Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler not OK if name is mispronounced: ‘It definitely bothers me’

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Sahvir Wheeler is sensitive about his given name being pronounced correctly. So, that made Kentucky’s Media Day on Wednesday a challenge.

“It’s been mispronounced 50 times,” he said late in the 45-minute session with a smile that suggested tolerance and bewilderment.

Wheeler said that reporters had addressed him as “Severe” or “Sha-veer” or “Sa-vee-air.”

“It gets pretty bad because my name isn’t hard (to pronounce),” he said.

When he played for Georgia the past two seasons, the Bulldogs tried to help by providing a phonetic spelling in game notes available to reporters. It’s “Sah-veer.” For that first syllable, Georgia suggested “think of a doctor asking you to open wide and say ‘aaaahhhh.’”

Wheeler acknowledged being touchy about his name being pronounced correctly.

“It definitely bothers me,” he said of mispronunciations. “My name is my name. That’s the only thing you have in the world. You’re going to come in with your name and leave with your name. I want that to be respected.”

When asked if UK Coach John Calipari pronounces the name correctly, Wheeler said, “When he talks fast, he might say it wrong. But when he talks to me, he takes his time and says it right.”

The UK’s player’s name is a compromise.

His father, Teddy Wheeler, is a fan of the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. He wanted to name the baby Salvador. His wife, Jacqueline, balked.

“My wife wasn’t too excited or fired up about that,” the father said with a chuckle.

Teddy Wheeler said he next considered the name Javier. “Javier was the coolest kid in middle school,” he said. “There’s always a kid in middle school that’s cooler than anybody else. He was that kid.”

To combine the two names resulted in Sah-vier. This time, Teddy had second thoughts.

“That didn’t sound as masculine or as royal as I wanted it to sound,” he said. “So, we kind of made it a two-syllable name instead of three. Instead of Sahvier, just Sahvir.”

The father supports his son’s sensitivity about the name being pronounced correctly.

“Because that’s where identity starts,” he said. “And I think identity starts with your name.

“I’m cool with him correcting people. Because you have to advocate for yourself in terms of labels and stuff like that.”

Teddy Wheeler cited the unique name of former president Barack Obama. “People learned to pronounce it correctly,” he said.

Teddy and Jacqueline Wheeler also gave distinctive names to their other children.

There’s daughter Sage. “I thought there’s no more element you want for your daughter than to have that wisdom to be smart and make good not just intellectual decisions but emotional,” Teddy said.

Another daughter’s name is Montana. She was born on June 16. Teddy’s favorite quarterback is Joe Montana, who wore No. 16.

Sage inspired the name for younger brother Lincoln. She was fixated on a penny when he was born.

Then there’s younger daughters Lola (“just a name I always loved,” Teddy said) and Liv (inspired by a family aspiration for “living in a Godly way,” Teddy said).

As for Teddy, he is named for his father, Theodore Wheeler, who was known as Teddy.

“He didn’t want to name me something and call me something else,” Teddy said. “That’s the name on my birth certificate.”

Coach Biden?

The SEC has labeled its preseason series of Zoom teleconferences with coaches as “Build Up 2 Basketball.”

This prompted Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl to note a similarity to Joe Biden labeling his administration’s infrastructure plan as “Build Back Better.”

Pearl said he wished the SEC label “doesn’t have anything to do with Build Back Better because I hope our Build Up 2 Basketball is better than Build Back Better.

Not just football

During an appearance on the “SEC This Morning” show, a host prefaced a question for Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman by acknowledging that coaches want to avoid creating “bulletin board material” for opponents.

With that qualifier, the host asked Musselman which game this coming season he highly anticipated.

“Oh man, we definitely don’t want to give any bulletin board (material) to anybody,” Musselman said before adding, “but I think it’s a known fact (that) any time you play Kentucky, the fan base gets excited. The players get excited.”

Kentucky may be one of several SEC opponents that increase pulse rates, said Musselman, who then mentioned Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State as potentially standing out.

“It’s interesting that everybody thinks about SEC football,” Musselman said. “But, certainly in the basketball community and basketball world, the respect for SEC basketball right now is at as high a level as any conference in college basketball.”

7 to 9 bids?

While appearing on Paul Finebaum’s show, Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis echoed Eric Musselman’s assessment of SEC basketball as top rate this coming season.

“It’s not just ‘coach speak,’ but I think people can safely say that the SEC may be the very best league in basketball in the country,” Davis said. “I think there’s a great, great chance for us to get seven to nine teams in (the NCAA Tournament).”

Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl spoke of “nine or 10 teams with legitimately good chances to make the tournament.”

The most SEC teams to make an NCAA Tournament? The eight in 2018: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas.

Wave of momentum?

Could Arkansas advancing to the 2021 South Region finals (where the Hogs lost to eventual national champion Baylor 81-72) create a wave of momentum to ride into the 2021-22 season?

“I think, certainly, the momentum from last year has created a fan base that’s really, really excited about the upcoming college basketball season,” Eric Musselman said.

Arkansas has announced it has sold all of the 14,533 available season tickets. That marks the first time since 2002-03 that the school sold all season tickets in the preseason.

‘A good day’

Alabama Coach Nate Oats pointed out that his team will play Gonzaga on Dec. 4 in Seattle.

“Same day as the SEC football championship game . . . ,” he said before adding, “I’m sure Alabama football will be playing that day. So, it’ll be a good day for Alabama athletics.”

Tide fans should be able to watch both games. Kickoff for the SEC football championship game is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST. The game will be televised by CBS.

The Alabama-Gonzaga basketball game has a tip-off time of 8 p.m. EST. The game will be televised by ESPN2.


By way of introductory small talk, Paul Finebaum and Kermit Davis talked about a golf ball being thrown at Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffen during the Rebels’ victory at Tennessee last Saturday.

“The way he hits it off the tee, he needs to keep that ball,” Davis teasingly said of Kiffin. “Because he’s going to need it in the spring.”

‘The hunter’

Alabama won both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships last year. The SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum asked guard Jaden Shackelford about opponents being especially eager to beat the Tide this coming season.

“It’s just all about us keeping the mindset we had last year and being the hunter,” he said. “We know we have a bullseye on our back after the year we had last year. . . . We’re still coming in with a chip on our shoulder this year.”

Familiar names

The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook for 2021-22 includes familiar names in its All-American teams for the upcoming season.

First team All-Americans include former UK player Johnny Juzang, who now plays for UCLA, and Kofi Cockburn, the 7-footer who considered a transfer to Kentucky before deciding to return to Illinois.

The only SEC player among Blue Ribbon’s 20 All-Americans is fourth-teamer Scotty Pippen Jr. of Vanderbilt.

Happy birthday

To former UK football coach Bill Curry. He turned 79 on Thursday. . . . To Stacey Poole. He turns 30 on Sunday (today). . . . To Dan Issel. He turns 73 on Monday. . . . To Transylvania Coach Brian Lane. He turns 54 on Monday. . . . To Hall of Famer Dave Cowens. He turns 73 on Monday. . . . To former Indiana coach Bob Knight. He turns 81 on Monday. . . . To former Georgia coach Hugh Durham. He turns 84 on Tuesday.

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