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What will Kentucky Basketball’s 2018-19 roster look like?

What will Kentucky Basketball’s 2018-19 roster look like?

Where does Kentucky’s 2018-19 roster stand after last night’s draft decisions? There are still a few pieces on the move, but here’s our best guess at what the Wildcats will look like after the dust settles.

* Denotes a player not technically on the roster yet

Guards

Quade Green

We saw how much it hurt Kentucky not to have a returning guard last season. This year, Calipari will have one in Quade Green, who averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists his freshman year. Quade missed some games due to eye and back injuries and lost his starting spot to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but will provide crucial leadership and experience in a young and loaded backcourt.

Immanuel Quickley

Quickley is sometimes an afterthought in next year’s backcourt, but shouldn’t be. Despite being hampered by injuries at the end of his senior year, Quickley is a reliable floor general with a relentless work ethic that creates for others and can knock down an open shot.

Ashton Hagans*

Hagans is still in the 2019 class, but is on track to reclassify to 2018 in the next month or so. If he does, Kentucky will regain what they lost in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, i.e., a guard who can get to the basket. Hagans is a dynamic playmaker who can burn defenders off the dribble and distribute; he led the Adidas Gauntlet in assists by a wide margin. He’s also a tenacious defender. Simply put, you want the ball in Hagans’ hands. If he makes it to Lexington this summer, he will be Kentucky’s starting point guard in the fall.

Jemarl Baker

Often forgotten, Baker will return this fall after missing last year with a knee injury. His teammates claim he’s far and away the squad’s best shooter, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Tyler Herro

Herro is much more than the three-point specialist he’s billed as. At 6’5″, 200 lbs., Herro can score from anywhere and is also comfortable bringing the ball up the floor if needed. Once a Wisconsin commit, Herro developed a thick skin and chip on his shoulder after being booed routinely by Badger fans his senior year. A tough competitor, he will only elevate his game going against elite talent in practice, a challenge he’s ready for:

Brad Calipari

With a plethora of guards on the roster, Brad probably won’t be called into action as often as he was last year, but should exhibit more confidence to fire away when he gets an open shot — even with the crowd demanding it.

Jonny David

The only senior currently on the squad, David will be tasked with keeping the sideline loose and ready for dunk and lob celebrations. If history is any indication, he will also steal the spotlight in postseason locker room interviews.


Forwards

Keldon Johnson

Johnson can play small forward, shooting guard, or, if you listen to John Calipari, even point guard if needed. Described as a “dog” by his future teammates, Johnson is a fierce competitor that won’t back down from anyone. Johnson will be the highlight maker on this squad and is a notorious trash talker. Between him, Hagans, Herro, and Quickley, Kentucky’s about to get a much-needed dose of nasty.

PJ Washington

Washington’s decision to come back makes this squad much more dangerous. PJ can bully his way to the basket and finish with the best of them, and with an offseason to work on his jumper, can take his game to another level. PJ will be the anchor down low, the perfect complement to EJ Montgomery’s length and athleticism.

Reid Travis*

If Travis joins the roster, Kentucky will have another bruiser down low ala PJ. With over three years of playing experience and a degree from Stanford, Travis would provide invaluable experience to a team that needs it. A double-double machine, he is a force in the paint, so much so that one draft prospect told Jeff Goodman Travis was the strongest player he’s ever played against.

EJ Montgomery

A 6’10” lefty that can stretch the floor? Sounds like Calipari’s dream big. Montgomery’s got length, athleticism, ball-handling skills, and can score from almost anywhere. He needs to add strength, but will see plenty of time as a stretch four next year.

Zan Payne

Kenny Payne’s son is still recovering from a knee injury, but once healthy, can play either guard or forward. A standout player at Lexington Catholic, he averaged 19.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in his senior season.


Center

Nick Richards

Richards struggled his freshman year, but we saw glimpses of his potential throughout the season. Kenny Payne said Richards’ problems stemmed from self-doubt, but he’s got all the tools to be special if he can get out of his head. Players often make the biggest leap between their freshman and sophomore years, making this upcoming season a pivotal one for the seven-footer.

 

Is it August yet?


Way Too Early College Basketball Top 25 for the 2018-2019 season

As weird as it sounds, last night (or was it this morning?) was one of the most important days of the 2018-2019 college basketball season. The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft was midnight eastern, meaning that today we have a pretty good idea of what virtually every team will look like in college basketball season next year. Sure, there are still a handful of big puzzle pieces that have to be figured out (the transfers of Reid Travis and Mustapha Heron for example) but for the most part we basically know what every team will look like come the start of the season.

Therefore, what better day to release KSR’s “Way Too Early Top 25” for next season than today? I’ve done one for years when I worked at Fox Sports, and it only made sense to continue the tradition here.

Before we get into the picks, there’s one thing worth noting: I choose my teams a bit differently than some.  I don’t base my rankings solely on raw basketball talent – since rarely does raw talent alone win in college basketball. Instead, I value teams that bring back veterans to go along with star freshmen or All-Americans. Some teams we’ll have ranked higher here than most. Others will be a bit lower.

Regardless, it’s time to get to the Top 25 for 2018-2019. Here is our ranking:

1) Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returnees: Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, Corey Kispert
Key Departures: Jonathan Williams III
Key Additions: Brandon Clarke (transfer), Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev

I haven’t seen another national poll with Gonzaga at No. 1 (most do have them in the top five however), but the Zags are here for a few reasons. For starters, they return four starters off a 32-win team that made the second weekend of the tournament for the fourth straight year. And had it not been for an injury to Killian Tillie, they probably would have blown past Florida State to the Elite Eight and maybe beyond. They’re also the only school – as best I can tell – who had two legitimate first round draft picks (Tillie and Rui Hachimura) choose to skip the draft and return to school. They also return a wing in Zach Norvell who averaged 13 points per game last year, and their only significant loss (Jonathan Williams III) might be addition by subtraction. He’ll be replaced by San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke, who is a more versatile player who will likely make them even more dynamic offensively.

Some do still have concerns about the Zags point guard play, but they have the size, athleticism, talent and experience to hang with – and beat anyone – in college basketball. Two years after playing for a national championship, they are my favorite to win it all in 2018-2019.

2) Kentucky Wildcats

Key Returnees: Quade Green, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Jemarl Baker
Key Departures: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel, Jarred Vanderbilt
Key Additions: Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans

Please understand that having Kentucky at No. 2 isn’t an “I write for KSR” thing. It’s an “I really like the makeup of this team going into next year” thing. And while the losses of Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel did sting on Wednesday, I do believe that the return of P.J. Washington trumps it all. Washington was the final piece of the puzzle for the 2019 Wildcats, a player who provides that physical low-post presence and scorer that the team would’ve lacked without him, and with him this team enters 2018-2019 with no true weakness. They have size, toughness, shooting, versatility and most importantly, a veteran presence on this team. We all know that John Calipari does his best work when he’s got second and third-year players to go along with a star-studded freshman class, and he will certainly have that entering next season.

To me, this is by far Kentucky’s best team since 2015, and by far its most genuine threat to cut down the nets since then as well. If this team somehow adds Reid Travis to the fold they will be the unquestioned No. 1 going into the season, but with Washington back I don’t think they necessarily need to add him to complete for a title either. The Wildcats are one of the handful of favorites to win it all in 2019.

3) Kansas Jayhawks

Key Returnees: Udoka Azibuke, Silvio de Souza, Marcus Garrett
Key Departures: Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman, LaGerald Vick
Key Additions: Dedric Lawson (transfer), K.J. Lawson (transfer), Charlie Moore (transfer), Quentin Grimes, Devon Dodson, David McCormick

The pieces may be different from last year, but weirdly this roster may be deeper and more versatile than last year’s Final Four club. The name to watch here is Dedric Lawson, a 6’9 transfer who averaged 19 and 9 at Memphis two seasons ago. Ask folks around Kansas, and they believe that he – and not Devonte Graham or Malik Newman – was the best player in the program last year.

Other names to watch are point guard Charlie Moore (who averaged 12 points per game at Cal two years ago) and Quentin Grimes, arguably the best pure scorer in high school basketball last year. With them, Kansas is again in line to win roughly their 2,438th straight Big 12 title. And if they win that 2,438th straight Big 12 title, then they are certainly worth of a Top 5 ranking here.

4) Nevada Wolfpack

Key Returnees: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew
Key Departures: Kendall Stephens
Key Additions: Tre’Shawn Thurman (transfer), Corey Henson (transfer), Jazz Johnson (transfer), Nisre Zouzoua (transfer), Trey Porter (transfer), Ehab Amin (transfer), Jordan Brown

A lot of you went bonkers when I said on Twitter over the weekend that if the Martin twins returned, Nevada was a Top 5 team heading into the preseason. A lot of you guys wondered, “How can a team from the Mountain West which doesn’t play elite competition possibly be a Top 5 team?”

Well, here’s how. First of all, this was a Top 25 team all year last year, that won 29 games, went to the Sweet 16 and was one possession away from going to the Elite Eight. They now return three players (the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline) who averaged at least 16 points per game last year, and four starters overall. And please don’t tell me those numbers were “only” put up against Mountain West teams. The Martin twins began their careers at NC State, meaning that they’re good enough to play for and against anyone in college basketball.

Now, that same Sweet 16 team that returns four starters (including three who averaged 16 points per game) has depth, thanks to the addition of a McDonald’s All-American (Jordan Brown) and several high-level transfers. Did I mention that Nevada isn’t coached by some 36-year-old trying to move up the coaching ladder, but a guy who used to coach in the NBA and is one of the most respected minds in basketball? Well they are, in Eric Musselman.

Still wondering how Nevada is ranked in the Top 5 heading into the preseason? That’s how.

5) Virginia Cavaliers

Key Returnees: DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
Key Departures: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Key Additions: Kody Stattmann, Francisco Caffaro

I’m guessing many of you are surprised to see me rank Virginia this high after I’ve been so critical of Tony Bennett throughout the years. Well, ultimately I think there are two different things at play here. Bennett can be a slightly overrated coach who can’t adjust in March, and also be a guy who has a system which is innately designed to rack up wins during the regular season.

So when I look at Virginia, what I see is that they are a club which returns its top three scorers off a team that won 31 games last year, an ACC title and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Which also means that it’s very likely that next season they will again win around 30+ games, compete for an ACC regular season title and compete for a No. 1 seed.

If you do all that, you should be Top 5 in the preseason. Even if it will likely end with a crippling, first weekend loss in the NCAA Tournament.

6) North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returnees: Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks
Key Departures: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson
Key Additions: Nassir Little, Coby White, Rechon Black

Truth be told, I like the Tar Heels more than most. Whatever you think about Luke Maye (and I know how plenty of people reading this feel) he averaged 17 and 10 last year and will return to college basketball as one of the most accomplished players in the sport. Cam Johnson was a double-figure scorer who will only get better, and Nassir Little is their first truly elite recruit since Harrison Barnes signed in 2011. Big guys like Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks will only get better.

To me, the Tar Heels are one of the more underrated teams heading into the 2018-2019 season. If they can get their point guard play right, they’re a true national championship contender.

(more…)


What PJ Washington’s return means for Kentucky

Kentucky forward PJ Washington is officially back, and the Big Blue Nation is celebrating accordingly.

After going through the draft evaluation process, the newest Wildcat sophomore decided to come back to school to up his draft stock and win a national title.

Here is what Washington’s return means for Kentucky going forward:

No worries about the frontcourt

Before Washington’s decision, Kentucky only had two players locked in for the 2018-19 frontcourt: Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. With Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard transferring out of the program, the uncertainty behind Richards’ development, and Montgomery being a freshman with zero experience, there were obvious concerns.

At various points of the process, all three of Kentucky’s potential NBA guys were rumored to leave. Obviously John Calipari would’ve found a replacement on the grad-transfer market, but had all three left, leaving an extremely thin frontcourt to chance was a bit scary.

With Washington back, you can breathe a sigh of relief. There’s a guarantee in the frontcourt to anchor the middle, no matter who else stays or goes. A darn good one, at that. And with teams as young as Kentucky’s year after year, constants are absolutely beautiful when others experience growing pains.

Beyond Washington, Richards, and Montgomery, if Reid Travis joins (as expected), the Cats will have two absolute bullies in the frontcourt to work with.

Sounds like a whole lot of flexin’, to me.

The frontcourt looks great right now. Get one or both of Vando and Travis, we’re talking about one of the most loaded rosters in college basketball.

Guarantees a Final Four-caliber roster

To build off of the previous subheading, Washington’s return guarantees a loaded roster absolutely capable of making a run to the Final Four next March.

And it was a big reason why PJ decided to come back for round two.

“One of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky,” he said. “I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that.”

When you go down the list, he’s pretty spot on.

This is what Kentucky’s roster looks like as of now:

Ashton Hagans, Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and PJ Washington.

Elite guard play? Check.

Shooters? Check.

Skilled frontcourt? Check

Experience? Check.

Depth? Check.

And there’s a strong chance the Cats will add one or two more to that list.

We talked before about Stanford transfer Reid Travis and how Kentucky is the runaway favorite to land him. As a First-Team Pac-12 player averaging 20 points and eight rebounds a game last season, he’d almost certainly start from the get-go. He’s a superstar. Add in Jarred Vanderbilt, and you can go ahead and pencil the Cats in as preseason No. 1.

SEC Player of the Year candidate with tournament experience

Most people focus on Washington’s devastating 8-20 performance from the line against Kansas State in the Sweet 16. Though it stung and likely kept the Cats from finishing off a run to the Final Four, it doesn’t tell the entire story of just how impressive Washington was to end the year.

The Kentucky sophomore was finding his groove in a major way, proving to be one of the team’s most consistent scoring and rebounding threats on the roster. To finish out the season, Washington finished in double-digits in 11 of Kentucky’s final 12 games, to go with at least five rebounds in each of those 11. He averaged 11 points and six rebounds throughout the season, but ended the year averaging 13 and seven in the final 12 contests, including performances of 18-15, 14-8, 18-7, and 13-10.

When Washington took advantage of his size and strength last season, he was unstoppable. If he can continue to develop that killer instinct in the post, along with show off an improved jumper, Washington has the potential to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.

There will be more experience next season, but the freshmen will need guys to take them under their wing and show them the ropes. Washington’s return will allow them to find their way with little pressure to tip off the season.

On that note… Bring on Duke.


Wenyen Gabriel staying in the NBA Draft

Wenyen Gabriel has decided to stay in the NBA Draft, ending his career as a Kentucky Wildcat. He announced the news via social media moments ago.

“BBN, thank you for supporting me for the last two years and being patient with me through these last few weeks,” Gabriel said. “This process hasn’t been easy for me and it’s choosing between a lifelong dream and playing in front of a fan base that I’ve grown to love so much. Opportunities like these don’t come without the support and encouragement from my family, Coach Cal, the coaching staff, my teammates, and of course, the fans.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of this journey at the University of Kentucky and I just want to thank everyone for who has supported me through both my ups and my downs. Lord knows this hasn’t been easy, but my time here has only better prepared me for what the future has for me.

“After receiving positive feedback, my dreams of becoming a professional basketball player are that much closer to reality. I believe that I’m ready to take that jump and will be keeping my name in the 2018 draft.”

Last season, Wenyen averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds but came on strong in the final stretch. Over the last nine games of the season, he averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-point field goals per game, becoming UK’s go-to perimeter shooter. He set a UK and SEC Tournament record in the semifinals by going a perfect 7-7 from the outside en route to 23 points.

“Wenyen’s game is where the league continues to trend towards,” John Calipari said. “He’s a position-less big man who can shoot, guard multiple positions and is willing to do what it takes to win. Wenyen grew so much from his freshman season to his sophomore year. If he continues to make those same strides, he’s going to carve himself a role with a team. He and I have talked and he knows he’s going to have to work hard to get there, but I’m confident he can.”

Not listed in any major mock drafts or top 100 prospect rankings, Wenyen’s best chances of playing professionally will likely be the G-League or overseas. So far, he’s worked out for Oklahoma City, Utah, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and Sacramento, so here’s hoping he gets a spot in a summer league.

“Big Blue Nation, we’ve shared some exciting memories together,” he added. “From the first time I walked out for Big Blue Madness all the way to walking out of St. Louis as SEC champs, Kentucky will always be my home.”

Best of luck, Wenyen. Thank you for the memories. We’ll all be rooting for you.


PJ Washington is returning to Kentucky

PJ Washington is back, baby! Washington just announced he is withdrawing from the NBA Draft and will return to Kentucky for his sophomore season:

“I want to thank everyone for their support during this process and allowing me to take my time for one of the most important decisions of my life,” Washington said in a release from UK. “The plan all along was to get all the information that was out there to make the best decision for me and my family. I’ve always had a list of goals that I want to accomplish in my life, and one of the most important ones is making it to the NBA. That hasn’t changed at all.

“But another one of my goals is to win a national championship in college, and that’s what I want to do next season at Kentucky. I believe with who we have coming back and who we have coming in that we can do that. I learned a lot during my freshman season and became a better player, but I think I’ve only scratched the surface. With everything I’ve learned, I want to lead this team and compete for a championship. I can’t wait to get back on campus and get this thing started again.”

John Calipari praised the rules that allow player to test the waters to get feedback, but admitted he’s really happy he’ll be able to coach PJ for another season.

“This is what the NBA Draft rules are in place for,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “PJ was able to test the waters and get all the information that was available to him to make the best decision for him and his family. Whatever PJ decided we were going to support, but I’m really happy with the decision he’s come to because I really want to coach PJ for another season. I know how good of a player he is and think he showed it at times last season, but I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and build on it. What I love most about this decision is why PJ is doing it. He told me he wants to come back to be a leader, to grow and to drag his teammates with him as we try to do something special.”

LET’S GOOOOOOOO. Jarred, Wenyen, and Reid, get in here!!!!


What we’re hearing with 7.5 hours to go

I hope everyone is enjoying UK Decision Day 2018. We are over 16 hours into this day without any decisions, but that will change over the next eight hours.

Here’s a short update on what I’m hearing:

P.J. Washington: I’ve heard only positive things but I haven’t had one person come out and tell me he’s definitively coming back to UK. There’s no denying that the buzz on Washington over the last week has flipped.

I haven’t spoken to anyone with knowledge of the Reid Travis and how that impacts Washington.

Washington may leave, but my guess is he is leaning towards returning to UK.

(UPDATE: Moments after publishing this story Washington announced he’s returning to UK)

Wenyen Gabriel: I’m most confident about Wenyen Gabriel RETURNING to Kentucky for a junior season. I’m at the point where I would be slightly surprised if he stayed in the NBA Draft. Again, I haven’t had anyone tell me if Reid Travis possibly coming to UK would lead Gabriel elsewhere. Assuming Travis doesn’t scare off Gabriel I would expect him to return.

Jarred Vanderbilt: It seems that where there’s been positive momentum for Washington, it’s been the opposite for Vanderbilt. This has easily been the toughest code to crack, but I haven’t spoken with one person that believes Vanderbilt will return to UK today. No one was 100 percent certain, but it seems that Vanderbilt may try his luck at the next level. If that’s the case I hope he gets healthy and dominates.

Reid Travis: He seems locked into going to UK, but I am curious if Washington and Gabriel return, along with Richards and Montgomery, how that may impact his decision. I’m going to wait to see what the UK trio does before going down that wormhole.

I was told that the decisions shouldn’t last until midnight, so we could be hearing final decisions shortly.

 


USA Today

Adolph Rupp nearly ran for office

USA Today

Maybe some of the older members of Big Blue Nation will remember this but the greatest coach in UK history nearly ran for office.

The University of Kentucky had a mandatory retirement age of 70. Some (including Adolph Rupp) thought an exception would be made for Rupp after he had been coaching since 1930. After Rupp’s 1972 season ended in the Elite Eight he questioned whether he could continue to coach despite UK’s rule.

Rupp tried to fight retirement and hoped the UK Board of Trustees would change the rule, but Rupp was unsuccessful. While in limbo and waiting to hear from UK, Rupp told the Courier-Journal that he was considering running for the 6th district congressional seat. That district spans Lexington, Richmond and Frankfort.

Rupp had zero experience running for office or holding office, but he was confident that if he ran not only could he win but he would do a good job.

“I know as much about Vietnam and these other things as those other fellows know,” Rupp told the Courier-Journal. “I was brought up on a farm. I worked on a farm until I was 23. I have owned a farm since 1941.”

I would have voted for Rupp with the campaign slogan “I know as much about things things as those other fellows.” Quite frankly it’s better than what we get today.

Incumbent William Curlin decided not to run and just a few days after mentioning a potential political career Rupp thought better of the idea thanks to advice from his family.

“After meeting with my family they all hoped I would not run for Congress, and urged me not to,” Rupp said. “I will abide by their wishes.”

Rupp’s plan was to run as a Democrat but after his family asked him not to run the seat was won by fellow Democrat John B. Breckinridge. Breckinridge would go on serving for six years. Rupp died just over five years later from spinal cancer on a night UK beat Kansas (Rupp’s alma mater) at Allen Fieldhouse.

Perhaps Rupp was just trying to show the UK Board that he had other options and didn’t have to coach. Or perhaps Rupp truly wanted to make a political run.

Would you have voted for Rupp? Do you think Cal has any political aspirations after coaching?