LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Keion Brooks Jr. passed a major test during Kentucky’s 73-66 win over Arkansas Saturday in Fayetteville.
Brooks scored 10 points — the most since he tallied 10 in Kentucky’s 67-53 win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 14 at Rupp Arena. Brooks also added seven rebounds against the Razorbacks, marking the second straight game he has collected seven boards.
Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne stuck with Brooks down the stretch against the Razorbacks and it paid off. Brooks made four crucial free throws in the closing minutes to help the Wildcats hold off Arkansas down the stretch.
“The whole time, I’m telling Keion, ‘you have to grow up today,’” Payne said. “I’m not taking you out, I need to know that you can get through this. I need to know. You’re taking a test. How are you going to do in this test? He passed. I’m so proud of him because he’s had a hard road — the pressure that he’s been under to perform is a lot and its coming fast. He stood up and came through for us. (It was a) big day for him today.”
Payne is one of Brooks’ biggest supporters and the freshman forward has taken a liking to Payne’s coaching, especially in practice.
“He’s in my ear a lot, just about trying to be better at all times, playing hard at all times and just being a better teammate,” he said. “Us being younger, we don’t always know what it takes to win a college basketball game. So he’s making sure he’s in my ear letting me know that whatever I think it takes to win, I gotta amplify that even more because it’s different now.”
Brooks scored 11 points in Kentucky’s first four Southeastern Conference games but focused more on the mental aspect of his development as opposed to his athletic skills.
“College is a lot different than high school,” he said. “The mental focus and the mental preparation to go out there and stay laser locked into focus the whole time can be a little difficult at times. And also just continuing to try to get stronger, play lower to the ground and, as I said before, just staying mentally tough throughout the game.”
Although Kentucky has won four of its first five conference games, Brooks said the Wildcats haven’t fully arrived and need to keep improving.
“We just have a team that’s young, but we still need to figure it out,” he said. “Us being young and us having a lot of freshmen can’t be an excuse anymore. We’re starting to get into conference play. We gotta really start to figure things out and Coach has been doing a great job of making sure he’s demanding a lot from us so that we’ll go out and be better.”
Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.