Under head coach John Calipari, Kentucky has often had a lengthy shot-blocking presence around the rim defensively. You can go down a list of names — Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel, Karl Anthony-Towns, etc. In fact, the top four players with the most blocked shots in a season in school history are those four former Calipari-coached players in order.
Who is that player on this year’s squad? From the preseason media availabilities so far, the answer seems to be incoming freshman Isaiah Jackson. The 6-foot-10, 205-pound big-man has been really impressive in practice, according to his coaches and teammates, as he has that presence similar to former UK shot-blockers.
“With his length and leaping ability, any time he can protect the rim and get blocks he can really start our offense,” assistant coach Joel Justus said. “Get deflections or force shots and get long rebounds will be our best offense in transition. He runs the court so well, too. Rim protection, rebounding and running the court are the things he does best right now and he’s working to get everything else better, too.”
Taller people take longer to find themselves and find a voice on the court,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. “He is working on his body to get healthy and stronger. When young guys feel they are getting better and more comfortable, they can get better.”
Jackson came in ranked between the 20th-30th best prospect by nearly every recruiting service in the 2020 class, but his presence on the floor in preseason practices is drawing a lot of attention. Because of his early eye-opening impact, he is getting hype similar to former UK guards Tyler Herro and Devin Booker in that they over-shot expectations.
“He is a special, special shot-blocker. He is going to surprise some people,” assistant coach Jai Lucas said.
Like Lucas, sophomore Dontaie Allen did not mince words when talking about Jackson’s impact on this year’s team.
“He is nice. He is going to be one to watch this season. Write it down,” he said.
While he might begin the season behind Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, it seems Jackson will have a huge impact when he enters the game as an inside presence. The freshman coming along as a potentially underrated star also makes the Cats’ depth even more crucial for this coming season, especially considering the current conditions under the Coronavirus pandemic.