Over on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, we created a new segment this week called “User Submitted Questions.” It is – wait for it – questions submitted by listeners to the show, which I answer at the end of every episode. The topics are pretty much fall under the category of “whatever the hell the listeners want answered” ranging from college hoops, pop culture, my upcoming bachelor party in Vegas, you name it (by the way, you can submit your question at [email protected]).
Anyway, one of the questions submitted this week (which will run on tomorrow/Thursday’s episode of the show) was so good, I decided to bring it here. That question:
If Kentucky could only get one post player in this class, which should Kentucky fans prefer? Jaden McDaniels or Kerry Blackshear Jr.
Again, it’s such a great question, I decided to bring it here. Let’s take a look, and start with McDaniels:
Who Is He:
McDaniels is the more traditional John Calipari recruit, a can’t miss high school player who seems destined to be a one-and-done star in college before heading off to the NBA. And he’s gotten there with a wild backstory: At this point last year, McDaniels wasn’t even ranked in the Top 100 players nationally. But after blowing up in the April evaluation period he jumped into the Top 10 of virtually every ranking nationally, and never really left.
In terms of his game, McDaniels is kind of the mold of a “new-age” power forward, a player who – despite being 6’11 – can handle the ball and hit three pointers, as well as play down low. Think Jonathan Isaac who played at Florida State a few years ago (and now with the Orlando Magic), or in a bit of an extreme example, Kevin Durant.
Admittedly, I’m not saying that McDaniels will ever be the best player on the planet (like Durant is now) but that they have very similar skill-sets. Seeing McDaniels in person, it’s easy to see why some recruiting experts believe he has more NBA upside than any player in high school basketball right now.
As mentioned above, the upside of McDaniels is through the roof. He hasn’t figured it all out yet (as I mentioned after the Nike Hoops Summit, his ball-handling needs work) but when he does put it together, look out. McDaniels has “NBA All-Star” type potential down the line.
Back to the Nike Hoops Summit for a second, because that’s the last place I saw McDaniels play. He wasn’t actually on the Team USA roster, but instead, was brought in as a practice player to oppose the American squad. Still, on a floor that included James Wiseman, Tyrese Maxey, Cole Anthony and others, McDaniels stood out. He just looked and moved differently than the other guys – he was just more fluid and athletic for his size than anyone else on the court. To use a term the kids are dropping pretty regularly these days, McDaniel is just different.
Unrelated, but you know what else I liked about McDaniels? You could tell he took it personally that he was left off the Team USA roster, and made it a point to prove those on the selection committee wrong that night. For most of the scrimmage between the two sides he was the clear aggressor, a player who took it at Wiseman or Vernon Carey or whoever opposed him every chance he got.
McDaniels wasn’t perfect that night, but in that environment – against the best players in high school basketball, in front of NBA scouts – he was fearless. And that’s hard not to like.
This is pretty easy: He’ll be a freshman next season. And for freshmen, there is always a learning curve, even among the elite players. While we always tend to focus on the freshmen who become stars right away (John Wall, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson etc.) the bottom-line is that for most guys there is an adjustment period. Even guys who are perceived to be “stars” coming into college take time to develop, if they ever develop at the college level at all (think “Romeo Langford”).
Therefore, while McDaniels is uniquely gifted, I’m not sure that he will simply be able to get by on physical tools alone next season. If anything, it’s the exact opposite; I think he could struggle a little bit (at least early) due to his overall lack of strength. McDaniels is listed at 6’11 but only 185 lbs. Even if he bulks up in a summer weight-training program, it will still take some time to adjust. Another question I have: How will he fare when the ball isn’t in his hands? That’s not to say that he’s a selfish player or anything, but like so many other great players, McDaniels is at his best when he is making plays for himself. Can he get buckets in the flow of an offense? That remains to be seen.
Oh, and one final question that is unique to McDaniels: If he does end up at Kentucky, how will he handle being so far from home? This is a kid who has notoriously shied away from attention and who has let his parents do most of the talking/decision-making in the recruiting process. Well, it’s safe to say that the spotlight is a lot different in Lexington, Kentucky than it is in Seattle, Washington. Especially when mom and dad aren’t there to shied you from the media.
It’s not a knock on the kid, just a reality of his situation.
Likelihood he ends up at Kentucky:
When I recorded my podcast on Wednesday morning, I said that I still thought it was somewhat unlikely that McDaniels ended up at Kentucky. I put the likelihood at 70/30 in favor of Washington getting him.
But thennnnnnnnn, Evan Daniels put out a “crystal ball” prediction that McDaniels will ultimately choose the Wildcats. There is no recruiting guru I trust more than Evan, so if he says it, I’d say that it’s more likely than not that McDaniels does indeed play for the Wildcats.
Now, let’s move on:
Who is He:
Blackshear is the new-age Kentucky recruit, a graduate transfer who has played college basketball for the last three years and is now potentially seeking a new home, depending on what happens in the NBA Draft process. Like Reid Travis, Blackshear can be an immediate contributor down low and would start from Day 1 for the Wildcats.
In terms of his game, he plays a lot like Travis, as a big, strong, physical low-post presence, who averaged just under 15 points and eight rebounds a season ago at Virginia Tech. Unlike Travis however, everything didn’t run through him at Virginia Tech. Although he averaged 15 points per game, he did it on just 10 shots per contest, an insanely efficient clip.
Add in the fact that Blackshear has an emerging perimeter game (he actually hit 63 three-pointers last year) and he would not only be a much-needed veteran presence on next year’s roster, but would bring plenty of talent to the table as well.
Again, this is obvious: Blackshear has not only played college basketball, but played it at an insanely high level. As mentioned above, he averaged just under 15 points and eight rebounds last year and did it in arguably the toughest conference in all of college basketball. The fact that he had maybe his best game, against the best team Virginia Tech played all year doesn’t hurt, when he dropped 18 and 16 in a Sweet 16 loss to Duke.
While there would obviously be some sort of adjustment from “playing at Virginia Tech” to playing under the bright lights in Lexington, the actual on the court adjustment would likely be minimal at most.
There is still some downside to Blackshear, and the most obvious is this: Does he actually want to be in college anymore? As he continues to test the NBA Draft waters right now, it’s clear he wants to stay in. Therefore, if he does have to come back to college basketball, how excited will he be, to be there? Will he really come back to college ready to work? Or be moping that he’s not in the NBA?
The other part, and I don’t think this is as big of a deal, but how will Blackshear adjust to playing with so many good players? It’s obviously a good problem to have, and again, it isn’t as glaring as it appeared to be with Reid Travis last year. Unlike Travis at Stanford, the entire offense didn’t flow through Blackshear at Virginia Tech.
Still, he did average nearly 30 minutes a game last year and played even more down the stretch. Will potentially splitting time with EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards (assuming they return) and Nate Sestina be a big deal?
Likelihood he ends up at Kentucky:
This one is hard to project.
First off (as I said above) it seems like Blackshear is truly intent on giving everything he has to the NBA Draft process. I still haven’t seen a single mock where he is listed as a player who will get drafted, but as the old saying goes “you only need one team to fall in love.” And even if he isn’t projected to be drafted, at 22-years-old, with his degree in hand, there’s always the possibility that Blackshear says “screw it” and decides to begin his professional career.
But then, on top of Kentucky having to fend off the NBA, they also have to fend off other suitors at the college level as well. To me, the most obvious one is Florida, a team where Blackshear is – quite literally – the missing piece. The Gators are absolutely loaded in the backcourt next season with Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis and others, but have no one to play in the post. Blackshear could step in, be a difference-maker right away, and probably take 20 shots per night if he really wanted to.
Other schools will get into the mix too, but assuming it comes down to Florida and Kentucky, what Blackshear would have to ask himself is this: What is the better place to play? The spot where he will have unlimited playing time and the chance to put up bigger stats? Or the place that’s a bigger stage and more routinely puts out NBA Draft prospects.
There is no easy answer, but that is what a college decision for Blackshear would come down to.
Alright it took us long enough, but here we are. And to answer the question (and spoil a bit of tomorrow’s podcast):
If I’m a Kentucky fan, and could only take one of the two it’d be Blackshear.
Blackshear is a player with major college experience, and one who has been battled-tested against the best teams in the sport, in the toughest venues. He’d add a veteran presence to the roster, and the great thing about him is that he is hyper-efficient. Again, he only averaged 10 shots per game at Virginia Tech. Think about how much easier those shots will be with all the talent surrounding him in Lexington?
As for McDaniels, look the kid is a special player, with a chance to be really, really, REALLY special down the line. But he is just a kid. His best basketball will be played long after he’s in Lexington, when he’s 24, 25 and 26-years-old. While it might be cool for a Kentucky fan to one day look up, see McDaniels in an All-Star game and say “Wow, I remember when he played in Lexington” it doesn’t do anyone good in the 2019-2020 college basketball.
Both would be really solid additions to the roster. But if I could only have one, I’d take Blackshear.
(To hear Aaron’s full breakdown of this topic, be sure to subscribe to Aaron’s podcast, with the Blackshear vs. McDaniels debate available on Thursday’s episode)