This morning, we found out that Purdue grad transfer Matt Haarms is down to Kentucky, BYU, and Texas Tech. The 7’3″ big man from Amsterdam is planning to announce his decision this week — tomorrow is his birthday — so I spent some time today comparing the three programs to make the case for John Calipari and the Cats. As you might expect, it was pretty easy.
2019-20 Record: 24-8, 13-3 West Coast Conference play
The Cougars finished the 2019-20 season ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll. They lost to Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Semifinals but were expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach: Mark Pope
In his first season at BYU, Pope led the Cougars back to the Top 25 for the first time since 2001-11. They rose as high as No. 14 and had the best three-point shooting percentage in the country (42.2%). Pope was named the USBWA District VIII Coach of the Year and a semifinalist for Naismith Coach of the Year. The former Cat is clearly a rising star.
Program history: The Cougars have been to the Elite Eight three times (1950, 1951, 1981), and have 29 NCAA Tournament appearances. Jimmer Fredette (2011) and Danny Ainge (1981) were both named National Player of the Year.
NBA track record: 23 BYU players went on to play in the NBA, most recently Fredette, Brandon Davies, Kyle Collinsworth, and Eric Mika. All four now play in the G-League or overseas. Ainge is the general manager of the Boston Celtics.
2020-21 outlook: Last season was a special one for the Cougars, but they’ll have to replace seven seniors, who accounted for 66.4 of BYU’s 79.6 points per game. Earlier this week, the program announced that Gideon George, a 6’6″ forward from Nigeria, was transferring in from New Mexico Junior College. Elsewhere in the frontcourt: Richard Haward and Wyatt Lowell, 6’11” and 6’10” big men who sat out last season after following Pope from Utah Valley.
Campus: Very beautiful. Very Mormon. BYU’s arena, the Marriott Center, seats 19,000, and their mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, went viral a few years ago for this dance:
Dog factor: If you follow Haarms on social media, you know he is a dog lover who volunteered at the humane society in Lafayette, Indiana. Provo, Utah seems like a dog-friendly place, with several shelters and dog parks.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2019-20 Record: 18-13, 9-9 in Big 12 play
Texas Tech was on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament after a season of highs (upset of No. 1 Louisville) and lows (four straight losses to end the season). As you remember, Kentucky beat the Red Raiders 76-74 in overtime in Lubbock in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Head Coach: Chris Beard
Beard has a ton of success with transfers, leading a team full of them to the 2019 national championship game. For that, he won National Coach of the Year in 2019 and got an extension that makes him one of the top five highest paid coaches in college basketball.
Program history: The furthest the Red Raiders have gone in the NCAA Tournament was the 2019 National Championship game. In 2018, they made the Elite Eight. They have 18 overall NCAA Tournament appearances. Jarrett Culver was named Second Team AP All-American in 2019. Previous coaches include Bobby Knight (2001-08), Pat Knight (2008-11), Billy Gillispie (2011-12), and Tubby Smith (2013-16).
NBA track record: Seventeen former Texas Tech players have played in the NBA, with five on current rosters: Jarred Culver (Minnesota), Joshia Gray (Pelicans), Matt Mooney (Cleveland), Tariq Owens (Phoenix), and Zhaire Smith (Philadelphia).
2020-21 outlook: Texas Tech loses starting forward TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke, but returns starting guards Kyler Edwards and Davide Moretti and forward Terrence Shannon Jr. Big 12 Freshman of the Year Jahmi’us Ramsey is currently deciding whether or not to enter the 2020 NBA Draft. Help is on the way in the form of the program’s best-ever recruiting class, led by five-star guard Nimari Burnette, top 100 prospect Micah Peavy, and UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe. Wichita State guard Jamarius Burton is also transferring in, but may have to sit out the upcoming season if the current NCAA rules hold.
Campus: Big. According to Kyle Tucker, the airport smells like a horse stable. United Supermarkets Arena holds 15,000 and is rocking on game days.
Dog factor: Last April, Beard told reporters that his family talked him into buying a white, fluffy dog from a pet store instead of adopting a dog from a shelter as he’s done in the past. This was meant to be a metaphor for the type of players he likes on his roster — “street dogs” over “pet store dogs” — but I think it could be the tipping point in this whole recruitment.
Adopt, don’t shop, right Matt?
2019-20 Record: 25-6, 15-3 in Southeastern Conference play
Kentucky was ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll at the end of the regular season and was the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Cats were expected to receive a two- or three-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach: John Calipari
Calipari is a Hall of Fame coach entering his 12th season at Kentucky. He has been named Naismith Coach of the Year three times (1996, 2008, 2015) and has 26 consecutive on-court 20-win seasons, the most of any active coach in college basketball. He won his first national championship in 2012 and has reached the Final Four six times.
Program history: Kentucky is the most successful NCAA Division I basketball program in history in terms of both all-time wins (2,320) and all-time winning percentage (.765). The Wildcats have eight national championships, 17 Final Four appearances, and 58 total NCAA Tournament appearances, the most of any school.
NBA track record: One hundred and eighteen Kentucky Wildcats have played in the NBA, with 29 on current rosters. In the Calipari Era, Kentucky has produced 38 NBA Draft picks, far and away more than any other school. Included in the 38 are 29 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall picks and 21 lottery selections. Five more players have entered their names into the 2020 NBA Draft.
2020-21 outlook: Forward Keion Brooks is the only returning player who logged significant minutes last season. He will be joined by Dontaie Allen, grad transfer Davion Mintz, and a No. 1 recruiting class that includes BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Lance Ware, Isaiah Jackson, and Cam’Ron Fletcher. Jacob Toppin also transferred to Kentucky from Rhode Island but may have to sit out the 2020-21 season under current NCAA rules. With Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery gone to the NBA Draft, there is nothing but opportunity for Haarms inside.
Campus: The University of Kentucky is located in Lexington in the beautiful Bluegrass region. Between a rapidly changing campus, revitalized downtown district, Keeneland, and the surrounding horse farms, Lexington has something for everyone, especially those who love chicken wings. It’s been said that the wings at KSBar and Grille, a popular hangout in between campus and Rupp Arena, are among the best in the world. Rupp Arena seats over 20,000 and is currently being renovated to add premium areas.
Calipari also supports the Lexington Humane Society. Two years ago, he filled his office with adoptable dogs to bring attention to their efforts.
A no-brainer in more ways than one.