Sitting at 8-14 on the year with NCAA Tournament hopes hanging on by a conference-tournament-title-run-sized thread, it’s abundantly clear Kentucky’s 2020-21 roster is deeply rooted with issues, and it has been all season. And while the team’s struggles can’t be narrowed down to one particular issue as the sole reason for the losses – the Wildcats seem to come up with new ways to lose by the week – their inability to score has been arguably the top driving factor from the start of the season to the finish.
Now ranked No. 220 in the nation in scoring offense at 69.7 points per game, No. 235 in 3-point field goal percentage at 32.59% and No. 289 in field goal percentage at 41.47% with just two games to go in the regular season, a quick-fix offensive turnaround isn’t on the table in 2020-21. Looking ahead to the 2021-22 season, though, an emphasis on shooting and pure scoring is necessary to round out the roster.
But where will that come from?
UK already has the likes of five-star forward Daimion Collins, four-star guard Nolan Hickman and four-star forward Bryce Hopkins signed on in the class of 2021, along with West Virginia forward transfer Oscar Tshiebwe already on campus and eligible for the 2021-22 season. And looking at the current team, the only players truly anticipated to enter the NBA Draft are Brandon Boston Jr., Terrence Clarke and Isaiah Jackson, meaning some combination of Keion Brooks Jr., Jacob Toppin, Devin Askew, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher could all return. Even transfers Davion Mintz and Olivier Sarr both confirmed this week they are considering the possibility of coming back for a second season at Kentucky.
Development from one year to the next is always expected, but no matter who ultimately decides to return in 2021-22, that core group is undoubtedly still missing a few go-to scoring and shooting threats. And barring a change of heart from the likes of 2021 five-star guards Jaden Hardy (trending toward the professional route), Hunter Sallis (trending toward Gonzaga) and Trevor Keels (trending toward Duke), it doesn’t appear UK will be able to find those plug-and-play options at the high school level.
With the NCAA planning to pass a one-time immediate transfer rule going into next season, though, Kentucky’s options will be plentiful at the collegiate level. With that in mind, why not compile a list of potential options John Calipari and his staff may have at their disposal going into the offseason, ranging from the top shooters and scorers you’ll find in the nation?
Mind you, none of these names are are confirmed targets for UK as of yet, with most not even in the NCAA Transfer Portal at this point in time. This list is purely to show what options may be out there for Kentucky now that the one-time transfer rule is set to go into effect next season.
Let’s jump right in.
Max Abmas (Oral Roberts) – Sophomore
Abmas, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard originally out of Rockwall, TX, is the leading scorer in college basketball at 24.7 points per game. And more importantly, he’s doing it shooting 48.8% from the field, 45.5% from three (on a ridiculous seven attempts from per game, mind you) and 89.9% from the line. He’s also averaging 3.3 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.0 TPG.
In 2020-21, the sophomore standout has failed to cross the double-digit scoring threshold just once, finishing with 11 25+ point games, seven 30+ point games, four 35+ point games and two 40+ point games. Oral Roberts isn’t a national powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but he finished with 18 points at Missouri, 28 points at Wichita State, 33 points at Oklahoma State and 20 points at Oklahoma.
Kentucky is in desperate need of a professional bucket-getter, and it’s hard to do better than adding the top scorer in all of college basketball.
Antoine Davis (Detroit Mercy) – Junior
Coach Cal has mentioned Davis by name on more than one occasion during Brad Calipari’s time at Detroit Mercy, specifically noting that the junior guard’s emergence as a star was a key reason his son’s playing time took a hit this past season. And it makes sense, as the 6-foot-1, 165-pound standout is averaging 24.3 points per game on 42.5% shooting, 37.3% from three and 91.5% from the line this season.
Son of Detroit Mercy head coach Mike Davis, it’s hard to imagine the two-time First Team All-Horizon League honoree is in a rush to leave the program, but we just saw a similar situation with Calipari at Kentucky. The UK head coach welcomed his son’s decision to transfer in an effort to expand his role, maybe Davis welcomes his son’s decision to transfer to a blue blood program to produce at a high level under the spotlight? The relationship between both parties is there.
Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt) – Sophomore
Son of NBA legend Scottie Pippen, Kentucky fans should be fairly familiar with the Vanderbilt standout’s situation at this point. Averaging 20.5 points per contest on 43.3% shooting overall, 36.5% from three and 81.5% from the line, Pippen is a terrific player, but plays on the worst team in the SEC. Managing four 25-plus point games and two 30-plus point games, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard has finished in double figures every game this season. He’s also averaging 5.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.
Interestingly enough, Pippen said earlier this season that UK was his “dream school” growing up, with Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse adding that he enjoyed playing on the big stage after suiting up at high school powerhouse Sierra Canyon prior to his time in college.
CJ Fredrick (Iowa)– Sophomore
Want a sharpshooter? Look no further than former Covington Catholic star CJ Fredrick. Averaging 8.4 points per contest this season, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard is shooting 50.8% from three on over three attempts per game and 33-65 on the year. The Cincinnati, OH native averaged 10.2 PPG on 46.1% 3PT (over four attempts per game) in 2019-20, setting the single-season freshman record at Iowa for 3-point shooting percentage en route to All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors.
Prior to his time at Iowa, Fredrick was named the 2018 Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year after leading Covington Catholic to a state championship and a 35-4 record as a senior, scoring 111 total points (27.8 PPG) while shooting 63 percent from the field during the state tournament. He set single-season school records for points (900), field goals made in a season (315), and 3-pointers made (107). The former in-state standout’s 23.1 scoring average as a senior is second best while his 48.4 3-point percentage ranks third best in school history.
Alex Barcello (BYU) – Senior
Sticking with the players with Kentucky connections, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard out of Chandler, AZ is currently averaging 15.7 points on 53.3% shooting overall, 48.9% from three (3.9 attempts per game) and 84.1% from the line to go with 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
After two years at Arizona to begin his career, Barcello has spent the last two seasons playing for former UK team captain and national champion Mark Pope at BYU. Would he want to transfer a third time for one final season of eligibility?
Nate Johnson (Xavier) – Senior
Like Barcello, Johnson already transferred once in recent years, heading to Xavier in 2020 after spending three years at Gardner Webb. Still, though, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard averaged 11.4 points per game on 45.2% shooting from three on 5.8 attempts per game. Finishing with over three makes from deep in eight games this past season, Johnson is ranked seventh in the nation in 3-point shooting.
Other notes of interest:
- 39% 3PT shooter three years straight, 41% 3PT shooter over the course of the last two seasons.
- Never averaged more than 1.7 turnovers per game in his career, only 1.3 turnovers per contest in 31.5 MPG this season
- Played 16 games in 2020-21, out remainder of year with lower leg injury. Xavier’s third-leading scorer.
Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) – Freshman
Switching over to players already in the transfer portal, Burnett is a former five-star prospect (No. 22 overall, ESPN) who chose Texas Tech over offers from Alabama, Louisville, Michigan and Oregon.
Averaging 5.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 17.7 minutes per game, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound guard played in 12 games before leaving the program.
While he hasn’t yet proven to be the elite shooter or scorer Kentucky needs at the collegiate level, the UK staff has watched Burnett play on numerous occasions after recruiting his former high school and AAU teammate Jalen Green in the class of 2020. Ranked No. 3 in ESPN’s 2021-22 transfer rankings, signing the former McDonald’s All-American would be a move based on potential.
Above all else, we know for certain Burnett is available.
Jalen Gibbs (Mount St. Mary’s) – Graduate transfer
Sticking with the known available commodities, Gibbs entered the transfer portal after averaging 16.5 points on 42.2% shooting overall, 42.3% from three and 81% from the line in four games this season. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound senior has averaged double figures in all three years at Mt. St. Mary’s.
Gibbs is currently listed as the No. 19 overall prospect in ESPN’s 2021-22 transfer rankings.
Who do you hope Calipari and the UK coaching staff targets this offseason? Any other names stick out elsewhere?