On Tuesday, the news that several college basketball fan-bases have been waiting for, finally became official. And for the sake of the fan-base that most closely monitors this website, it didn’t work out in their favor.
That’s because on Tuesday, N’Faly Dante, a 6-11 center, who is originally from Mali, but played his last few years of high school ball in Kansas made his college decision. After a long, winding recruitment in which Dante began as a part of the 2020 class, he announced that he would be reclassifying to 2019, and that he would sign with Oregon. He chose the Ducks over Kentucky, LSU and a handful of other schools.
So with that, the final unknown puzzle piece of the 2019-2020 season has found his home. Oregon got a nice, last minute addition to 2019-2020 roster and the teams that missed out can look ahead to next season for certain, without the possibility of adding any new players.
Yet while so many prognosticators, so-called “experts” and fans have deemed this as a “devastating loss” for Kentucky, I just don’t see it that way. Yes, Dante is talented. Yes, in general, when you have a chance to add a talented piece, you want to do it.
But no, this is not a crushing loss for Kentucky going into next season.
Now before we got further, let’s get a few disclaimers out of the way. To be clear, no this article is not meant to tear down an 18-year-old kid. Everyone reading this hopefully knows that isn’t my intention. My intention is solely to talk about him as a college basketball player, and the impact which I believe he will or won’t have next season.
I’m also not only writing this because Dante chose Oregon over Kentucky, and this is a Kentucky-based outlet. That’s not the reasoning at all.
As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. If you follow my work at all – either on Twitter, writing or my podcast – you know that that I’ve said for months that Dante is a work in progress. That even if he did reclassify and play college basketball this season, his impact, in my opinion, would be minimal.
That has been my stance all spring and summer, and didn’t change with today’s decision. If you have any doubts, here is a tweet I sent out on the subject back in June. Two months ago.
Interesting development. Have seen N'Faly Dante a few times the past year, including at Hoops Summit a few months ago. Even if he does reclassify, Id temper expectations as a fan. He's still got a ways to go to be a major contributor in college (think Nick Richards freshman year) https://t.co/EMcmbq25NH
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) June 26, 2019
Therefore this isn’t about tearing down a player, but instead, being realistic about the impact which he can have on college basketball this season.
And for starters, let’s begin with some simple facts on Dante. It’s important to remember that he isn’t just relatively new to the sport of basketball, but new to the United States and new to the English language, after growing up in Mali and speaking French for most of his childhood (By the way, if we can step away from basketball for a second, let’s give him some credit: This dude just made up a full year of high school over the summer, and got necessary test scores, and English isn’t even his first language!!! Shout out to him. What he did the last six months is so much harder than most people realize)
But from a basketball perspective? Again, there will be a learning curve.
Keep in mind that for all the time we spend hyping freshmen in college, the number of guys who actually have a major impact on the sport is minimal at best. For every Zion Williamson who bursts onto the scene, there is a Nassir Little who is crazy hyped and has trouble adjusting to the college game. Heck, just last season, how many freshmen really had a major impact in college basketball? Zion, RJ Barrett, Coby White, Tyler Herro, and maybe I’m missing a guy or two. But it isn’t many. Now, how about the guys who came in with a lot of hype and didn’t live up to it? Well, there was Little, Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson, Kevin Porter at USC, Jahvon Quinerly, you could go on, and on.
It’s a major transition, even for kids who spent their whole lives playing basketball. It will be that much more for Dante because of his unique background. Not to mention, it’s not even like he has the benefit of playing a whole summer at the college level. He will show up in late August or early September and be expected to acclimate at the college level in time for November. That won’t be easy.
You know what else the reality is on Dante? While he has looked good against his peer group this summer (yes, for everyone in my timeline, I know he won Peach Jam MVP. I also won the Sixth Grade Geography Bee. Who cares?), when he actually played up in competition earlier this spring he struggled. Trust me, I was at the Nike Hoops Summit in April, where Dante went up against an American team featuring James Wiseman, Isaiah Stewart and Vernon Carey (who did only play for a small segment because of injury). And Dante looked like just another guy going against those guys.
Now I know Dante got better over the summer. But I also know that he will be going up against guys just as good as Wiseman and Stewart regularly in college basketball, and sometimes players two, three and four years older. You think those guys care about his credentials? Heck, you think his own teammates, who are fighting for playing time with him care about what he did at the high school level? OF course not.
(As a matter of fact, here is a quick prediction for you: Shakur Juiston, a rugged senior for Oregon will average more points and rebounds this season for the Ducks than Dante does. Not because Dante is a bad player. But because the adjustment to college is REALLY hard)
And finally, as it pertains to Kentucky, as I’ve argued for months, this may be a blessing in disguise. Dante is a true low post (and a good one at that) but one whose skillset doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the pieces that John Calipari has accumulated, for a hyper-athletic, position-less team in 2019-2020. As I’ve said all along, heading into 2019-2020, I like the versatility of Kentucky’s roster. I like how their bigs can do a little bit of everything. I like that Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks can be part of small or big lineups. I like that they can play two, three or in some cases even four guards (if you count Johnny Juzang as a guard).
So in the end, I wish N’Faly Dante nothing but luck.
Maybe I’ll be wrong on his impact on college basketball, only time will tell.
But one thing I do know is that Kentucky will move on without him. And be just fine.