Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard lights up NBA Draft Combine

CHICAGO — A few weeks ago, Reed Sheppard was wrestling with a “family decision” far from the stay-or-go variety for college freshmen at the end of the season.

Circumstances and emotions were high. Kentucky head coach John Calipari exited stage left for Arkansas. Replacement Mark Pope just so happened to be a family friend, former Kentucky basketball player and his dad’s college basketball teammate — and roommate — with the Wildcats.

But feedback from the NBA pointed Sheppard in one direction — the draft.

A projected lottery pick with a sweet stroke and the size to score on multiple levels, Sheppard met with Pope and had regular discussions with his parents. Jeff Sheppard played point guard at Kentucky from 1993-98 and was the Most Outstanding Player in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He left Lexington a two-time national champion. His mother, Stacey (Reed), also played basketball at Kentucky.

Pope, in the midst of a mass roster exodus, says he pushed Reed Sheppard to the draft with both hands because of his place in the pre-draft rankings as a lottery pick and potential top-5 selection.

Reed Sheppard brought a few gifts from his parents with him to the 2024 NBA Draft Combine. Like his dad’s jumping ability.

The younger Sheppard proved what most already knew on Monday with a lights-out shooting performance. Then he surprised more than a few when it came time for vertical jump testing.

“I don’t know if I was really expecting it. They must’ve messed something up,” Sheppard said with a smile. “It was pretty cool seeing the 42 (inches) pop up there.”

Sheppard’s 42-inch vertical, matched by three others on Monday night, was the best recorded by all prospects at the combine. Bronny James (Southern California) posted a notable 40.5-inch vert and Sheppard’s SEC rival, Dalton Knecht (Tennessee), hit 39 inches.

Sheppard, who shot 52 percent from 3-point range in his only season at Kentucky, measured 6-foot-3 and created as much buzz as any player at the combine. ESPN projects him as a top-three pick, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put him in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick to the Hawks.

Not a bad platform for a 19-year-old ranked as the fifth-best incoming recruit at Kentucky this time one year ago.

“We haven’t really started to talking to teams yet, but I’m excited. I think that will be a really good experience,” Sheppard said.

Kentucky’s last top-five draft pick was De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, fifth overall, 2017).

Sheppard’s freshman stats are superior to a one-and-done guard and the 13th pick in the 2015 draft, Devin Booker (Suns).

But Sheppard didn’t want to talk comparisons, or where he could be drafted on Tuesday. Just over five weeks from the 2024 NBA Draft, the line to greet him on draft night appears to be forming starting at the top.

“It’s been an unbelievable week,” Sheppard said. “You watch it growing up and it’s like, ‘Dang, I want to do that. I want to be there.’ Being able to be here is really cool. This week, so far, it’s been unbelievable.”