As graduate transfers have become more prevalent in college basketball, John Calipari has joined in on the sweepstakes for experienced talent. Because of this, what follows is a look at how the graduate transfers Cal has gotten (and one he hopefully will get) have fared before becoming Wildcats.
Julius Mays was the first grad transfer Coach Cal recruited to Kentucky. The fact that Mays’ name is rarely brought up is no slight against him, but rather the team he played on, which posted a 21-12 record and lost in the first round of the NIT.
The 6-foot-2 Marion, Indiana product began his career at NC State and averaged 4.66 points per game over his first two seasons. He elected to transfer to Wright State where he emerged as a talented shooter and scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game and slashing 42.8/42.4/83.2.
While Horizon League competition is certainly not on par with that of the ACC and SEC, Mays was a stabilizer in his lone season with the Wildcats, averaging 9.3 points per game and posting career highs in assists, rebounds, and three-pointers. His career may not have had an ideal ending, but at least he left UK fans with a clutch senior night performance to lift the Cats over No. 11 Florida.
After testing the NBA draft waters following his senior season at Stanford, Reid Travis transferred to Kentucky to further his basketball development and provide the Wildcats with veteran leadership. As an undersized center, the coaching staff worked with him to develop his shooting ability and change his body to be more agile.
Travis left Stanford as a first-team All-Pac-12 member after averaging 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. His numbers dipped at Kentucky, due in large part to playing alongside an All-American in P.J. Washington plus several other offensive weapons, but he never complained about it. Travis did show flashes of perimeter shooting ability that he didn’t have at Stanford and improved his free throw shooting 67.5% to 73.2%.
Travis’ lone season as a Wildcat ended when UK was upset by Auburn in the Elite Eight, but in the aftermath of this crushing loss in his final collegiate game, Travis spoke of his time as one of the best experiences of his life.
After seeing what Calipari did with Reid Travis, Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina has chosen to follow in his footsteps just one year later. Sestina cited wanting to play for a serious championship contender while also being part of the rotation as his reasoning for coming to UK.
Sestina was named to the All-Patriot League second team last season after a breakout senior campaign. From his junior to senior years he increased his scoring average from 6.5 to 15.8 points per game and his rebounding average from 3.9 to 8.5 boards per game. He has also increased his free throw and three-point shooting percentages every year since his sophomore season.
It remains to be seen how Sestina will fare against more difficult competition at Kentucky, but a 53.6/36.4/77.8 career shooting slash is certainly promising. Hopefully he will provide a big body and stretch shooting ability to complement his fellow frontcourt members.
Blackshear has yet to declare where he will attend school next season. Report out today is that he is scheduled to visit Kentucky on Tuesday. As seen by his production in the ACC, the Wildcats want Blackshear for good reason.
Blackshear played three seasons with Virginia Tech and increased his scoring, rebounding and assist output each year. He finished his senior year averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds with a 50.8/33.3/73.6 slash. For comparison, P.J. Washington finished last season with marks of 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds shooting 52.2/42.3/66.3.
Blackshear and Nate Sestina could provide a strong 1-2 punch as stretch bigs if they were to split time at one of the frontcourt spots.
With Calipari known for recruiting one-and-done players, graduate transfers Mays and Travis were solid role players and helpful in anchoring youthful rosters. Hopefully, Sestina will do the same. Although it is unclear whether Blackshear will join the Wildcats, the opportunity of getting Washington-level production in two consecutive years makes him a welcome addition.