Reed Sheppard is about as methodical as they come in his approach to the game of basketball.
Every move appears to have a purpose–every dribble, every look-ahead pass, every pull-up jumper, has already been processed by the time it comes off of the 17-year-olds fingertips. Even his expressions are methodical, as if he’s constantly holding a winning hand that no one knows about.
Defenses struggle to speed Sheppard up or slow him down. He dictates the pace from the moment he steps on the hardwood to the moment he hits the pine. There’s plenty of reasons why he’s being recruited by some of the country’s premier programs and he continues to boost his stock with every summer circuit game.
The Reed Sheppard phenomenon isn’t going anywhere for at least another two years, and potentially beyond that depending on which college the rising high school junior ultimately selects. The product of North Laurel isn’t a consensus five-star recruit, but he’s one of the best to come out of the Bluegrass State in years with family connections that make him a natural fit at an in-state program such as the University of Kentucky.
Whatever Reed Sheppard does over the next two years, every basketball fan in the state will know right away. Most of those fans are hoping he eventually follows his father’s famous footsteps and plays in front of the Rupp Arena crowd.
Up until Thursday, the only contact between Sheppard and the Kentucky Men’s Basketball coaching staff was a text message here and a text message there. It was beginning to feel as if the ‘Cats had little or no interest in making a run for the 6-foot-3 combo guard, but then head coach John Calipari brought the cavalry down to Birmingham, Alabama, for the Adidas 3SSB (3 Stripes Select Basketball) event, which started on Thursday and runs through Sunday. Not only was Coach Cal in perfect view of Sheppard’s first game, but so were three of his assistants: Orlando Antigua, Ron “Chin” Coleman, and Jai Lucas.
If there were any questions beforehand about Kentucky’s interest in Sheppard, that all but disappeared in Alabama. During Sheppard’s first game of the day on Friday, Antigua stuck around to get another glimpse of the rising star, when he exploded for 23 first-half points that included a stretch of 14 points in just three minutes.
That spectacular outing put away any doubt about Sheppard’s potential–he’s the real deal. If Kentucky doesn’t get seriously involved after his early performance in Alabama, they probably never will. The good news is it appears as if they’re in the early stages of doing so.
Sheppard has that “it” factor, or whatever you’d like to call it. It comes back to his patient and deliberate approach to the game. He plays like anything but a 17-year-old with two years of high school left. The game comes easy to Sheppard and he makes it look even easier.
Where he thrives, first and foremost, is hunting for his shot. Sheppard doesn’t rush his offense when in the halfcourt and is perfectly content working the ball around to find the best opportunity. He puts himself in proper position and then trusts his teammates will find him. Sheppard splits his time playing on and off the ball, although he’s clearly more effective when he’s controlling the offense.
He’s no pure point guard, but he has point guard instincts, especially when it comes to pushing the ball ahead in transition. There is never a player on the floor more aware of what’s happening on the other end of the court more than Sheppard. Multiple times per game, he creates easy layup opportunities for his teammates simply by keeping his head as high as possible. Occasionally Sheppard will overthrow a pass or two, but the trade-off of searching for those easy buckets is still greater than the risk of turning the ball over.
Passing the ball might be his most undervalued trait, too. Sheppard sees the action before his teammates and the defenders in front of him can. It’s what leads to those easy look-ahead passes, but it also helps him in a halfcourt setting when he’s penetrating and needs to kick the ball out. He either has an excellent rapport with all of his teammates, or he just knows when and where they’re going to be. Either way, he understands the tiny nuances of player positioning, which can be rare for kids his age.
With that covered, we can’t continue any further without mentioning his shot-making.
Scoring from all three levels of the floor is not an issue for Sheppard. He utilizes the mid-range pull-up jumper with impressive maturity, is crafty enough to finish around the rim with either hand against contact, and possesses NBA range from beyond the arc. Some might argue the mid-range jumper can be a bad analytical shot, to which Sheppard would quickly disagree and nail a 12-footer right over the nearest defender, hitting nothing but net. While it might be a bad shot for most, it’s a great shot for Sheppard.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a smoother-looking jump shot on a soon-to-be high school junior.
If there is one area that Sheppard needs to improve upon, it’s his on-ball defense.
After watching multiple games of his in-person now, it feels safe to say that Sheppard needs work to develop his foot speed on that end of the floor. He’s actually quite impactful as a help defender when he’s doubling the ball and has a knack for chasing down would-be dunkers for highlight blocks, which comes back to his methodical and calculated approach to the game, but those attributes don’t help him as much in a one-on-one situation. Sheppard can get burned quite easily and might try to make up for it by outsmarting the ball handler and trying to poke it away from behind. If that poke misses and Sheppard loses his man, the offense creates easy advantages heading toward the basket.
Given the fact that Sheppard is roughly 6-foot-3 with a college-ready build, he has the frame to turn into a good on-ball defender, but he just doesn’t seem to have the quickness under him right now to do it routinely. That can always change, but he’s best suited as an elite shot creator and offensive playmaker.
There’s still a long way to go in Sheppard’s recruitment, but he has the talent to play at Kentucky by the time it’s all said and done.