The No. 12-ranked Kentucky Wildcats made a strong statement against No. 8 Miami Hurricanes winning at home in a commanding fashion 95-73 on Tuesday. Leading the way for Kentucky was 6-foot-3 freshman Reed Sheppard, who had a game-high 21 points (5-for-9 from 3-point range), five rebounds, four assists and three steals off the bench.
Sheppard has been off to a hot start for head coach John Calipari's squad, shooting an incredible 55.6% from 3-point range in 24 minutes on the court and turning the ball over only nine times in seven games.
"He plays the right way, is a hell of a defender and is the glue guy early on for Kentucky," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "Sheppard has the traits that a lot of NBA teams look for in a versatile perimeter player and has been the biggest surprise out of the Kentucky freshman."
The Wildcats had the No. 1 recruiting class coming in this season with three five-star recruits and two four-stars led by the top players in the high school senior class: Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw. Rounding out the class ranking-wise was Sheppard, who was the No. 43 player in the country. Both of Sheppard's parents, Jeff and Stacey, played at Kentucky and as soon as Calipari and his staff offered Sheppard, he knew where he was going.
"Growing up in Kentucky and having my dad and mom both play there, it was a dream come true when coach Cal offered me," Sheppard told Yahoo Sports after his commitment to Kentucky. "It was a surreal moment and something I'll never forget."
Sheppard didn't enter the season slotted in any early mock drafts. Although he played in the McDonald's All-American Game, his productivity went relatively unnoticed with others making flashy plays and putting up big numbers. Sheppard played only 13 minutes, but scored four points and added four rebounds, three assists and two steals, giving a glimpse of his overall game and how unselfish he is playing alongside other top players.
"I'm perfectly fine playing on or off the ball," Sheppard said. "Whatever it takes to win, I'm good with it. Whether that's going out and shooting 3s, or going out and making assists, or getting some water for guys in timeouts. No matter what, I'm good. As long as the team is winning."
In the win over Miami, Sheppard got two steals early on in the half, knocked down deep, open 3-pointers confidently and disrupted the defense, deflecting passes while shooting the gap and defending off the switch. He's proving to be a player who can rise to the occasion and play meaningful minutes in big games.
In a 2024 NBA Draft class that is wide open, Sheppard's playing style can be slotted into a team's secondary unit right away. He's not a swing-for-the-fences prospect, but it's becoming clear early on that he's a reliable guard who has a high IQ and can play alongside other big-time players and make an impact, helping his draft stock and making him a potential first-round pick.