New UK assistant praises returning Cats

Published 4:00 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

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New Kentucky assistant basketball coach John Welch has yet to see a lot of sophomores Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso since joining John Calipari’s staff, but the former NBA assistant coach has liked what he has seen.

“I find a lot of players in the NBA. It’s from their rookie to their sophomore season that they really improve. It’s hard to get them the first year and I think it’s the same thing with freshmen. But if they stay that second year, you have the whole spring and summer. That’s where they make that big jump,” Welch said on WLEX-TV’s Big Blue Tonight.

“And I think from what they’ve done this offseason with the coaches and the strength coach, you’re going to see a big improvement from those two players.”

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Thiero averaged 2.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 9.7 minutes in 20 games last season. He had seven points, five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes in a win at Arkansas in his best game.

Onyenso barely played once Southeastern Conference play started and averaged 2.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 6.9 minutes per game in 16 games.

Onyenso could be UK’s starting center even though he’s still only 18 years old.

“I told him, I’ve worked with NBA players and there’s not many at 18 that are as talented as he is. He’s going to improve a lot,” Welch said on BBN Tonight.

Both Thiero and Onyenso have added strength due to offseason workouts.

“(Onyenso) has gotten so much stronger in the weight room, him and Adou have gained weight, gotten stronger, and that’s carried over to the court. The strength coach, Brady (Welsh), has done a great job with them since last season,” Welch said.The new UK assistant coach told Tom Leach on The Leach Report that Onyenso’s overall skill level surprised him.

“He has good instincts when it comes to blocking shots. He knows a big part of his responsibility is to protect the rim in pick and roll. That will be a key to our defense,” Welch said. “He shoots the ball better than I expected.

“He also has a quickness advantage on most guys he will match up with. He’s been very good in our rim attack. I think he will score in a variety of ways.”

Leach asked him if Onyenso’s shooting range could extend to 15 feet.

“Even out to 3-point (range),” Welch said. “He can shoot. I was pleasantly surprised.”