The 7-foot-1 freshman has been a hit with fans — both young and old — at the program’s summer camps and all smiles around his teammates.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, Bradshaw bristled at some of the things that have been said about him on social media and elsewhere over the past few months.
He stayed mostly silent through a spring, summer and autumn filled with rumors about his status as a Kentucky basketball player, but he clearly heard them all.
He heard that he was going to jump ship from UK’s star-studded recruiting class and join Bronny James and other top prospects at Southern Cal this season. He heard that the foot injury he suffered during the McDonald’s All-American Game in late March — the one still keeping him on the sidelines — isn’t as serious as it’s been advertised to be. And then there’s the one where his agency, Klutch Sports Group — the same outfit that represented UK freshman Chris Livingston last season — has advised that he sit out the 2023-24 season to preserve his NBA Draft stock.
Bradshaw was, as usual, ebullient and all smiles through his first few minutes of questions at UK’s media day event Wednesday, but when the subject turned to those offseason rumors that still persist, he took a more serious tone.
The 18-year-old acknowledged that he’d seen it all on social media over the past few months.
“It was just a lot of like … a lot of BS,” Bradshaw said. “I can’t say the word. But it’s a lot of BS on there.”
And then he started tapping the table as he spoke, putting an emphasis on his words.
“I came here for a reason. You feel me?” he continued. “I came here to win a national championship. And continue on my journey. ... So people just saying that, and people trying to paint a picture on me. I mean, it’s gonna happen. You see LeBron (James). You see Kobe (Bryant). All these other NBA players — they get talked about every day. So I can’t really complain, because I signed up for it. So I gotta take it day by day.”
Perhaps it does come with the territory, but it’s clearly personal to Bradshaw, who showed up in Lexington in late June along with the rest of his fellow freshmen, and — by all accounts from those around the program — has exuded positive energy during his time here.
And he remains bothered that the rumors persist.
Bradshaw said he’s had to restrain himself from popping off on social media at certain points over the past few months. Since he was injured during UK’s prep for the GLOBL JAM exhibition tournament and did not make that trip to Canada in July, the program’s media day event Wednesday also marked his first meeting with reporters since arriving on campus.
“The rumors, yes. I hate rumors. You feel me?” Bradshaw said. “I’d rather be told to my face. Ask me. I like to be asked questions. I don’t like that whole ‘putting something on my name’ that I have no say-so in.”
Bradshaw and Onyenso injuries
The five-star prospect — and possible NBA lottery pick in next year’s draft — didn’t give a clear timetable on his return to the court. He’s no longer wearing a protective boot on his foot after undergoing surgery in June, but neither he nor UK coach John Calipari have said with any certainty just when to expect him back and playing basketball.
Bradshaw did say he’s been doing some shooting drills with the team. Calipari said Monday during his address to the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club that Bradshaw has started jumping as part of his individual workouts, a sign that his recovery is progressing.
The Kentucky coach also noted at that event that Ugonna Onyenso — the Wildcats’ other injured 7-footer — has not yet started jumping, and he’s said recently that Onyenso’s return is probably further away than Bradshaw’s due to the timing of the injuries. Onyenso injured his foot during a scrimmage at the GLOBL JAM in July and had surgery later that month.
Bradshaw said he’s trying to make the most of his recovery time by watching Kentucky’s practices, working on becoming a more vocal teammate and looking for ways to make an impact when he can get back on the court.
With Bradshaw and Onyenso out — and the Cats’ third 7-footer, Zvonimir Ivisic, still getting acclimated to American basketball and awaiting his NCAA eligibility — Kentucky is likely to play transfer power forward Tre Mitchell at the “5” spot in the early going.
Mitchell — a 6-9 veteran with perimeter skills — showed his versatility while playing the position at the GLOBL JAM. It led to a faster style of basketball, and watching those games — along with the team’s recent practices — excites Bradshaw, who also excels away from the basket.
“I can’t wait for that,” he said. “Like Coach Cal says, we all play together, and we all play to win. And we all play for each other. That’s our main focus now — just trying to play for each other, push the ball up, get fast. Do everything we have to do in order to be like the old teams.”
Kentucky’s season starts Nov. 6 against New Mexico State. With each passing day, it seems less likely that Bradshaw will be on the court for that one. The first marquee matchup of the campaign — No. 1-ranked Kansas on Nov. 14 — is also looking iffy.
The lack of a concrete timetable for his return — along with Calipari’s ambiguity on the subject — surely has some fans worried that they’ll never see Bradshaw play in a Kentucky uniform, even though it sure looks and sounds like he’s rounding back into game shape.
He said Wednesday that he doesn’t like the rumors and wants to be asked the hard questions, face to face. And when one of those questions that everyone’s been wondering about came up, he looked straight ahead and left no doubt in his voice.
When Aaron Bradshaw is healthy enough to play for Kentucky, will he actually play for Kentucky?
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Of course.”
Georgetown College at No. 16 Kentucky
What: First of two preseason exhibition games for UK
When: 7 p.m
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1