John Calipari has been a vocal critic of graduate transfers, which may make today’s news that Stanford’s Reid Travis could transfer to Kentucky for his fifth year seem a little hypocritical; however, when you compare Travis’ situation to those Calipari originally rallied against, the difference is clear.
Calipari’s main arguments against the fifth-year transfer rule came a few years back when Rick Pitino lured Cleveland State’s Trey Lewis and Drexel’s Damion Lee to Louisville. As a result of losing its best player, Drexel struggled and the administration fired head coach Bruiser Flint, one of Calipari’s best friends. To support Flint (and take a shot at Rick), Calipari spoke out against the grad transfer rule, arguing that it plunders talent from mid-major programs and leaves them in a lurch.
“What happened was, the NCAA has a rule that a kid can leave a program like Drexel after being coached and molded for three years and go to another school without having to sit out,” Calipari said in a voicemail to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dick Jerardi. “If (Damion) Lee is there, they’re in the NCAA Tournament. We’re not even talking in these terms, but that happened.”
But, Calipari’s already taken a grad transfer in Julius Mays, who came to Kentucky from Wright State back in 2012, right? In March 2017, Calipari was asked how his views on grad transfers had changed since then.
“(Mays) really wanted to come to Kentucky,” Calipari said. “And I’m happy that we took him because he is one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached, and he gave us a veteran guard. But at the end of the day, anyone that has a board with all the graduate transfers on it – like, ‘Who can we get from here?’ – think about it, those are players who are playing for a mid-major program that has invested in them and they have a year to go, and it’s that coach and that program’s time.”
So, how is Travis’ situation different? First, he went to Stanford, a Power 5 school, not a mid-major. Also, unlike Lee, the coach Travis originally committed to, Johnny Dawkins, was fired in 2016. Don’t forget that Cam Johnson, a grad transfer from Pitt, almost came to Kentucky last spring. He ended up at North Carolina, but Kentucky’s involvement proves Calipari is fine going after grad transfers from Power 5 conferences.
Reid Travis’ skills in the post and experience will help make either Kentucky or Villanova a national title contender, but taking him doesn’t make Calipari a hypocrite.