Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in 2009-10, his Wildcat teams have boasted some of the tallest lineups in all of college basketball. Last year’s national runner-up team was no different. The average height of Kentucky’s 16-man roster in 2013-14 was just over 6’5â€³, though if you chose not to count seldom used walk-ons Sam Malone (5’11â€³) and Brian Long (5’9â€³), the average jumped over a full inch to 6’6.5″.
So far, 6’6″ G/F James Young has been the only underclassman to declare for the NBA Draft, and 7’0″ F/C Willie Cauley-Stein (along with 6’9″ F Marcus Lee) has been the only contributing underclassman to announce his return to Lexington. At this point, everything else is just speculation. However, it is safe to say that 6’9″ F Julius Randle will be joining Young next June after only one season in college. As for everyone else (6’6″ G Andrew Harrison, 6’6″ G Aaron Harrison, 7’0″ F/C Dakari Johnson, and 6’8″ F Alex Poythress), it is completely within the realm of possibility for the Wildcats to return five of Kentucky’s top seven contributors from last season.
If the ‘Cats did bring back the twins, Johnson, and Poythress (while losing Randle), Kentucky would retain its average roster height of just over 6’5″ per player. This, of course, would be pretty huge for the Wildcats, to say the least. 6’6″ Young would be replaced by 6’6″ incoming freshman Devin Booker, and the 6’9″ Randle would be traded for 6’9″ 2014 Indiana Mr. Basketball Trey Lyles. With the graduation of seniors Jarrod Polson (6’2″) and Jon Hood (6’7″), Kentucky evens out their absence with the additions of 7’0″ Karl-Anthony Towns, Jr. and 5’9″ Tyler Ulis.
It’s no secret that roster length was a major factor in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament run that saw the Wildcats reach the championship game for the 12th time in school history. Offensive rebounding and defensive shot-blocking were keys to UK’s success, fueled by the towering length Kentucky boasted over each of its opponents. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the brothers Harrison will decide to forgo their final three seasons of NCAA eligibility and cause a major drop-off in size in Kentucky’s backcourt. If they do leave, the Wildcats’ average roster height will remain at 6’5″, but the team’s backcourt depth will obviously no longer include the two 6’6″ guards. Instead, it will be composed only of 6’6″ Booker, 5’9″ Ulis, and 6’0″ sophomore guard Dominique Hawkins. If the 7’0″ Johnson decides to join James, Julius, Andrew, and Aaron on their way out the door, Kentucky will lose one of its three potential 7-footers for next season, and the average roster height will drop almost a full inch to over 6’4″ per player. In most contexts, one inch may not make much of a difference, but on a basketball court, it could be the distinction between a game-winning basket and a game-saving block (see Anthony Davis vs. North Carolina, 2011-12).
Size does matter.