Now that he’s back, UK guard Reeves ready to be a leader

Published 3:24 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

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Kentucky’s freshmen class knew they needed a leader this season and didn’t stop convincing Antonio Reeves to return until he made it official this week.

“They called me and texted me every day, ‘Definitely, we want you back, we want you to be the older brother on the team,'” Reeves said Friday. “This is a family here. They definitely wanted me back, wanted me to be the older guy. That’s how much they really wanted me here. That’s the key, just somebody that wants you, somebody that wants you to be able to play.”

Rob Dillingham was among the newcomers keeping tabs on Reeves daily.

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“We definitely was hitting him every day,” Dillingham said. “Everyone wanted to hit him because, we were a young team, so we needed someone as a veteran, we definitely need (Antonio) back.”

Reeves was the Co-Southeastern Conference Sixth-Man of the Year last year and is looking forward to returning for a final season in Lexington. He is one of the oldest players on the roster and “definitely embraces” being one of the veterans on the team.

“I (will) definitely get better at it,” he said. “The last couple of years, I’ve been pretty quiet, not the leader on the team. But this year, I definitely got to use my voice because we’ve got a lot of younger guys that are out there.”

During the off-season, Reeves declared for the NBA Draft and didn’t make his future intentions known until late last month. In his first season at Kentucky, Reeves developed a knack for shooting from long range as the Wildcats endured a roller-coaster ride, including an early exit from the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

“Everybody drifted off a little bit, but in some games, we were a collective team,” he recalled.

Since making his return official, Reeves has been impressed with the team’s seven freshmen.

“These guys live in the gym,” he said. “They’re all about winning. I can tell you that right now. I can see that every practice we’re in.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari also has noticed a difference in Reeves on the court.

“Right now, Antonio doesn’t look like the same guy. You know why? There’s no anxiety,” Calipari said. “He knows what this is. He walks in, now he talks more. Now, he’s not, ‘What do I? Where do I?’ He knows and he’s just playing. That’s a second year here.”