What Reed Sheppard's commitment means for Kentucky
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What Reed Sheppard's commitment means for Kentucky

Article written by:Jack PilgrimJack Pilgrim
Reed Sheppard
Michael Huang/KSR

Reed Sheppard is a Kentucky Wildcat, announcing his commitment to John Calipari and the UK basketball program early Saturday morning. He chose the Wildcats over offers from Arizona State, Clemson, Indiana, Iowa, Louisville, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia, among others.

What does the in-state star’s commitment mean for Kentucky? What’s next for the program as it continues its recruiting efforts in the class of 2023?

A legacy recruit for Kentucky

During his time as a Wildcat, Jeff Sheppard scored a total of 1,091 points and recorded 320 rebounds, 288 assists, 125 steals and 24 blocks from 1993-98. He would win two NCAA championships (1996, 1998), including being named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, NCAA All-Region and All-SEC during the 1997-98 season.

Stacey Reed Sheppard, a Laurel County standout, finished her time at Kentucky ranked No. 2 in career steals (309), No. 4 in assists per game (3.87), No. 6 in career 3-pointers (175), No. 6 in season steals (97), No. 8 in games started (110), No. 8 in individual season scoring average (18.2 PPG), and No. 13 on UK’s all-time scoring list (1,482). She led the Wildcats in scoring twice and led the team in assists and steals all four years.

The two combined for 2,573 total points in Lexington. Then they got married and had a kid together who just might be better than either.

The in-state star finds “home”

When the in-person recruiting period opened up this past summer, Sheppard admitted that players from around state “dream” about playing at the University of Kentucky, and he was no exception. Regardless of his inner fandom and status as a legacy recruit, though, he wanted to find a school that “feels like home,” even if that place wasn’t UK.

“Somewhere that feels like family, feels like home,” he told KSR in June. “Somewhere that feels like home and where my teammates around me feel like family and friends.”

And then Kentucky’s contact and interest ramped up. Then the offer came. Then the in-person visits came, as John Calipari visited Sheppard at his school on Sept. 17, followed by back-to-back unofficial visits for the standout guard on Sept. 24 and Oct. 15

Coach Cal and the UK staff quickly made Sheppard feel at home in Lexington. The 6-foot-3 guard returned the favor by committing two years prior to his first game as a Wildcat.

Sheppard is worthy of the praise

Reed Sheppard has been a household name in Kentucky since he was in middle school, with whispers growing louder and louder by the year that he just might be the next big thing. Not just as an in-state prospect or even within the region, but nationally.

His numbers quickly backed that hype up as a sophomore at North Laurel, finishing the year as the state’s leading scorer, averaging 30.1 points on 55.8% shooting, 40.9% from three and 88.0% from the line to go with 7.1 rebounds per contest.

But what about his play against elite competition? How would he look against the nation’s best, regardless of hometown or legacy status? He shook off those concerns this past summer after being named Underclassman Player of the Year and Second Team All-Circuit, averaging 17.5 points (45.0% FG), 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per contest for his Midwest Basketball Club on the adidas 3SSB circuit.

It was a setting and string of performances that forced John Calipari’s hand to extend a scholarship offer on the spot. That moment came on July 9, making him just the fourth player in the class of 2023 to pick up an offer.

You don’t earn a scholarship from Kentucky that early unless you’re good enough.

An explosive scoring threat at all three levels

You see the numbers, but what is it that makes Sheppard such an impressive recruit? What does he bring to the table as a player on the floor.

The 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard is an explosive scoring guard with a knack for getting buckets at all three levels. He’s not afraid to rise up in transition and throw down a poster, but he’s also incredibly skilled in the mid-range and from deep. He’s comfortable playing both on- and off-ball, thriving as a facilitator and as a catch-and-shoot specialist, depending on what the team needs from him in specific situations.

Defensively, he’s physical, instinctual and aggressive. He overplays his hand at times, but it’s an area he’s shown solid growth in over the course of the last year.

As the best player in the state, he’s had a target on his back in terms of taking on double-teams and being the focal point of scouting reports every time he takes the floor. As a result, he gets forced into taking difficult shots and making tough passes, but still makes the most of his possessions in terms of efficiency — he did shoot 55.8% from the field and 40.9% from three as a sophomore, after all. Surrounded by other elite talent, as he showed on the adidas 3SSB circuit, he’s even better.

Kentucky’s 2023 recruiting class starts with a bang

Sheppard’s productive summer resulted in a massive bump in the ratings across the board. Seen as a fringe top-100 prospect going into the year, the London, KY native quickly rose to the top 25 and fringe five-star status.

He’s rated as the No. 21 overall prospect and No. 5 combo guard in the latest 2023 On3 Player Rankings, with 247Sports listing him at No. 17 overall, followed by Rivals at No. 21 overall and ESPN at No. 37 overall. By the time his senior season rolls around, it will be a shock if Sheppard isn’t a consensus five-star prospect.

And what a way to get the 2023 recruiting class started? Kentucky is already in strong shape with the likes of DJ Wagner, Robert Dillingham, Justin Edwards, Mookie Cook and JJ Taylor, among others. It’s going to be yet another elite class from top to bottom, one with a handful of top-ten standouts. Those commitments are going to come — some rather quickly.

But Kentucky got the fan-favorite locked up first. Sheppard will be able to play every game as a junior and senior in high school with UK fans packing the stands at every stop. He’ll be able to recruit on behalf of his hometown program for two years before arriving on campus. And on Calipari’s end, he gets a high-level prospect locked up just as early.

It was the perfect match from the start, an opportunity Sheppard couldn’t wait to take advantage of.

“I’m a little boy from Kentucky,” Sheppard said. “I’ve grown up going to all kind of Kentucky games, SEC Tournaments, I’ve always been around it. Having this opportunity is something that’s very hard to pass up. It’s a dream for a lot of little boys in Kentucky to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.”

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2021-12-01