As hard as it is to believe, we have reached the halfway point of Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas. Man, where does the time go?
(Cue the slow, sad violin music).
In all seriousness though, now two games into this stretch, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say – My goodness does this team look good. Seriously, as good as I thought this team might be, they have been way, WAY better. Whenever a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old college kids can absolutely run train on a group of grown men like the Wildcats did on Thursday night, it makes you wonder what they’ll do against college teams with players their own age.
Still, with the trip now half done, it felt like a good time to reflect and share some thoughts on what we’ve seen so far.
So with that, what have I liked through two games in the Bahamas? Here are a few things.
So yeah, I’m going to start with Herro. Of course I am going to start with Herro – like every recap here at KSR the last few days has – you know, since he has been the breakout star of this event so far. On Thursday, not only did Herro drop 22 points, but did so on a highly efficient 7 of 10 shooting from the floor.
So yeah, this guy has been good. REALLY good. And the coolest part is that he isn’t just a shooter, like some hyped him up to be. Instead, what I have really enjoyed watching is him display an all-around game. This is a guy who can score at all three levels, and also has a really good feel for the flow of the game. When he catches the ball, he instinctually knows whether to pull up for a three, take his defender off the dribble, or pass the ball down low to the post.
Beyond just the box score however, what I’ve loved about Herro is his fearlessness and poise. What’s been so incredible to see is that throughout this event it feels like just about everyone on Kentucky has been hesitant or nervous at times, even veterans like Reid Travis, P.J. Washington and Quade Green. Not Herro though. From the first minute of the first game he has come out and said “I don’t care how big this stage is, I’m ready.”
Finally before we move on, one other thought on Herro: The last time I saw this kid play was at the Nike Hoops Summit back in April. For those of you who may remember, Herro played by far the fewest minutes in that game for Team USA, even though several of the team’s other wing players (like Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson and Louis King) were out with injury.
Following the game I asked the coach of Team USA whether Herro was injured or if there was a reason he played so little, and the coach’s response was (and I’m not exaggerating), “It wasn’t about everyone getting equal time. We were trying to win the game.”
I wrote about it here, but in case you forgot, the U.S. did not win that game. Call me crazy, but I feel like having Herro on the floor might have helped.
Sophomore Nick Richards is real, and he is fantastic:
Shout out to my buddy Drew Franklin, who at some point decided he was all in on the “Sophomore Nick Richards” hype. I haven’t talked to Drew, so I don’t know why exactly he decided that this was the mountain he was going to climb, but credit to him. I thought he was crazy.
Well boy was I wrong, as Richards has been the single biggest revelation at this event. The simple truth is that while I could have seen a scenario where Tyler Herro blew up in the Bahamas (although I would have never predicted it) Nick Richards developing into a low-post force overnight is something I could have never imagined. At all. Truthfully, my biggest fear with Richards was that he became another statistic in Lexington, a guy that got lost in the shuffle at Kentucky, never found his role and elected to either transfer like Sacha Killeya-Jones or take his chances as a pro like Wenyen Gabriel.
Instead, there he was in the Bahamas on night one dropping a cool 23 points and looking like a terror on the offensive and defensive ends. What I most like about Richards’ performances so far is that – as a lot of others have pointed out – he is playing with more confidence than he has in the past. Last year, it seemed like the second that something went wrong for Richards, he would drop his head, mope and wouldn’t be heard from the rest of the game. Now, to his credit, he isn’t letting one bad play turn into two.
There is something else with Richards that is worth considering here: We need to remember that not all players develop at the same rate. Richards might have a birth certificate that says he’s 20-years-old, but he is still relatively new to the sport. He isn’t a kid who has been playing AAU ball since he was 12-years-old, but literally never played a competitive game until he was 16.
Credit to the Kentucky staff for sticking with him and to Richards for sticking with himself. Dan Dakich said it the other night and I agree: If he keeps playing like this, Richards will end up a lottery pick.
Even despite his age, Reid Travis is still a work in progress
So a few months ago when Reid Travis elected to leave Stanford and P.J. Washington was still deciding whether or not to come back to college, I made what I thought was a pretty innocent comment, which ended up causing an uproar in the college basketball media. I said that with all due respect to Travis, if I had to choose between having P.J. Washington back for a second year, or Reid Travis as a grad transfer, I would take Washington.
Interesting development. As Ive said in multiple interviews the last few weeks, Id rather have a sophomore PJ Washington than Reid Travis, no matter how productive he's been. He is however one heck of a fallback option for UK depending on what happens today https://t.co/5aN0gP7z2m
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) May 30, 2018
Now as it turns out, Kentucky got both. But it doesn’t change the fact that most of the media thought I was absolutely insane when I said that. Seriously, look at the mentions in the tweet below. And of course, as usual, I was right.
Look, this is no knock on Reid Travis, or what he did at Stanford. You don’t make back-to-back All Pac-12 teams if you’re not talented. At the same time, I also think we’re seeing that there’s a reason Travis is still in college and not playing in the NBA: He’s not there yet. He’s still a bulky, power low post player, whose game isn’t very refined once he steps more than five feet from the basket. Understand that’s not a knock on him – he’s REALLY good from five feet in. But that’s also the reason he’s still playing college basketball.
Still, that’s also what makes Travis so interesting to me: Even though he’s a fifth-year senior, I really do believe that Travis’ best basketball won’t be played until February or March of this year. I have faith that the Kentucky staff is going to continue to drill him to bring out a more complete game, be it ball-handling, three-point shooting etc.
It’s weird to say that a player so old won’t peak for a few more months. But that’s where I think we are with Travis.
A couple quick thoughts on the point guards
Since these are more short thoughts, I’ll bullet-point all the point guards together.
Quade Green: I loved his bounce back game on Thursday. It was well-reported that after a 1 for 11 performance the first night (in which John Calipari actually came down from the stands to yell at him to shoot more), Green went to the gym late at night, and it showed off in a big way Thursday. He went 4-4 from the field and looked like a completely different player.
As good as Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are, this team will need Green. And he’ll be up for the challenge.
Immanuel Quickley: To be blunt, I didn’t realize Quickley was as, well, quick, off the dribble as he’s shown in two games.
He and Ashton Hagans are going to be deadly when they are on the floor together.
Speaking of which…
Ashton Hagans: While he’s made some typical freshman mistakes (mostly playing too fast) on the offensive end of the court, my goodness is this guy a terror defensively. The great thing about having Hagans on a roster like this, is because he won’t be asked to play 35 minutes a night (like he might have if he had gone to another school) he can put in 100 percent on the defensive end, make two or three plays over a five-minute stretch, then come out when he’s winded. In those couple minutes on the court though he will absolutely create chaos for the other team.
This is a guy SEC point guards are NOT going to want to see this season.
— Darrell Bird (@DarrellBird) August 10, 2018
Finally, seeing half the team shoot attend an informal shootaround at 11:30 p.m. should be a scary sight for the rest of college basketball
Look, I know at times that we can all get a bit hyperbolic, and make something big out of nothing. But when I see half the team showing up at midnight to get more shots up, after blowing out a group of grown men, I can’t help but think: “Wow, this team could be special.”
It’s only August and it’s way too early to make any definitive statements. But when you have a team THIS talented, that also appears ready to work THIS hard, that’s a scary sight for the rest of college basketball.
And it should be a good sign of things to come.
Not just now, but straight March and (maybe) early April.