same game. Your quarterback was playing free safety [laughs].”

Where could he have taken his talents had he stuck with football? His father believes he could’ve easily been a scholarship player at a big-name school.

“Blue blood is basketball, what’s top-notch in football? Power Five? He would be a Power Five player in football,” he said.

As for Cason, he felt the sky was the limit. Not only could he have made it in college, he believes he could’ve played in the NFL.

“I think I could’ve gone pro,” he told KSR. “You know, that’s my opinion. I just feel like I would’ve put in the work to get there, just like I am with basketball.”

Instead, the current Kentucky guard chose the hardwood, a path that currently has him projected as a lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Not a bad outcome — and it comes without the bumps and bruises that come with wearing football pads. “I feel like you have longevity in basketball, so that’s why I picked basketball,” he added.

His coaches and teammates are grateful he made the switch.

“I’m huge on Cason,” senior guard CJ Fredrick told KSR. “I’ve been telling everybody, I love the way he plays for a young guy. To come in and be as poised as he is, it’s crazy. I remember when I came in as a freshman, I redshirted because — I’ll be honest, it was a lot for me, coming in as a freshman. He’s had no problem with it. I’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought as a freshman.”

“I’m not surprised (he’s looked good in the Bahamas), I’ve been seeing him do it for many years,” sophomore forward Daimion Collins added. “He’s an all-around point guard who can play defense really well, and he can score the basketball.”

For Kentucky head coach John Calipari, he fell in love with Wallace as a player on the recruiting trail. And it happened, ironically enough, in a game against none other than former Wildcat Shaedon Sharpe on the Nike EYBL circuit.

It was a head-to-head matchup where Wallace fought to prove he was the better player.

“The game I watched where I fell in love with him, where I said, ‘OK, we’ve got to have this kid,’ he went against Shaedon and went right at him,” Calipari told KSR. “No fear and really, physically and in every other way, was like, ‘I’m going to prove I’m better.’ I thought it would be a great thing, him coming here and now my man — they’re going nose-to-nose with this stuff. This stuff is going to elevate.”

The Sharpe situation is what it is. Now, though, Kentucky has a player who actually turned out to be better than anticipated, Calipari says.

“Shaedon was the seventh pick in the draft and all of that is behind us, I’m happy for the kid,” Calipari told KSR. “But what happens is, I’ve got a player who is even better than I thought. I called his AAU coach, and I said, ‘Jeff (Webster of ProSkills), he’s better than I thought.’ ‘I told you! I told you! He’s a warrior, man, this kid.'”

Calipari says his best players don’t have a roller coaster ride of emotions day by day, they’re even-keeled. Never phased.

Wallace fits that category.

“He’s doing everything,” Calipari said. “The best thing is, and the best players I’ve had, they’ve been (even) with their emotions. You never see this kid — he’s like that. Whether he makes shots, misses shots. Whether you passed him up, he’s defending, he’s not going to change.”

It all started on the gridiron. Now, he’s bringing it on the court in a Kentucky basketball uniform.

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2022-09-27