Over the past couple weeks, John Calipari’s social media accounts have been ablaze with all of the typical, mid-summer Calipari content. You know what I’m talking about. Calipari is always putting out all sorts of good stuff – updates on old friends (no one catches up with more middle and high school friends than Calipari does), old players he’s run into on the recruiting trail, things like that.
But quite a bit of Calipari’s content lately has also been about what next year’s team could look like. And once again Calipari is throwing out one of his favorite words – “position-less” – to describe next year’s roster.
Yet while too many coaches throw around the phrase “position-less” haphazardly nowadays (heck, Calipari may have done it once or twice himself in the past) I think it accurately describes what the 2019-2020 Kentucky basketball roster will look like. I also think that the Wildcats positionless-ness (pretty sure I just made up that word) should actually be a strength heading into next season.
It’s funny really, because when I interact with Kentucky fans (be it on social media, or when they e-mail into my podcast) it seems as though every UK fan’s biggest fear is that next year’s team simply isn’t big enough. That a roster with only Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina isn’t enough, and that they’re one big man short. That they “need” N’Faly Dante to reclassify and become a member of the 2020 Kentucky Wildcats.
A couple thoughts on that. One, based on everything I’ve heard, I’m not sure that Dante will be able to reclassify in time to get to campus for next season. After all, making up a year of high school is harder than most folks realize – especially when the player involved (Dante) doesn’t speak English as his first language. Not to mention that after having KSR’s Jack Pilgrim on my podcast this week, Jack seems convinced that even if Dante were to reclassify, Kentucky might not be his first choice in colleges.
(To listen to all of Jack’s comments on Kentucky recruiting, click here and download Monday’s show).
Therefore, while any school would be willing to take a kid as talented as Dante, I’m not sure that Kentucky will get him for next season. More importantly, I’m not sure Kentucky necessarily “needs” him either.
My mentor and friend, Coach Hall, likes our new team. He loves that we made a bunch of jump shots. He said this could be our best shooting team. Said we made our first nine shots when we scrimmaged. pic.twitter.com/VF7z0CZ67r
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) July 15, 2019
It sounds preposterous, but just hear me out on this. Because in looking at Kentucky’s personnel for next season, they really do have the guys to play small ball and position-less. As a matter of fact, playing small ball and position-less might put their best players in the best position to succeed. Which might, in the process, help the Wildcats reach their potential as a team next season.
At guard, it’s hard not to love the blend of talent and experience that Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey provide. I’ve already written at length about Hagans this summer, where I explained why I truly believe he will evolve into an All-SEC type point guard. I also think that folks are completely sleeping on Immanuel Quickley and his ability to potentially serve as “instant offense” for this team. Quickley showed flashes last season and should be even better in 2019-2020 whether he comes off the bench or is in the starting lineup. As for Tyrese Maxey, well, his talent speaks for itself. He’s a McDonald’s All-American and was a guy that coaches told me was the best shooter all week at the Nike Hoops Summit back in April. This guy is just a straight up baller. There’s a reason that he’s projected by virtually everyone as Kentucky’s best long-term NBA prospect.
Then there’s the wing and in the front-court, which is where things get really interesting for the Wildcats. We all know that Johnny Juzang will get buckets from deep, but it’s at the forward spots where Kentucky can really create mismatches and give opposing teams headaches. Kahlil Whitney (and to a smaller degree Keion Brooks) can play as a “traditional” three-man when Calipari wants to go big, with Montgomery at the four and Nick Richards at the five. Or, Whitney can play a new-age “small ball” four with Montgomery sliding over to the five.
Can you imagine, the speed, versatility and athleticism that a Hagans-Maxey-Juzang-Whitney-Montgomery lineup would have, and the mismatches it would create? Same if you sub Quickley in at one of the guard spots. Or Brooks or Nate Sestina at the four spot.
Remember, the Golden State Warriors just made three straight NBA Finals with what they called their “death lineup” of four perimeter players (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant) on the floor, with Draymond Green serving as the team’s “big.” While I’d never, ever compare the talent of college kids to the best team in the NBA over the last few years, Kentucky’s own version of the “death lineup” could give opponents all sorts of fits. Put simply, no matter what you think of this collection of players, it promises to be one of Calipari’s most versatile rosters yet.
So no, don’t believe the narrative that Kentucky is “a big man” short, or that they “need” N’Faly Dante.
Dante would certainly be nice.
But this roster has the talent and versatility to not only win games – but give opponents nightmares in the process.