By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s already risen to a top 10 recruit nationally and is even being projected as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft by nbadraft.net, but Kahlil Whitney’s mother says the University of Kentucky commit won’t let that change the way he plays.
“He is all about business. No negativity, always positive, on a mission to reach his dream goal to make it to the NBA,” said Chanel Tillmon. “I just want him surrounded by positivity, by people who can help get him where he wants to be and he knew Kentucky was that place for him.”
The 6-6 Whitney plays for Roselle Catholic in New Jersey and verbally committed to Kentucky earlier this month.
Whitney can electrify a gym with his athleticism and motor, but his mom says to remember he’s just a “regular kid” like anyone his age. When he’s back in Chicago with her — he moved to New Jersey to be with his dad before his sophomore year of high school — he spends time with his family or maybe goes to a movie.
“He’s a family-oriented kid,” Chanel Tillmon said. “He’s really a great kid. Never been into any trouble other than maybe talking too much in school. It’s very easy to get into the wrong things, especially growing up on the west side of Chicago. But he plays drums at the family church here. He can even play a little keyboard. We have a small church and everybody just about plays some musical instrument, so he chose drums and took a few lessons.
“But more than anything, he just loves basketball. You will usually find him at church or in the gym. I tried my best to raise him right and I’m really proud of how he has turned out.”
She said he played football briefly but “really didn’t like the contact” and chose to stick with basketball.
“He was always really athletic, really active,” she said. “He could never sit down and be still.”
She admits she’s not even sure why her son was so infatuated with Kentucky long before he had a scholarship offer from John Calipari. Unlike her son, she’s not consumed with basketball.
“He has done a lot of basketball, so he also does his research about things,” Tillmon said. “I don’t really follow basketball unless I know somebody playing. There was just alway something about Kentucky and their players and the history there. He was always just waiting for that one offer and when he got it, he took it.”
She was on his official visit with him and went home impressed with the relationships she saw between Calipari, his staff and his players.
“They treated the kids as it they were their own,” she said. “They (the players) were all respectful young men. It made me feel at home. Everyone felt genuine. I loved everything they have there for the boys. Everything they could ever need is right there. The facilities are all great. Everything has been remodeled. Gatorade station, food 24 hours a day, academic advisors. Anything they want or need, it’s right there.”
Kahlil Whitney wants to be a one-and-done player at UK and get to the NBA. However, Tillmon said Calipari talked about academics as well as athletics. That suited Tillmon, who wasn’t even sure what the nbadraft.net mock draft was when someone initially sent her information about the 2020 draft.
“Kahlil pays attention to everything, but not me. It just motivates him to work harder to make his dreams come true when he sees stuff like that,” Tillmon said. “Cal always says you have to want to be here and have to work hard on and off the court to get here. Academics are No. 1 for me. Even if you have talent and don’t get your grades, you won’t get too far. You have got to have a backup plan no matter what.”
Whitney thinks her son will enjoy the passionate Kentucky fan base. He’s used to being in the spotlight — and so is his mother.
“He has gotten a lot of attention because of basketball,” Tillmon said. “He’s even made me feel famous at times. I know how good the Kentucky fans are but I don’t think it will be overwhelming for him. He’s very humble. He’s not arrogant or cocky. He’s laid back and gets along with everybody. I think he’s actually really looking forward to being around the Kentucky fans because he knows they love basketball as much as he does.”