Basketball Season Coverage
By Maggie Davis on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 10:20pm
Matt is undefeated at H-O-R-S-E against former Wildcats (sorry, Malik Monk). Will Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson change that?!
While they’re shooting hoops, Matt also interviews the former Cats. Who’s the funniest player? Who’s the best dunker? Oh yeah, and Johnson talks some smack.
On the full episode, Matt is joined by our friend, Mary Jo Perino! They’ll discuss the day’s hottest topics. Plus, Chris Tomlin caught up with Gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins at Hillybilly Days in Pikeville. Check it out!
Is Bellarmine finally making a jump up to Division I?
According to WDRB’s Eric Crawford, they’re at least talking about it internally.
“Discussions of these aims have been moving forward since Dr. Susan Donovan became the university’s fourth president two years ago,” WDRB reports. “Now, the discussions have turned to athletics. Bellarmine isn’t talking specifics. But two sources close to the university’s athletic programs say that the school is mulling a jump to the NCAA Division I level in all 22 of its varsity sports.”
When asked by Crawford about a potential jump, Bellarmine director for athletic media relations John Spugnardi declined comment, but did release a statement about a “strategic plan” the school has moving forward.
“In January 2018, Bellarmine began developing a new strategic plan to shape the university’s future,” the statement reads. “In addition to a number of academic and administrative priorities, the plan calls for the university to review its athletics conference and divisional alignment. The goal of this review is to ensure the university is maximizing student opportunities for leadership and growth, alumni engagement, and the reach, visibility and impact of Bellarmine both regionally and nationally. This process is under way, with opportunities for continued input from the Bellarmine community.”
Bellarmine’s men’s lacrosse team already competes at the Division I level, joining the Southern Conference back in 2005.
Under head coach Scott Davenport, the men’s basketball team has become a perennial powerhouse, regularly finding itself ranked No. 1 overall in the nation, making the Final Four in 2017, and winning the NCAA Division II Tournament national championship trophy in 2011.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 8:30pm
On Thursday afternoon, Kentucky fans (and fans of a bunch of major college basketball programs) got some updated transfer news, as Evan Daniels gave the latest on the recruitment of Nevada big-man Jordan Brown. Since putting his name in the transfer portal a week ago, things have been quiet in Brown’s recruitment. But as Daniels reported, there are a number of schools who have already reached out, and Kentucky is indeed one of them. It’s something I hinted would happen in a post earlier this week.
So now that we know that Brown is indeed available and seriously considering a transfer, what do you need to know?
— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) April 18, 2019
As someone who knows the Nevada program well, here is what I’ve heard about Brown from sources close to him, and where his recruitment stands. This is what you need to know, and what I expect to happen next:
Who Is Jordan Brown?
Brown was one of the most coveted big men in the class of 2018, a player who appeared in the McDonald’s All-American Game and as a member of Team USA In the Nike Hoops Summit. He finished his high school career ranked among the Top 20 players in the class of 2018.
And prior to committing to Nevada he was recruited by, quite literally, every big-name school on the West Coast including UCLA to Arizona, Cal and Nevada. According to some people I trust he was actually set to commit to UCLA until Shareef O’Neal decommitted from Arizona last winter. At that point, UCLA had just one scholarship for the two front-court players and told both that whoever committed first had the spot. O’Neal grabbed the scholarship and Brown was forced to look elsewhere.
Ultimately, after a long, drawn out process that saw him as the last major recruit to commit last spring, Brown chose Nevada. He was just the second McDonald’s All-American to ever commit to the school, the other being local high school start Luke Babbitt back in 2008.
To put it simply, Brown is the biggest recruit Nevada basketball ever signed.
Why Did He Struggle So Much in His First Year in College?
Although Brown was the most decorated recruit ever to sign with Nevada, his first year was a struggle. He averaged just three points and two rebounds in 10 minutes played per game.
But while that would appear to be a bit alarming on the surface, it shouldn’t be. The bottom-line is that Eric Musselman is a coach that – like Jay Wright and others across college basketball – simply prefers older players to young ones, and Brown got buried on the depth chart behind more experienced players. Nevada started three fifth-year seniors in the front-court and at the end of the day, it was probably the right decision, considering that the Wolf Pack went 29-5 overall and ended up in their third straight NCAA Tournament.
Still, the buzz out of Reno was that as the season went on, Brown gained some confidence. As a source close to him told me, Brown has “looked like his old self” the last couple weeks and was due for a big season next year.
Is It Too Early to Guess Where Brown Might Be Leaning?
Short answer, yes. As Brown’s father Dion told Daniels, a host of schools have reached out besides Kentucky, ranging from Arizona, to Oregon, Ohio State and others. And honestly, that might even be downplaying it a bit. The same source close to Brown told me that since he put his name in the transfer portal, “every major program in America” has at least reached out to gauge interest. Pick a school and they have at least called to gather details, according to the person I spoke with.
Other intel I've gathered on Jordan Brown the last few days: I don't expect him to stay at Nevada. Lot of staff turnover and not the greatest relationship with Steve Alford from his HS days. Would be somewhat surprised if went to Arkansas too. Hunch is he lands somewhere new
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) April 18, 2019
With that said, here is what I can also tell you: Steve Alford’s arrival at Nevada will have no impact on Brown’s decision to stay or go in Reno. If anything, it might hurt it.
I know that sounds strange considering that Brown nearly committed to Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins were in high school, but the bottom-line is that from my understanding, Alford had little role in the recruitment process. Brown’s father in fact confirmed that to a Reno area newspaper, admitting that former UCLA assistant David Grace (who just joined Jerry Stackhouse’s staff at Vanderbilt) did most of the work in his recruitment. Also, it doesn’t help that – according to people I trust – Alford doesn’t plan on keeping anyone from Musselman’s staff on board in Reno, and that Brown was especially close to that staff.
Point being, despite the fact that Alford actively recruited him out of high school, the relationship isn’t as strong as you might expect.
After speaking to the same person who is close to Brown, my hunch is also that he won’t be following former Nevada coach Eric Musselman to Arkansas. I don’t feel quite as strongly on that one, but my gut feeling is that if Brown does move on he’ll want a fresh start.
If Brown Elects To Transfer, Can He Play Right Away?
Since this is a question I’ve gotten quite a bit, let’s just nip this right now: Barring some unforeseen waiver from the NCAA offices, no, Brown won’t play next season. Yes, he’ll have to sit out the season.
And if anything, that’s the only reason I could see him remaining at Nevada (although as I said, I think it’s unlikely at this point). As a former McDonald’s All-American who is watching a lot of other friends get drafted, does he really want to sit out another season?
Again, in my mind, that’s the most likely reason he would stay at Nevada.
Here’s Why Sitting Out a Season Can Be Good However
Regardless of where Brown chooses, I actually think sitting out a season could be good for all parties involved. At the end of the day, it would give him a full year to get used to his new school and program, head coach and teammates. Every kid wants to play, but there are benefits to sitting out.
Still, let’s say Brown did ultimately choose Kentucky – and to be clear, that’s not my prediction. It’s way too early to speculate.
Still, let’s say he did. It would give him a year to get used to campus, and also give Kentucky a former McDonald’s All-American and potential future NBA pro to lead the scout team every day. Can you imagine the value it would give a guy like Nick Richards or E.J. Montgomery to go against that type of player every day?
From Kentucky’s perspective (or whatever school he picks) there is no downside.
If He Chooses Kentucky What Kind of Player Will They Get Down the Road
In addition to getting a great practice player in 2019-2020, if Brown were to choose Kentucky, I think he could be a difference-making power forward/center prospect come the 2020-2021 season. While Brown did struggle to adjust to college life this year, he is still 6’10 with over a 7-foot wingspan and crazy athletic. Nevada tried to play him almost exclusively in the post this season, but he has the skills to step 15 or 20 feet away from the basket and hit shots from there as well. Think that with a year to sit out and develop, he could be a monster two years down the road? I’d say so. And when I say “monster” I mean like “All-SEC First Team” type guy.
Again, it’s way, way, WAY too early to speculate where Brown will end up.
But if the Wildcats were able to sign Brown, he could be the first big puzzle piece already locked in for the 2020-2021 season.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 5:45pm
The Kentucky coaching staff has reached out to yet another transfer about joining the upcoming roster in Lexington next season.
And it’s a player the Big Blue Nation should be fairly familiar with.
Former five-star forward and McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown signed with Nevada in the class of 2018, but after averaging just over ten minutes per game as a freshman, he’s ready to pack his bags and transfer elsewhere.
Brown entered the transfer portal on April 11, and Kentucky was among the several schools to reach out right away.
Evan Daniels of 247 Sports talked to Dion Brown, Jordan’s father, who said that Kentucky has been involved “from the beginning” and are “showing a lot of interest.”
“We’ve had Kentucky reach out, Arizona, Cal, Oregon, Baylor, Miami, Pitt, Ohio State, Louisiana-Lafayette, my old college,” he said. “St. Mary’s, there’s quite a few people reaching out. … Kentucky was there from the beginning, and they’ve been reaching out and Sean Miller from Arizona,” he added. “They are showing a lot of interest.”
If you may remember, Kentucky was interested in Brown back in the summer of 2017, and then again when UK’s frontcourt situation was up in the air with potential NBA Draft departures last spring.
When word broke out on Tuesday evening that Kentucky had reached out to Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., I was also told that Kentucky was in contact with Brown and his camp, though I was asked to keep it quiet until they were comfortable listing the initial schools on his list.
Source tells KSR that Kentucky has reached out to not only Blackshear, but another very interesting available player on the transfer market. In fact, UK is interested in bringing in BOTH. https://t.co/CoVj1dm56T
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 17, 2019
Brown, who averaged 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds last season with the Wolfpack, will have to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules before he is eligible to play. Because of this, I’m told that Kentucky would be interested in bringing in both Brown (as a practice player) and Blackshear (or another big-name graduate transfer) for next season.
KSR’s Aaron Torres, who also has a bit of new information on Brown, will be giving us a report in just a bit.
Other intel I've gathered on Jordan Brown the last few days: I don't expect him to stay at Nevada. Lot of staff turnover and not the greatest relationship with Steve Alford from his HS days. Would be somewhat surprised if went to Arkansas too. Hunch is he lands somewhere new
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) April 18, 2019
Here are just a few of Brown’s highlights:
Another pledge just became official: Nate Sestina has signed with Kentucky.
The Bucknell grad transfer put pen to paperwork today to cement his spot on next year’s roster. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward will be eligible this fall and, in a release from UK, said he can’t wait to take the next step in his basketball and academic career.
“It’s been an amazing ride from Emporium (Pennsylvania) to Bucknell and everywhere in between, and it’s surreal to think my college basketball career isn’t over yet,” Sestina said. “I’m humbled to get started with Kentucky. I want to thank God, my family, my coaches, my teammates and John Calipari for this opportunity.”
Last season, Sestina averaged 15.8 points, a team-high 8.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game for Bucknell while shooting 53.6% from the floor. He also made 41 threes off 38% from behind the arc.
“I think everyone knows my stance on graduate transfers,” John Calipari said in a release. “We are only going to take someone if it’s going to help both the kid and our program. I’m not going to take someone if they’re not going to have an impact. After seeing what Reid’s (Travis) move did for him this past season and how he helped our program, I told our staff if there are other kids in his situation that could benefit, let’s take a look at them.
“Nate falls into that scenario in that he’s achieved what he set out to do and now wants to take this thing to the next level. I’m excited to get to work with him because he’s where the game is going. He has the ability to play in the post but he can stretch you out, which gives us the ability to play a little different and open things up more. He’s a great kid from a great family who wanted this challenge.”
Welcome aboard, Nate.
By Keifer Winings on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 11:30am
[Ed. Note: Keifer Winings and Chris Smith are two University of Kentucky graduates who took a road trip across the country to visit UK Alumni Clubs. They wrote about some of their stops for KSR and now, their documentary is complete and ready to share with the Big Blue Nation.]
A couple of years ago, myself and a friend took a road trip with the goal of experiencing the Big Blue Nation in person. Up until that point BBN had been abstract to us, and we wanted to find out what the term meant.
So, we contacted alumni and fans and scheduled a watch party for each UK basketball game of the 2015-2016 season in a different city across the country, with a different group of fans. When November came around, we bought a cheap camper van to live out of, stocked up on ramen and Easy Mac, and hit the road.
Over those five months we met some truly incredible people and made some of the best memories of our lives. In the years since, we have cut through hundreds of hours of footage to put together a documentary that tells the stories of thousands of UK fans that have left the Bluegrass and make the Big Blue Nation as far reaching as it is.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 10:35am
Today, we got one step closer to St. John’s giving up and hiring Rick Pitino.
This morning, Iona’s Tim Cluess became the latest coach to turn down the Red Storm, joining Bobby Hurley (Arizona State), Porter Moser (Loyola-Chicago), and Ryan Odom (UMBC). The news is particularly cruel considering Cluess is a St. John’s alum and both of his brothers, who died young, played there as well. Last week, Chris Mullin stepped down after four seasons.
Where does St. John’s go from here? According to Matt Norlander, they’re interviewing Yale’s James Jones today and former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton are also in the mix.
How long before the St. John’s AD is on the phone begging the Southern District of New York to apologize to Rick Pitino so he’ll return to New York?
By Bryan the Intern on ©April 18th, 2019 @ 10:00am
I will admit I was not, and am not, thrilled with another group of UK players headed out the door for the NBA Draft this year. I just don’t think anybody can reasonably say that the games of Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro are “ready” for the NBA. We certainly can be proven wrong in the next year but having watched them for 37 games, they looked more like freshman than NBA prospects most of the year. Nonetheless, their dreams, the money, and the overall atmosphere surrounding the program consistently is pushing these type of guys out after 1 year. Same happened with Marquis Teague, James Young, Devin Booker, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, etc. Some of these guys have flourished in the NBA but it didn’t seem like they were slam dunks when they left UK after 1 year.
But it is also important to take a step back and have some perspective about many of the names they have rolled through UK for just 1 season. We have become blinded to just how unbelievable it is that we get the kind of production we have seen out of 18 and 19 year olds over Calipari’s 10 seasons. I fall into the trap too. Keldon Johnson will go down as one of the most frustrating players of this era for me. And yet, he scored 498 points this year, a 13.5 points per game average. Rex Chapman scored 464 points in his freshman season, a 16.0 points per game average. Rex is thought of as an all-time legend and having one of the greatest freshman seasons in school history. Keldon nearly matched that season and many call him a disappointment. In fact, consider this
FRESHMAN POINTS BEFORE CALIPARI
1. Rex Chapman: 464 points
2. Chris Mills: 459 points
3. Sam Bowie: 440 points
Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson both scored more points than those guys this season. Along with another 17 freshman in the Calipari era. A total of 19 players have beaten the previous freshman scoring record since Cal’s arrival. And many of them were considered disappointments as freshman: Kevin Knox, Aaron Harrison, Archie Goodwin, Keldon.
Similar numbers can be produced for rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, whatever you want to come up with.
We have actually become a little distorted in what we expect of these players. It’s hard, no doubt. High preseason rankings doom these guys much of the time. The Bahamas trip actually became a burden for this team because it only increased expectations unnecessarily. But the reality is that Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro just completed two of the best freshman seasons in UK history. Better than Sam Bowie. Better than just about anybody before 2009.
But the catch is those players pre-Calipari came back and expanded their legacy within the program. Can you imagine a Tyler Herro for 3 seasons, like Patrick Patterson. Or a Keldon Johnson for even 2 seasons, like a Ron Mercer. Unfortunately that is not the world we live in. And I think it has created a mentality within this program and fanbase that has caused us to completely lose perspective on just how special the players we have seen over the last 10 years have actually been.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 17th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
In the past 48 hours, we’ve learned quite a bit about Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster. First, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson are definitely gone to the NBA, which was expected. Second, Jemarl Baker is definitely going to transfer, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but still came as a bit of a surprise. Third, there could be another grad transfer on the way in the form of Kerry Blackshear Jr., a 6’10” junior from Virginia Tech.
It sounds like Blackshear’s going to take his time with his decision, which could still include going to the NBA Draft, but let’s go ahead and take a look at where Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster stands as of now, and how it could change in the coming weeks.
Guard: Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
Guard: Tyrese Maxey/Immanuel Quickley/Brad Calipari
Forward: Khalil Whitney/Keion Brooks/Dontaie Allen/Zan Payne
Forward: EJ Montgomery/Nate Sestina/Keion Brooks
Center: Nick Richards/EJ Montgomery
Obviously, having a sophomore Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley is huge. Any kind of roster turnover is diminished by an experienced backcourt, and I’d expect Hagans and Quickley to both make considerable jumps in their sophomore years. Given his ability to score, I see Tyrese Maxey starting at the two, but Quickley backing up at both guard spots as a strong sixth man. Should Brad Calipari stay at Kentucky (remember, Cal mentioned he might transfer), he could get some time at the two as well. So, backcourt, good.
Khalil Whitney and Keion Brooks will give Calipari some interesting looks on the wing, as will Dontaie Allen if he’s healthy enough to go early in the season. On the inside, you’ve got veterans in EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Nate Sestina, although I don’t believe the dust has settled on the frontcourt. As long as Leah Edmond is at Kentucky, I feel comfortable about Richards staying, but I wouldn’t rule out Montgomery testing the waters. You may scoff at that, but towards the end of the season, EJ showed a lot a lot of potential. If he returns, I think he could have a monster season and be the anchor Kentucky needs on the inside. While Nate Sestina is not Reid Travis, he should provide valuable minutes and an outside presence to keep teams honest, ala PJ Washington this season. If Kerry Blackshear Jr. does come to Kentucky, at 6’10”, 250 lbs., he could be a very important piece to the puzzle, but let’s not get too excited about that just yet.
On the recruiting front, Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels are still out there, but it’s looking more and more like Hurt’s going to Duke and McDaniels to Washington. (I’d love to be wrong about that.) Five-star combo guard RJ Hampton could also reclassify to 2019, but that’s still to be determined.
As it stands, do you like your team?
By Maggie Davis on ©April 17th, 2019 @ 9:20pm
If you haven’t heard by now, two (now-former) Wildcats stopped by the radio station today to chat with Matt Jones, Ryan Lemond and Drew Franklin. Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro made their KSR debuts Wednesday morning, and they had plenty to say. You can listen to their entire interview here, or you can cheat a little bit (you’re welcome).
Here are the top five things the roommates said Wednesday morning:
Speaking of roommates… Do either of them do that one thing that drives the other one crazy? Probably, but they wouldn’t quite admit to it on the radio. Maybe one’s a little messy or maybe one snores – we’ll never know. But we do know one thing:
“We’re both crazy. That’s why we get along.” -Keldon Johnson
There was plenty of talk throughout the season regarding Tyler Herro’s impressive ability to perform on the road – he seemed to thrive in the “villain” role for the Wildcats. Herro admitted his de-commitment from his home state of Wisconsin prepared him for that very role, and he grew to love the welcoming chorus of “boos” once he entered an opponent’s arena.
“I kind of live for that moment. I just like being the villain on the road. I just liked going into other team’s arenas and ruining their weekends.” – Tyler Herro
They also learned a thing or two during their time in Lexington. Both Johnson and Herro told Matt they’re honor-roll students in the classroom, and Johnson even gave a shoutout to one of his favorite professors. He also shared a piece of advice he’s learned during his time here.
“Don’t treat nobody different. It doesn’t matter if it’s the janitor or the CEO of a company, treat everyone with respect.” – Johnson.
Some poignant words for a freshman in college.
Johnson and Herro certainly treated fans with respect this season. This team was great with the BBN all season, likely posing for more pictures than they can remember. But, according to Herro, that’s a small price to pay for what they got in return.
“Without the fans, we really wouldn’t be anything. They’re the people who come to the games and cheer us on. Me and Keldon – and I really think the whole team – this year embraced that and how much they supported us. If you [saw] how we started the season, I don’t think many people would have supported us after we lost by 40. They stuck with us and we really appreciated that.”
Unfortunately, part of sticking with the Cats meant supporting them after a demoralizing loss to Duke to open the season. Even after November 6, there were obviously other highs and lows of the long (but not quite long enough) season.
Of course, the pair picked some of their biggest wins as their favorite moments in a Kentucky uniform – the UNC win and the Kansas win, namely. But they also had to address some of the lows. Johnson said the team just didn’t “execute like we wanted to coming down the stretch” against Auburn, and it cost them the opportunity to play in a Final Four. There was one team in particular they wanted to face, and it’s the team that beat them at the very beginning of their year.
“We wanted to see [Duke], obviously, in the National Championship. That’s kind of what we wanted to do,” Herro said. “I definitely think if we saw them again, we’d get after them.”
Even if the Cats had advanced to the Final Four, Duke had already been eliminated. Regardless, Johnson and Herro were confident they could have won over the Blue Devils, had they been given a re-do.
Once again, the pair showed this year’s team was full of not only good players, but good people, as well.
Johnson and Herro were both on the show for a few segments, so they had plenty of other note-worthy quotes. Check out what Herro (and his teammates) thought of his “Bucket” nickname here, and click here for what they learned from talking with NBA scouts.
For information on their signing tours (including stops at KSBar & Grille), click here.
As the pieces on next year’s roster slowly come together, there is one player we have not mentioned as a possible departure this offseason: Brad Calipari.
Brad, really??? Yes, Brad, really. Like his old man, he could take advantage of a grad transfer situation, only he would be the one transferring to another program.
As the young Calipari reminded us on Twitter earlier this week, he is on pace to graduate this semester after three years.
I’ll have graduated in 3 years after this semester?????????
— Brad Calipari (@bradcalipari) April 15, 2019
If all goes well the remainder of the semester and Dr. Capilouto hands him his diploma this May, Brad could go to another school — a smaller school where he would play a bigger role on the basketball court — and have two years of eligibility remaining. Should he choose that route, he would be eligible immediately.
Now I have no idea what is going through Brad’s head right now and if this is something he is even putting serious consideration into; however, Coach Cal did mention it as an option for his son in an interview with Jim Rome during the tournament.
“He can go to another school, a smaller school where he’ll play more,” Cal said, before adding he thinks Brad will stick around Lexington.
Whatever he decides, it will not change Kentucky’s title hopes next year. But to the many of us who enjoy having Brad around, just know there is at least a small chance the only connection we will have with him the next two years will be through his Fortnite streams.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 17th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
When you look back on the memories from the 2018-19 season, one of them is definitely going to be Tyler Herro saying he is a bucket. During the Arkansas game, Herro’s trash talk with a friend on Arkansas’ squad launched a thousand memes, t-shirts, and signs:
Today on KSR, Herro admitted he didn’t expect the bucket nickname to take off like it did.
“I didn’t expect it anything from it because I say that a lot. That wasn’t the first time I said it.”
Herro’s teammates prefer to call him “Boy Wonder,” but whatever the nickname, there’s no denying Herro gave us some great memories, especially when Kentucky was on the road. We’ve heard him say it before, but Herro emphasized that he loves playing the villain.
“Like you said, from being in high school, everybody booing me, I kind of just live for that moment. I just like being the villain on the road…I like going into other teams’ arenas and ruining their weekends.”
Here’s where you can meet Tyler on his signing tour, which will definitely make your week, not ruin it.
On Wednesday, Jemarl Baker informed Kentucky he will be leaving for other opportunities. The decision to explore other options for his college basketball career came as a surprise to many, but the tea leaves were there along.
I see three major factors leading to his exit:
Homesickness: Going back several months, there were whispers that Baker missed his family and the West Coast. After all, he moved from Riverside, California, just outside Los Angeles, to a city 2,000 miles away with the most inconsistent weather on the planet (and most important, no In-N-Out). I don’t think he was actually like miserable with homesickness, but kept in the back of his mind that he would like to be a little closer to home if a situation popped up. On top of that, while most of his teammates’ parents were able to attend almost every home game, that’s impossible to ask of Baker’s family. I can’t believe Tyler Herro’s dad was able to visit as often as he did from Milwaukee. Imagine being the Baker family trying to make it to Lexington to take their son out to dinner after a game on a random Tuesday night in January without knowing if he’d even play in the game at all. Throw in being a couple thousand miles away from your friends and family and the only home life you know while coming back from multiple injuries, and it is completely understandable if he got a little lonely at times.
Playing Time: Jemarl Baker likely would’ve contributed to next year’s team, but he wouldn’t have been certain of that. No minutes would be promised. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are already ahead of him in the rotation and the two of them announced they will return for their sophomore years. Then there will be a newcomer in the backcourt, Tyrese Maxey, who is expected to log several minutes and be one of the better scorers on the team. Maxey is a top-10 player in the incoming class and expectations are high for him at Kentucky. So maybe Baker would’ve played more on the wing? The problem there is two more new faces entering the fold in Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks. Whitney is a true small forward, the top-ranked one in the class, and he too has high expectations in his freshman season. Brooks also needs minutes in that spot. Baker is good in his own right, but who’s to say he wouldn’t be limited to only eight or nine minutes a game again?
Calipari’s Short Leash (The Auburn Game): Look, I am in no way aware of a rift between Calipari and Baker, nor am I even suggesting there is one whatsoever, so don’t misread my uninformed speculation here. In fact, each of their comments today suggest they are still on very good terms and I genuinely believe Cal will be rooting for Baker and will always be there for him in the future, as he said in the release. (But I’m going to be a But guy real quick.) But we saw Cal sit Baker in the final game of the season over one mistake. Baker made one bonehead play, a foul on a three-pointer in the first half, and he was sent to the bench for the rest of the game. He played only three minutes in the Elite Eight, when other players were making their share of costly mistakes and were allowed to play through them. Cal had just raved about Baker’s defense earlier in the tournament; why not give him another go when Auburn’s guards started gutting Kentucky’s defense? Condemning him to the bench for the entire game wasn’t exactly encouraging to Baker and his future, and it was kind of what Baker dealt with all season. Get beat, you’re out. Miss a three, you’re out. Every year it seems there is one player with a shorter leash and this past year it was Baker. Again, I’m only speculating here, but it’s hard to blame the kid if he felt he was the victim of a little bit of favoritism or that Cal didn’t have as much faith in him. Then with another loaded backcourt next season, who can blame him for wanting to see what else is out there?
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. Probably a little bit of both. Only Jemarl Baker knows why he is leaving. Whatever the case, he is a good player who has gone through a lot and deserves the right opportunity before it is too late. Good luck, Jemarl.