The 2020-2021 Kentucky Wildcat basketball team is officially on campus and has begun workouts to prepare for the season ahead. And while there is still some uncertainty about what exactly the season will look like, some games will eventually be played. And because of it, it’s never too early to know the new players on this roster even better.
Therefore, in addition to all the long-form articles KSR did in the spring, we’ll also spend the next few weeks trying to track down other people who know these new players well, to get even further insight on them. For the incoming high school players, it might be a high school or AAU coach, and for the college transfers, maybe an assistant or head coach who went against them this past season.
Here are the pieces we’ve previously done:
Today, it’s time to focus on arguably the most important piece of the 2020-2021 puzzle for the Kentucky Wildcats, Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr
About a week ago, a high-major assistant coach took a call from a vacation home high in the mountains, with limited cell phone reception. By technical definition, he and the rest of the staff were there on a little “retreat,” but in actuality it was mostly just a “getaway.” Yes, there was plenty of hoops talk in the morning, but also plenty of hiking and swimming in the afternoon.
In other words, it was the perfect chance for this coach to get away from all the noise, and ignore any media requests that could otherwise be put off to another time. Instead when I texted the coach, he gladly took the request, and as soon as the call began, started absolutely gushing about Olivier Sarr.
“Wake was my scout,” the coach said. “I’m going to say that he was the most skilled big man we played the entire year. Skilled, not best. Our entire was game-plan for Wake Forest surrounded stopping him.”
The coach continued.
“He killed us,” the coach said. “We literally couldn’t guard him.”
If this sounds like the remarks of an overzealous coach trying to hype up a kid who had a good game against him, think again. One, his team got the win. And two, this coach knows hoops. He has spent most of the last decade around high-major basketball. He’s been part of high-major teams that have won conference regular season and tournament championships and made multiple Sweet 16’s and Elite Eight’s in the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and his team also faced multiple big men this season who will end up being selected early in the NBA Draft.
Still, if there was any doubt as to whether the coach was telling the truth or not, he followed up by adding something else.
“We were waiting to see if he got in the portal,” he said laughing. “Because we were like ‘that motherf***er is good.’”
So yeah, Sarr is talented, but to be blunt, we already knew that it. That’s kind of common sense whenever anyone is named to an All-League team, especially in a conference as loaded as the ACC. It even takes on more meaning when you remember that he did it on a bad team. It’s one thing to be All-ACC at a place like Duke or Virginia. Quite another on a team which finished tied for last place. It also kind of becomes common-sense when you look at the stat lines, where Sarr managed five 20-point games this season, and one 30-point game. Not to mention six double doubles in the final 14 games of the season.
More than just one individual game, or even an accumulation of stats, what impressed this coach the most about Sarr though was his all-around skill-set.
“He has a nice little 15 to 17 foot range on his game,” the coach said. “He’s a good passer, good feel for the game, good touch around the rim. He can finish with either hand, left or right, has multiple counters in the post. He can go straight up, up and under, he can turn over either shoulder.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) July 24, 2020
Also, as a grizzled veteran of high-major college basketball, Sarr understands the importance of getting after it on the defensive end as well.
“He’s not one of those bigs that only plays one end of the floor,” the coach said. “He really competes and gets after it on defense. There was a game we watched as a staff where I think he had six blocks in one game.” (**Note: It was five versus Charleston)
In the bigger picture what might be most impressive is that again, Sarr did all this on a bad team.
Yes, it’s obvious Sarr’s team at Wake Forest was bad. Heck, he wouldn’t be at Kentucky if that weren’t the case. At the same time, it also puts into perspective who Sarr is and what could make him so special at Kentucky. He played his absolute best basketball late, even when it was clear his coach’s job was on the line. It also came despite the lack of a true point guard in the starting lineup.
“Childress their point guard was a shoot first guy,” the coach said of Wake point guard Brandon Childress. With no disrespect to the departed Childress, while he led the team in assists at over four per game, he also averaged nearly three turnovers per game. That alone also underlies how much better Sarr could be with more talented teammates around him.
Still, if there is any one thing that shows what Sarr’s potential could be – which in turn also shows what Kentucky’s potential as a team could be – it could be in the quote that led the article. Notice how the coach didn’t call Sarr the “best” big man he faced last season, but instead the “most gifted.” Gifted. Meaning that as good as he was in the ACC, he is only just now starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
And with better coaching and more talented teammates, that potential could be unlocked this season. This coach knows it, having previously spent time as an assistant in the SEC.
“Having been in the SEC as an assistant for a few years I think he’s going to be a killer,” the coach said. “I’m just thinking back to the guys that were in the league when I was there, they just weren’t as good as good as him.”
The coach continued, as he began to wrap up his phone call and get back to the cabin life living.
“As you’ve probably noticed,” he said, “I think very, very highly of him.”