It’s not often that you don’t get a two-time All-SEC guard and a Bob Cousy Award finalist again for a big season, especially in Kentucky. It is with travel wheelerwho will return for his second year in Lexington and fourth college season overall having finished third in the nation and first in the SEC at 6.9 per game to rack up 10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 2021-22.
That’s the good – and there was plenty of it. But that doesn’t mean it was a perfect debut campaign for Wheeler in Kentucky. The 5-foot-9 goalkeeper still averaged 3.0 turns per contest while shooting just 44.1% from the field and 30.8% from three. He had ten games out of four games or more and started the year 4/23 of three (17.4%) before finishing on a high note (12/29, 41.4% 3PT his last 16 games).
at its best, wheeler He was an electrician, arguably the best in college basketball. He was an accomplished scorer around the edge and could create for his teammates, push the tempo and be a snag at the defensive end of the ground.
At his worst, he was erratic as a ball coach and passer with ineffective shooting and poor shooting selection. The highs were unquestionably high, just as the bottoms were indisputably low.
Confidence grows in the second year
Wheeler knows that, too. He is using both as his game blueprint for the 2022-23 season, looking to maximize the good while minimizing the bad.
He’s confident that will be the case in his second year as a Wildcat.
“My mother (my confidence) comes from a lot of hard work and knowing what didn’t work last year and what did work,” Wheeler told KSR in an exclusive interview in the Bahamas. “What can I improve? What can I sharpen? And what can I keep working on and keep doing that has been successful in the past year?”
So what worked for Wheeler in his debut season in Lexington? What allowed him to become one of the finalists for the Bob Cousy Award for the best goalkeeper in the country?
“Playing quickly. It worked quickly,” he said. “Being able to let go of it sometimes and kind of run out, it worked. Just trust myself, be confident, and build relationships with co-workers – because they want to see you succeed. It all worked out.”
As for what he did not doThat was evident for the Houston, Texas native as well. When he tried to do too much and force the case, he struggled. Injuries played a role, too.
“Unless it doesn’t work, I think sometimes it got a little bit out of hand,” Wheeler told KSR. “I think defensively I took a step back. I think most of that was just because of the injury. Now that I’m feeling healthy, I feel stronger, faster and more explosive, I feel like I’m back to where I was at the start of the year.”
Exciting week in heaven
That growth was evident during the four-game Kentucky Showcase Tour of the Bahamas, as Wheeler quietly put on an exceptional week, averaging 14.5 points per game on 61.1% of shooting and 93.3% of the streak. He also had a 24-6 assist-to-turn ratio, good for 6.1 assists and 1.5 turns per game, along with securing 1.75 steals per competition.
His 3-point shot didn’t drop (0-9 overall), but Wheeler only missed five shots inside the arc in four games, which is a good 81.5% of two. After getting rid of Rust in the first game (six points, 2-6 FG, four assists, two), first base was no less exciting in games 2-4.
The best version of Wheeler was shown on full screen.
“These few games, I feel like I’ve played pretty good floor games as far as I’m in control, playing fast, using my speed and blast,” he told KSR. “I know I have a crazy blast where I can go from zero to 100 while everyone is still 50 and a thousand miles behind me. To be able to use that and sort of juggle the defense, be in cruise control and find hot guys.”
This last part is important – “Find men who were attractive”. As a team, Kentucky fired 38.1% of three attempts in 26.3 attempts per game, including five scholarship players who shot at least 40% from depths. Teammates opened up and the playmaker rewarded them with clear passes for a clean look. In turn, Wheeler (and the team in general) bowlers were rewarded with well-made shots. Everyone wins – by an average margin of 50 points, at that time.
pass the test
There is a clear sense of comfort and familiarity for Wheeler, “I’ve been there, I’ve done it” in his senior campaign. The veteran leader knows the expectations of coaches, knows what it takes to win and how to train to get there. He saw this team at their best last season, and also saw them at their worst – they’ve been down to earth for both.
He’s got the test answers, and now he just has to put pen to paper when the season starts.
“Just spend a year under your belt playing Coach Cal, you play under Coach O (Antigua) and Coach Chin (Coleman) and Bru (Flint),” Wheeler told KSR. “Just knowing the system, knowing what it takes to win and knowing what will make us lose after playing those matches last year. I will come back with a vengeance.”
Oscar Chiboy’s return to Kentucky has been the biggest talking point of the holiday season, and well worth it. He was the first unanimous National player to return to school since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbro in 2008. Then in the Bahamas, it was performances by stars Jacob Tobin and Antonio Reeves, and the direct influence of freshmen Casson Wallace, Chris Livingston and Adou Thiero, jaw-dip for Daimion Collins and the return of CJ Fredrick.
He wants those around Wheeler to make sure his play doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Don’t forget to guard the highlights
“He’s been so underrated. It’s really a great lane and he’s all about winning,” assistant coach KT Turner said. He will find you and his teammates a lot of open shots.
“He keeps up with the game and notices what’s going on. He knows who’s hot but he also knows who hasn’t been shot in a while.”
The great playmaker is also a much-needed veteran of the locker room, doing his part to ensure his younger teammates are not left out.
“It’s great to have Sahvir,” Casson Wallace told KSR. “If I have a problem with anything, he is always there to help me. I can ask him how he reads defense or how he will play in defense. He gives me a good answer every time.”
Earn respect in the locker room
He’s a player his teammates can’t help but respect. The intensity and toughness he brings to both ends of the earth not only inspires those around him to do the same, but also wears down Kentucky’s opponents in the process.
“How he brings it every day,” young striker Lance Weir told KSR. “Even in practice, how does he catch the ball. When you have a goalkeeper who can catch the ball off the end – lock the defender, rotate it three times, four times before it goes through the half of the field. We see him do that, the least we can do is play some Defense.
“He has to lift 94 feet and manage the attack. He takes a lot from him and we respect him for his job. We all have the utmost respect for Sahvir. We have to do our part because he can’t do it himself.”
To put it simply, Wheeler is a wild cat tuner.
“Travel will pick you up at 94 feet,” Ware added. “By the time you get back across the Half Court, you’ll say, ‘Wow, I’m really tired. “That helps a lot. He’s setting the tone for us. If he goes out and gets a few steals — like he did against North Carolina, remember? He goes out and gets three steals in a row. It just frustrates you.”
A collective effort on both sides
His colleagues appreciate the strength it provides to defense and the demoralizing effect it can have. Wheeler hopes that the solo production will lead to unparalleled success as a team, specifically at that end of the floor.
It takes everyone to be great.
“We’ll see (what our defensive potential is). I just know we have the chance to be a really good defensive team,” Wheeler told KSR. “Just by our height, athletic performance and our versatility from one to five. I know I’m not the tallest guy, but I can probably guard one to four, maybe some five kids, depending on who he is and their team. But anyone else can guard one to Five, and they can switch and we have the speed and the jitter. So if you beat us, we can spin vertically, we can challenge anyone. If they make it, we can close.
“The sky is the limit and beyond. It’s up to us to keep fiddling with the details of what it takes to be a great defensive team.”
Returning for another season in Lexington, Wheeler is back with something to prove.