Well people, the long, national nightmare is over. After weeks of seeing some of the best available players on the transfer market make their college choices, Kentucky finally struck on Friday. It came with the announcement that Davion Mintz, a grad transfer from Creighton, would play his final year of college basketball at Kentucky.
And while I’ve admittedly questioned the “fit” for some other grad transfer options, I’ve got to say, I love what Mintz brings to the table for the Wildcats. With the usual departure of players to the NBA Draft, the transfer of Johnny Juzang and the potential that both Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery also go pro, the Wildcats simply needed bodies to fill out next year’s roster. The fact that they added one with four years at a high-major program, and will a versatile game to boot only makes it better.
Anyway, as the news slowly started to trickle out late Thursday that Mintz would become a Wildcat, I decided to make a few phone calls to those who know Mintz better than I do to get you some more details.
Here is what you need to know about the newest Wildcat, Davion Mintz.
What is his background?
Mintz is originally from North Carolina and – as you’ve probably heard by now – spent the last four seasons at Creighton.
His role evolved over those seasons, from role player as a freshman, to primary ball-handler as a sophomore, to a bit more off-the-ball as a junior. And his numbers reflect that. As a sophomore in 2017-2018 he actually led the Bluejays in assists with 3.1 a game to go along with 6.1 points per game. As a junior in 2018-2019 his role changed, as with the emergence of Marcus Zegarowski at point guard – who was All Big East first team this season – he played more off the ball. His points per game stayed the same at about 3.1 per game, while his scoring increased to 9.1 points per contest.
And then there was last season, which was unfortunately lost to injury. After a strong showing in Creighton’s summer tour of Australia, Mintz suffered a high ankle sprain in the fall and never was able to recover and get back on the court. With Creighton having success without him (they split the Big East regular season title), and with the potential to return its entire starting backcourt, Mintz elected to transfer last week.
Now before too many people freak out about what I just wrote above – that he got hurt, other players emerged and the team played fine without him – I don’t necessarily think that is a negative.
One, injuries happen, it’s part of the deal, and credit to the other guys on the team for stepping up. Two, in talking with a few coaches in the Big East, it’s not as though if Mintz was healthy he wouldn’t have played this year. He was a more than capable piece that would have played a big role for a team which was in the Top 15 nationally for most of January, February and early March. Unfortunately with Mintz on the sidelines roles were established and that is why he decided to look for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Still, once he hit the transfer market, my understanding is that Kentucky targeted him early and made him a priority. In recent days I was told that other schools who reached out to him were told that his recruitment was done, and to not even bother calling.
Today, he became a Wildcat.
What will he bring to the program?
Seeing the reaction of some fans, it seems as though there is a disappointment he wasn’t a bigger “star” or didn’t do more at Creighton.
While I understand the sentiment, remember, Kentucky didn’t need star players on the grad transfer market. They have BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke for that. Let’s also remember that there really aren’t stars in the grad transfer market to begin with. As I repeatedly say on my podcast and in writing “there are no Joe Burrow’s in college basketball.” If you’re good enough to be in the NBA by your fifth year of college, you’re in the NBA. People forget that for all the hype Kerry Blackshear got last summer, he went through the entire draft process and wanted to stay in – but got next to no buzz from NBA teams. That’s why he ended up back in college.
So don’t worry about the whole “he’s not a star” thing, and instead, appreciate what he is: The exact guard Kentucky needed at this moment in time. He brings just about everything the Wildcats lacked including, experience, toughness, productivity and versatility to a program that desperately needed all of that.
In terms of the “experience” part, well, this was maybe (at least in my opinion), the most important part of why this “works.” If Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery both declare, it would mean that Kentucky would be returning a grand total of one player (Keion Brooks) who has ever played a game in college basketball. Mintz has played in close to 100, in a power conference, against teams that have made the NCAA Tournament, and in 2018, won the national championship (Villanova). He has played against a National Player of the Year (Jalen Brunson, Villanova) and went head-to-head every day in practice with an eventual draft pick in Khyri Thomas, plus a couple guys (Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander) who were All-Big East this year. Put simply, he has seen things that – with respect to his younger, more talented teammates – they haven’t.
He’s also a versatile piece, that – as mentioned above – can play on or off the ball. According to a coach I spoke with on Thursday, he plays “best off the ball attacking, but can run the offense when needed” which honestly could make him one of the more valuable pieces on the Wildcats roster next year (especially if/when it becomes official that Quickley isn’t coming back). It means that if needed, he can run the show at point guard until Devin Askew gets comfortable, and then can play off the ball as the freshman eases into things. Speaking of “off the ball,” he is also a guy that has been effective shooting three-pointers, hitting 34.7 percent as a junior in 2018-2019 and over 35 percent the two years before that. Considering that Quickley was the only guard in the starting lineup who hit those numbers last season, Mintz’s three-point shooting is a much needed addition.
Finally, there is his defense, and I had one person who knows the Creighton program well tell me “he was their best on the ball defender” when he was in the lineup two seasons ago.
With a young team, where the defense will likely take a while to catch up to the offense, you can’t put a price on that.
How will he fit in with the team
Again, I know this isn’t the big, bold splash that Wildcat fans were looking for in the transfer market. But again, along with star players every team needs role players as well. And as long as Mintz comes in understanding what his role is – always an issue in the transfer game – he should be a welcome addition to this roster.
For the Wildcats (who were clearly in need of depth in the backcourt) this is, in my opinion, about as good as they could have done.
At best, they now have a guy who – as mentioned above – can ease the transition for Devin Askew to the college game, and then hopefully as Askew gets more comfortable, can move off the ball onto the wing. He can be a “traditional two-guard” when Askew gets comfortable and play alongside Boston and Clarke, and if all three freshmen exceed expectations, he can provide scoring off the bench. He can provide floor spacing from behind the three-point arc. And he be the lead defender when the Wildcats face a tough, backcourt opponent.
And at the absolute worst, you know what Mintz is? A body.
At the end of the day, I have no idea how he’ll do at Kentucky – no one does – but this was a roster that (assuming Quickley and Montgomery’s departures) was down to eight scholarship players. That’s not even enough to run a five-on-five scrimmage in practice, and one that could have been crushed by an injury to just about anyone this upcoming season.
So in an absolute worst-case scenario, Mintz provides another body, a dude to both push Devin Askew in practice and relieve him in games, and shoot three’s when his number is called. In the best-case scenario he’s much more, as the versatile piece that can play on the ball or off of it, lock down the opposing team’s best guard and nail some three’s.
But whether he hits that best-case scenario or the absolute worst, the one thing that won’t change is that Kentucky did in fact need him.
They got him, and I for one, think it’s a heck of a fit.