Antonio Reeves joins the Kentucky basketball 1,000-point club. ‘He’s made himself a pro.’

With 8:26 left on the clock Wednesday night, Antonio Reeves stepped to the line and knocked down a free throw.

And with that shot, Reeves became the 62nd player to join Kentucky basketball’s 1,000-point club.

Reeves’ milestone night came on a disappointing one for the Wildcats, who fell 75-74 to LSU on Tyrell Ward’s buzzer-beater. Reeves still has five more games — plus however long UK plays in the postseason — to add to his personal tally, which now stands at 1,001 total points after scoring a team-high 25 against the Tigers.

The fifth-year college player — now in his second season with Kentucky — is the second Wildcat in as many years to hit the 1,000-point mark, joining former teammate Oscar Tshiebwe, who surpassed that number last season.

But Tshiebwe was the first UK player to do it in more than a decade. Before him, the most recent Wildcat to join the club was Doron Lamb, who scored his 1,000th point in his final college appearance: the 2012 national title game. Lamb’s classmate, Terrence Jones, also made it to the 1,000-point mark that season.

“I haven’t had many 1,000-point scorers, because I haven’t had many guys stay two or three years,” John Calipari said this week.

Reeves, Tshiebwe, Lamb and Jones are the only 1,000-point Kentucky scorers who played their entire UK careers under Calipari, who’s now in his 15th season as UK’s head coach. Darius Miller scored 1,000 points while playing his final three seasons under Calipari, and Patrick Patterson surpassed 1,000 points in his second season under Billy Gillispie before finishing his career with 1,564 points. Patterson played his third and final year of college for Calipari and is the most recent Wildcat to hit the 1,500-point mark.

Reeves won’t get that many, but his evolution over the past few months has been remarkable.

Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (12) drives against LSU’s Jalen Reed (13) during Wednesday’s game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Silas Walker/
Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (12) drives against LSU’s Jalen Reed (13) during Wednesday’s game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Silas Walker/

The 23-year-old played his first three seasons of college ball at Illinois State — where he scored a total of 1,195 points — before transferring to Kentucky. He was the team’s second-leading scorer (14.4 points per game) behind Tshiebwe last season, but much of his game was predicated on the 3-point shot, and he admittedly took a while to get comfortable against a higher level of competition.

Reeves’ biggest game of that campaign — and still his career high in scoring — was a 37-point performance in an upset at Arkansas on the final day of the regular season. Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman was asked about Reeves before last month’s game in Fayetteville, and he talked up what a tall task stopping him would be.

“Oh boy. It’s going to be harder to defend him this year because they have more shooters around,” Musselman said, before naming off the many different ways they might go about slowing him down.

Reeves ended up with 24 points in a 63-57 win for the Wildcats.

He helped the Cats win that game in the same way he’s steered them to victory so many times this season: by employing a much more versatile offensive approach than he had a year ago.

“He’s a three-level scorer,” Calipari said after Reeves dropped 22 points from all over the court in a 70-59 upset at No. 13 Auburn over the weekend. “He’s got the layup, he’s got that floater mid-game, and he’s got the 3. The biggest thing he’s doing is he’s defending and he’s coming up with rebounds. How many did he have today? I mean, come on, five rebounds and he’s a knockdown shooter and makes free throws? He’s made himself a pro is what he’s done.”

That’s been another new wrinkle to Reeves’ all-around game. It’s not just about offense. He’s stepped up his defensive approach considerably from a season ago and has doubled his output on the boards, going from 2.1 rebounds per game in his first year with the Cats to 4.3 in year two.

“Me being the size I am, I need to be down there,” Reeves said after grabbing a team-high seven rebounds in a win over Ole Miss last week. “I feel like that’s really important to my game. Just executing on the defensive end and trying to get the rebound. Try to not (give up) second-chance points, because that’s what some teams had on us before. And we need to stop that.”

That Reeves recognized that fact and took it upon himself to spearhead a change is a sign of the type of leader he’s become for a Kentucky roster filled with freshmen this season. UK’s younger players often talk about the “big brother” role that Reeves plays on this team. He’s one of only two scholarship upperclassmen, along with fellow fifth-year player Tre Mitchell, a first-year Wildcat and another team leader.

When Reeves was given a special 2,000-point ball — combining his achievements at Illinois State and Kentucky — during a ceremony before one of UK’s recent home games, his young teammates mobbed him on the Rupp Arena court.

Following Kentucky’s win over Missouri last month — on a night that freshman Rob Dillingham scored 23 points — Tigers coach Dennis Gates was talking about each UK player and what they meant to a team that looked like it could become dominant by March. He saved a special superlative for Reeves.

“Really, Antonio Reeves is the heart and soul of this team,” Gates said. “And he’s well connected with each player, and when you look at his emotional intelligence — although he had (only) nine field goal attempts — he was probably cheering louder for Rob than anybody. And when you have that connectivity, you’re able to play a style that opens the court up a little bit.”

Reeves’ offensive versatility this season isn’t exactly new.

“To be honest, my junior year at Illinois State, I really was an off-the-dribble player,” he said. “And I really could create for myself, and get in the lane and things like that. So I’m really drawing back into that. I’m playing freely.”

Reeves said that was a product of being more comfortable now that he’s acclimated to the higher level of play at Kentucky, as well as playing this season alongside so many talented shooters and passers, a dynamic that opens up the floor so much more for a player like him.

As a result, his scoring is up — Reeves is now averaging 19.7 points per game — but he’s also been much more efficient, shooting 49.5% from the floor and 44.4% from 3-point range. Last season, he was 41.6% from the field and 39.8% from deep. No player in the Calipari era has averaged more than 20.0 points per game. Reeves has a real chance to top that this season.

“Just playing within the offense, to be honest,” he said. “Now, I’m more comfortable out there with the experience that I have — knowing when to go and not to go. Just feeling more confident this year. And just being me.”

And even though he’s rebounding more and his defensive intensity has been turned up a notch or two, Reeves will always be a scorer at heart.

Kentucky began that game at Arkansas this season by going 1-for-16 from the field. After the game, that stat was relayed to Reeves, who said he had no idea things were quite that bad.

“I did not know that,” he said on his 24-point night. “I just knew, ‘Keep shooting, and they’re eventually going to fall.’ That’s all I was thinking about.”

SEC college basketball final: LSU 75, Kentucky 74

College basketball’s regular season is almost over. Where will Kentucky be sent in March?

Heading into the homestretch, can Kentucky basketball keep playing ‘bully ball’?

These Kentucky Wildcats say they play better basketball away from Rupp Arena. Why’s that?

What did Kentucky’s win at Auburn mean for the national rankings? Here’s the new poll.

Karl-Anthony Towns drops 50 points to lead Kentucky basketball party in NBA All-Star Game