The day Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr announced his commitment to Kentucky, every analysis piece highlighting the magnitude of the addition included one key caveat.
While it’s no question Sarr – a 7-foot, 255-pound center who averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last year as a junior – is a game-changer on the court, there was never a guarantee he would actually be able to take the floor at Kentucky. And until the NCAA makes a decision on the former Demon Deacon’s waiver request, those questions remain.
With Sarr’s eligibility in limbo, national analysts are having to factor that significant aspect in when pumping out way-too-early preseason polls.
Some – ESPN and CBS Sports being two – still have Kentucky listed in the top 15, while others have the Wildcats further down the list, with Jeff Goodman being the biggest outlier at No. 24 overall.
Back in May, Goodman came on KSR’s Sources Say Podcast to defend his ranking of Kentucky, with Sarr being the key difference in the Cats being a legitimate contender and barely cracking the top 25.
“Olivier Sarr is not eligible today. He may be, he may get a waiver,” he said. “But I’m not counting them eligible until they get that waiver. We don’t know what the NCAA is going to do to with these waivers. People expect they’re just going to hand them out like candy, and they may. But it’s the NCAA, nobody has any freaking clue what they’re going to do, as we’ve seen in the past.”
Just today, the NBA pushed back the early entry deadline to August 17 and added a withdrawal date for Oct. 6, meaning players who previously elected not to enter the NBA Draft will now have two months to revisit those decisions and potentially enter in the coming months.
While it’s not a deal breaker for Sarr’s waiver request either way – the initial decision to transfer and submit a waiver was made well before today’s rule change – it certainly throws another wrench into a situation that was already complicated from the jump.
If you ask Goodman, Sarr’s waiver decision is a game changer not only for Kentucky, but the entire college basketball world.
“Once he becomes eligible, he fills a huge, huge, huge hole for Kentucky,” Goodman said. “He means more to any team in the top 50 than anybody else, and it’s not even close.”
With Sarr, the national basketball analyst sees Kentucky as a sure-fire Final Four team.
“Nobody knows what the NCAA will do with this waiver, but I think it’s a season determining waiver for Kentucky,” Goodman told KSR. “With him, yeah, I think they’re a Final Four team. This is a kid who put up 14 and 9 in the ACC, albeit for a sh**ty team, he still put up good numbers and is a veteran. … I could see him coming in and filling a void like Reid Travis did.”
Without him, he feels there are significant issues elsewhere on the roster, specifically in the frontcourt.
“They go from having, I don’t want to say nobody, but they don’t really have any big men,” he said. “If they threw out a team, who’s their big? Isaiah Jackson? [Keion Brooks] isn’t a big, he’s not a true five. He’s an undersized four.”
“They lost 94 percent of their points, 98.6 percent of their assists, and 93 percent of their minutes. The first two are the most in the Calipari era,” Goodman added. “They bring back one guy: Keion Brooks. I don’t understand why anyone would think I’m unreasonable putting them at No. 24. It’s baffling to me. If you tell me Olivier Sarr is cleared, ready to go? You’ve got a veteran big guy who could fill a huge role for them, average 15 and 8 or 9? S**t yeah, I’ll put them back up 10 or 15 spots and they’re back in that top 10.”
Outside the frontcourt, he’s high on both BJ Boston and Devin Askew, but feels Terrence Clarke is a work in progress at this point in time.
“I’m worried about Terrence Clarke, I’m not going to lie to you,” Goodman said. “And he’s a Massachusetts kid, I’ve seen him play a lot. I saw him at Brewster this past year. He didn’t guard a lick. Not a lick. He’s going to have to be, reprogramed? Is that the right word? It’s just going to take time. Terrence Clarke has a ton of ability, but it’s going to take time, I think, to buy in. That’s all I’m saying right here. Him working out, playing two-on-two with [the Kentucky signees] and Darren Collison, however it’s going, that’s not Camp Cal.
“I’m higher on Devin Askew than most. I absolutely love him. Love him,” the national analyst continued. “As a college point guard, I think he’s an absolute killer, just plays the right way. He’ll be a two- or three-year point guard, but I just think he’s got the winning DNA. I love him.”
“Listen, I’m not saying this isn’t going to be a good team at all. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying, this is just preseason rankings, and without a big guy on the roster, a bunch of freshmen, and one guy returning who averaged 4.5 points per game. And with a recruiting class that is No. 1, but isn’t quite as overwhelming as it’s been in the past. Like, you’re not looking at it and saying, “Oh my God, that guy. How are we going to stop that guy?”
“Terrence Clarke isn’t that. I think BJ Boston is their highest upside guy, I think he can be a star. He’s definitely that guy that’s got to be that alpha dog. Again, it’s just such a young, young team, and I don’t think people realize how much they’ve lost. They’ve lost more than they’ve ever lost. I get it, they’ve got a great class coming in. There are a lot of times I look back on things and say, “Hey, I F’d up.” I don’t think this is one of them, at least today.”
Until the day the Wake Forest transfer is declared eligible, Goodman simply doesn’t see Kentucky’s roster is a Final Four contender, plain and simple.
“Could it change if Olivier Sarr is eligible? Absolutely,” he said. “But the team that Calipari would trot out today, I don’t think they’d be a Final Four contender.”