On Wednesday night, Kentucky forward PJ Washington announced his return to school for a sophomore season, giving the Cats a sure-thing in the frontcourt and solidifying an absolutely stacked roster in 2018-19.
And it wasn’t the only good news of the afternoon.
Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel sadly announced their intentions to keep their names in the NBA Draft, but Stanford star big man Reid Travis officially withdrew from the draft and announced his transfer from the school. Almost immediately, Travis-to-Kentucky rumors spread at a ridiculous rate.
Seriously, just about every recruiting analyst declared Kentucky the runaway favorite to land the 6-foot-8 graduate transfer.
To update the update: all signs pointing toward Reid Travis as a grad transfer to Kentucky. Different kind of one-and-done. Calipari has been critical of grad transfers in the past, but I guess situations change.
— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) May 31, 2018
Kentucky is believed to be the heavy favorite to land graduate transfer Reid Travis. Would be a massive addition for John Calipari. https://t.co/4Bfr5ul7jF
— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) May 30, 2018
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) May 30, 2018
Stanford’s Reid Travis will withdraw and transfer elsewhere, sources told ESPN. The odds-on favorite to land Travis is Kentucky.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 30, 2018
There were rumors that Travis would be taking a visit to Kentucky this weekend with an announcement coming soon after. There are no confirmations he is on campus, or even has a visit scheduled, but one is expected in the very near future.
And if he transfers to Kentucky as expected, the Cats will have two absolute bullies at their disposal.
But what would that look like?
To start, Washington and Travis have very similar games, with the Stanford transfer being a more polished low-post threat and Washington having a higher ceiling. Several analysts believe the current Kentucky forward can compete for SEC Player of the Year next season if he continues to progress the way he did over the course of last season and shows off an improved shooting stroke. Travis is already one of the top players in the Pac-12. Both are bully-ball bigs with ridiculous strength and impressive touch around the rim.
And it should lead to two death lineups for Kentucky.
If Calipari decides to go small, I don’t think there will be a better frontcourt in all of college basketball with Washington and Travis starting. We’d be looking at a starting lineup along the lines of:
Ashton Hagans, Quade Green, Keldon Johnson, Reid Travis, and PJ Washington.
EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, and Jemarl Baker would likely come off the bench, in that order.
Early in the season, Washington tried to play more of a finesse game than a power game. He tried putting the ball on the floor and playing like a three, where he usually got worked in the post and/or turned the ball over as a result. When Washington utilized his pure strength and forced the issue down low, he usually dominated the game scoring and on the glass. As I mentioned earlier, his touch around the rim is incredibly underrated. He finished some absolutely ridiculous shots in the post and while driving, and that should certainly continue this season.
Now multiply the best features of Washington times two, which is what the Cats would be getting in Travis on the opposite block.
Travis scored in double figures in all but one game and scored over 20 points in 18 games this past season. He also led the NCAA in and-ones and finished No. 16 in double-doubles with 16 on the year. His experience is evident, as well, as he has a knack for forcing the opposition into foul trouble with strong pump fakes and pure muscle around the basket. His range is extending, and teams can no longer sag off of him behind the arc. The only reason he’s not in the NBA right now is because teams worry about him being too small for a four and not skilled enough to be a three in the league, but that’s obviously not a worry at the college ranks. He’s been selected First-Team All-Pac-12 twice, ranks seventh in school history with 1,427 points, and 10th in school history with 758 rebounds. He even ranked third in the Pac-12 in both scoring (19.5 PPG) and rebounding (8.7 RPG) last season. The kid is an absolute stud.
At his best, even the best defenders struggled to slow down Washington. On a normal day, Travis was one of the most dominant low-post players in the Pac-12. Having two workhorses in the paint at the same time would be nearly unstoppable.
One of the things that made the 2012 National Championship team so successful was their impressive one-two punch in the paint, with Terrence Jones being the power player/enforcer and Anthony Davis being the finesse/defender. They fed off each other extremely well, and opposing defenses struggled to slow them down and compete on both ends of the floor.
This season, Coach Cal can bring something similar to the table in two separate lineups, with one of Reid Travis and PJ Washington matching up with one of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. They’d be interchangeable in most cases. Montgomery is incredibly skilled offensively, with a silky-smooth set of post moves already. He’d be the finesse counter to one of the Cats’ power players in Travis and Washington, and would almost certainly start over a potential frontcourt pairing with Richards. Both units could score (led by Washington and Travis) and defend (led by Montgomery and Richards).
Once the starters needed a breather, Richards and the other piece between Travis and Washington would come in with very little dropoff. Richards needs a big offseason to find and develop his offensive game (he has played only six years of basketball in his life, after all), but we’ve seen short spurts of impressive potential, including games of 25-15, 9-7, 10-8, 10-6, etc. In fact, his PER-40 numbers from last year are very similar to Willie Cauley-Stein’s numbers from 2012-13, showing he can certainly develop into a stud player in the very near future.
If Richards can take a solid step forward this offseason, this double-dual-threat rotation could be absolutely deadly for Kentucky. Like a mini-platoon with more options, as they are all interchangeable and starter-quality players with different skillsets.
Regardless, if Reid Travis makes it official and becomes a Wildcat, opposing defenses will have their hands full this year.
Here are some highlights from both Washington and Travis from this past season:
Let’s get No. 9, Mr. Travis.