T.J.’s Takes feature the five key thoughts from Basketball Recruiting Analyst T.J. Walker. The first thought will always be instant analysis on the win or loss and the last will be looking ahead to the next game.
1. The Win: Wow. I expected Kentucky to win but I didn’t expect it to go down like that. The Cats showcased sloppy play throughout the game but I did not anticipate so many impressive stretches. You can tell this team hasn’t put in much defensive work, but natural talents shined throughout the night. Ashton Hagans is a thief. UK did a decent job protecting the rim, and while I have a few issues defensively you can tell they aren’t too terrible far off. The talent is just ridiculous. UK didn’t play its best game, even for August standards, and it beat the Bahamanian national team with ease. Every team they will play the rest of this vacation will be better, but the Bahamas’ team would be a top 80 college basketball team and the Cats destroyed them in their first ever game together. The majority of this Bahamas’ team has been playing together all summer and a group of those players even longer.
2. Sophomore Nick F’ing Richards: Holy. Smokes. Drew Franklin has been talking about Richards all spring and summer and the dude came out with a vengeance. I’ve been tough on Sophomore Nick Richards mainly because the way his freshman season ended, but I’ve never doubted his potential, although admittedly I don’t think he becomes a great college player until next season (if he sticks around). I hope I’m wrong. I find myself one point in the hole against Nick and Drew. Richards was a stud tonight, 19 points and only one missed shot. It’s clear that confidence is a major player for Richards. He has the tools to be a great big, but it appears he has to see a few shots go in before he starts believing in himself. He started off hot, so we’ll have to see if he can overcome a slow start, but tonight was impressive. UK doesn’t need Richards to be great, but the Cats have to have three reliable bigs on the season. If Richards can be one of those three it means you’re getting a rim protector in the process, which is huge defensively (he didn’t have a block tonight but you could tell the Bahamas’ national team kept an eye on Richards) ((I misread the box score and he did have a couple blocks, apologies folks)).
3. Reid Travis: It wasn’t the game he was looking for offensively but I was impressed with his overall performance and you could tell he’s been through this a time or two. He couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end. If he were a freshman you’d be talking about jitters, but he was just off. No way aroudn it. He missed a dunk, never looked comfortable in the paint with the ball and lost his touch. He rarely seemed in control with the ball in his hands and it was just a bad offensively night for the Stanford grad-transfer. But the reason you can tell he’s a senior is the way he didn’t let it impact other areas of his game. He was by far the best player on the glass all night and at the end of the day that’s what UK needs more than anything in regards to Travis. I loved that Travis established his dominance despite stinking on the offensive end, but that’s the sign of a special player that will constantly help the team.
4. Freshmen: I loved Tyler Herro’s confidence. My initial thoughts on his performance were that he’s always going to take the open shot and that there will be a few games that UK wins in which he plays a huge role. I don’t think he’s UK’s best scorer or UK’s best player, but when he gets going he will put up huge numbers. Ashton Hagans will be a fan favorite when it’s all said and done. He’s an elite defender and he’s just getting started offensively. His speed is special. Remember, Hagans should just be heading into his senior year of high school. Keldon Johnson may be UK’s most important player. He’s going to be asked to do it all for UK and his consistency will be a must for the Cats. He’s good offensively, important defensively and his energy will be a rallying cry for UK at times this year.
5. Moving Forward: In my opinion UK did what it had to do against its easiest opponent of the week. The Bahamas’ national team didn’t look overly interest for all forty minutes, but the Cats finished the game on a 41 to 18 run. 41-18. UK had surrender a 7-0 run before waking up and dominating. That showed this team can kick it into high gear. That’s an impressive sign for a group that’s never played a game together. Tomorrow and Saturday will be much tougher games. UK should cruise on Sunday, but we’ll learn a lot more about this team over the next two games. It was a positive start but the Cats were never truly punched in the mouth. I’m guessing that happens in the next two games and I can’t wait to see how Kentucky responds. It’s good to be watching UK basketball again.