“He’s a lion, just like I am” | Tremont Waters faces familiar foes in freshman-led Kentucky

Photo by Gus Stark

By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor

LSU fans are already well aware of what Tremont Waters is capable of. His 17.1 points per game and 6.4 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from 3 stand as evidence of the freshman’s abilities, as do his litany of highlight passes and long-range bombs.

The SEC gets its first taste on Wednesday, and Waters won’t be the only sensational freshman on the floor – though he may be the best.

Kentucky features five freshmen starters, four of whom were five-stars and another, Shai Gilegous-Alexander, who was a high-four. All were ranked ahead of Waters in the 247Composite Rankings for the Class of 2017, but none have matched his numbers or efficiency. His 122.0 offensive rating ranks fourth nationally among all freshmen and is better than anyone in Kentucky’s rotation.

It’s the biggest stage Waters will have seen all season, and he’s shone on the biggest offered so far: a game-winning steal and assist against Michigan, a game-winning block against Houston, and 18 points and 8 assists in a 71-61 win at Memphis. He may be at his best in the biggest moments, but his approach, he says, doesn’t change.

“It’s basketball,” Waters said Tuesday. “Nothing’s going to change the way I look at basketball, no matter who’s on the court with me, besides my teammates. You just have to look at it like another opponent and go play.

“It’s just a different feeling. They are Kentucky. But our prep doesn’t change because they are Kentucky.”

Waters played against most of Kentucky’s freshmen on the offseason prep shoe circuits, but his rivalry is perhaps strongest with point guard Quade Green. The two have been dueling since 7th grade, with Green finishing ranked fifth among 2017 point guards and Waters ranking 10th.

“That’s the main person we’ve got to stop,” Green told reporters Tuesday of Waters. “It’s always a battle with him. He never backs down. He’s a lion, just like I am.”

Waters’ scouting report on Green focused on his ability to knock down shots. Green, who averages 10.8 points per game, is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from deep.

“He can shoot the ball really well off the dribble,” Waters said. “He’s a great catch-and-shoot shooter. He’s really decisive. It’s nothing new. We’ve played against each other, so we know how each other play. I’ve improved, and I know he’s improved.”

Of Kentucky’s other five-star freshmen, Waters said: “They’re all freaks. They’re athletic. They can attack the rim. They can dunk and score any way you want to.”

Playing against length is nothing new for Waters, who laughed when a reporter suggested he “might be” 5-foot-11. But Kentucky’s length is exceptional – they rank fourth nationally in average height (78.9 inches).

“I can’t make the same reads or passes I would make against North Florida or Stephen F. Austin,” Waters said. “These guys are a lot longer and more athletic. I’m going to have to be more decisive, read them, and make the right reads.”

John Calipari recruited and offered Waters to Kentucky, before Waters picked Georgetown, first, then, finally, LSU. He knows how dangerous Waters can be against his team.

“Dangerous,” Calipari said of Waters. “Great with the ball. Finds people. Has a green light to shoot to the NBA line so he’ll go back there and shoot NBA threes. Gets to the rim and when he gets to the rim, he’ll find you. He’s tough. He’s good. A good foul shooter. He’s a handful.”

The deep ball could be a weapon Waters leans on. He’s knocking down nearly 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, many of which come off the bounce. Of his 31 makes from 3, 23 have been unassisted. LSU’s next highest tally of unassisted 3s is two by Skylar Mays, and it’s the fourth-highest percentage of such shots in the country.

“If you shoot ’em, you better make ’em,” says head coach Will Wade. “Tremont’s as good a contested shooter as there is in the country. He makes almost 40 percent of his contested shots. He’s made those.”

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Cody Worsham

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