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The sky is not falling for Kentucky following N’Faly Dante’s commitment to Oregon

This afternoon, Kentucky lost out on its final potential target to close out the program’s 2019-20 roster when 2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante announced he would be reclassifying to 2019 – as expected – and signing with the Oregon Ducks.

Dante, a 6-foot-11 center out of Wichita, KS, committed to Oregon over offers from Kentucky, LSU, Iowa State, and Tennessee, among others, though sources tell KSR that the decision ultimately came down to the Ducks and the Wildcats.

While the Big Blue Nation is understandably frustrated in losing yet another frontcourt prospect in the class of 2019 – Kentucky’s ninth miss overall – fans should take a step back from the ledge and see why there is still so much optimism within the program about the upcoming season and recruiting moving forward.

Kentucky swung and missed on big men in 2019

Before we get into the nitty-gritty on what this decision means for Kentucky and the pros and cons, we definitely have to address the obvious: UK swung and missed on just about every single big man target they had in the class of 2019.

Following today’s decision, this means James Wiseman, Vernon Carey, Isaiah Stewart, Matthew Hurt, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji, Oscar Tshiebwe, Kerry Blackshear Jr., and N’Faly Dante all turned down scholarship offers from John Calipari and the UK coaching staff. For a program that has seen elite big men come through such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bam Adebayo, among others, there’s no doubt that this recruiting cycle has been a head-scratcher, to say the least.

That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff felt they had James Wiseman locked up for almost an entire year, and if it weren’t for Penny Hardaway – the 7-foot-1 center’s AAU head coach and closest role model – being hired at Memphis, he would be playing in Lexington this fall. Once it became clear that Wiseman was heading to Memphis, Kentucky was left playing catch-up elsewhere, most notably with Isaiah Stewart, who admitted that the Cats simply came on the recruiting scene too late.

In fact, at the McDonald’s All-America Media Day this past spring, Wiseman, Stewart, and Tshiebwe all told KSR that Kentucky finished No. 2 in their respective recruitments, with McDaniels later being added to that list after committing to the Washington Huskies over the Cats in May. With various ties to other programs already established and stronger, deeper relationships developed with other coaching staffs due to longevity alone, Wiseman’s late gut-punch proved to be more detrimental than it seemed at the time of the decision.

And it really had nothing to do with Kentucky and its efforts on the recruiting trail at all. Again, if it weren’t for Hardaway and Wiseman’s long-established relationship, the nation’s No. 1 prospect would be a Wildcat and all of these recruiting narratives would not exist. While the frustrations are understood – the coaching staff certainly feels it, as well – a tough string of bad luck is more to blame than any potential recruiting deficiencies.

… but the sky is not falling

While Kentucky missed on every top big man target in the class of 2019, with their lone true frontcourt signing being Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina, optimism is just as high as ever in Lexington. Yes, even after Dante’s decision to turn down Kentucky and sign with Oregon.

As I have mentioned in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes on a few occasions over the last several weeks, sources tell KSR that while the Kentucky basketball coaching staff was still actively recruiting Dante to Lexington and would have loved to have him for pure depth purposes alone, this decision was not one they were losing sleep over. From top-to-bottom, they are confident in the 2019-20 roster as it stands currently. In fact, I spoke to an individual close to the program two weeks ago – right in the midst of the reclassification process and prior to a decision either way – who said that with or without Dante, this Kentucky team is absolutely capable of winning a national championship.

Would this roster have been better with Dante in the fold? Yes. Did I feel the 6-foot-11 shot-blocker had the potential to be an instant-impact prospect at Kentucky? Absolutely, especially after a dominant Peach Jam.

That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff lined this roster with veteran leadership, versatility, scoring, shooting, rebounding, and defense both inside and out on the perimeter. To combat their odd cold spell on the recruiting trail with elite frontcourt prospects, they overcompensated by bringing back Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery – who should take major steps forward with consistent playing time and better-defined roles next year as the focal points of the frontcourt – and signed a surplus of long, versatile wings. They also added another grad transfer big man in Sestina to serve as a strong complementary piece with solid shooting, scoring, and rebounding abilities.

In terms of recruiting moving forward, sources tell KSR that the frontcourt remains the program’s top priority in the immediate future. With EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Nate Sestina all expected to be gone after next season, Kentucky is actively recruiting Isaiah Todd, Greg Brown, Makur Maker, JT Thor, Lance Ware, Cliff Omoruyi, and Dawson Garcia in the frontcourt alone, with Mady Sissoko and Bardstown’s JJ Traynor also being rumored as potential targets moving forward, too. Paolo Banchero, a top-three prospect in the class of 2021, will also be considering a reclassification to 2020 and would immediately jump to the top of Kentucky’s priority list, as well.

As a whole, after coming away empty-handed with elite 2019 frontcourt prospects, Kentucky is in position to hit a home run up front in 2020.

Small ball is coming

While the Kentucky coaching staff isn’t completely devastated about Dante heading elsewhere, it does mean they will have some decisions to make in terms of their rotation this coming season.

As we saw during the NCAA Tournament this past season, John Calipari isn’t afraid to experiment with small-ball lineups, and he’ll almost certainly have to implement them again this season. While he is confident in EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards this year (more on that in a minute), and Sestina should be a strong core rotation piece, Kentucky is now only one injury away from having absolutely zero depth in the frontcourt. Regular foul trouble – something both Richards and Montgomery are no stranger to – would also be rather troublesome.

In either case (and possibly regardless), Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. will be asked to slide down to the four in certain situations, with Kentucky then rolling out a three-guard lineup with Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey, or Johnny Juzang playing the three. Either way, Whitney and Brooks will be asked to use their impressive length as situational big men, something the coaching staff is confident in if the former can continue to work on his consistency and the latter can continue to bulk up and build the strength necessary to bang around down low a bit.

Sources also tell KSR that Calipari has been interested in utilizing his four-out, one-in dribble-drive motion offense moving forward, and following Dante’s decision, that could absolutely be the route he takes.

EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have to step up

The most crucial aspect of Dante’s decision lies solely on Kentucky big men EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards and the necessity for each of them to make massive leaps this coming season. Montgomery, who nearly kept his name in the NBA Draft after being discussed as a potential first-rounder, is on a mission to prove to teams that he is capable of becoming the lottery talent he was hyped up to be going into his freshman season. With smooth shooting mechanics, guard skills, and length, the 6-foot-11 forward out of Fort Pierce, FL will be called upon to not only take a step forward, but make a PJ Washington-esque leap into stardom as a sophomore.

Per-4o minutes, Montgomery averaged 10.0 points (48% shooting and 20% from three), 10.8 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per contest last season. With the “lack of opportunity” excuse no longer on the table as the team’s anticipated go-to playmaker down low, it’s not unheard of to ask for a ballpark range of 15 points, ten rebounds, and two blocks per game for the skilled sophomore. The talent is there, and if he wants to be the lottery pick NBA teams are expecting him to be, he simply has to make the jump happen.

As for Nick Richards, John Calipari has already commented on the expectations he has for his junior center in 2019-20.

“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” Calipari said after Richards announced he was withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Kentucky. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”

Like with Montgomery, Richards’ opportunity excuses are no longer on the table. After averaging 4.0 points, 3.3. rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 12.1 minutes per game last season, doubling that production in 20-plus minutes per outing next year is not too much to ask of him. With confidence, the 7-foot-0 shot-blocker out of Kingston, Jamaica has shown the potential to be a 12-point, eight-rebound, three-block type of player in Lexington. They don’t need him to be Joel Embiid next year, but they do need him to be the competent rim-running big man threat with elite defensive instincts we all know he is capable of being.

With Dante headed elsewhere, both Montgomery and Richards have no choice but to step up this season.

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Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

48 Comments for The sky is not falling for Kentucky following N’Faly Dante’s commitment to Oregon



  1. Wade
    4:22 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Missed on Oscar and Stewart imo, don’t care about the other. I like my team!



    • dave1964
      4:55 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Have missed on every 5 we have recruited for awhile.



    • UKBigBlueForever
      7:34 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Dave1964 you are so damn negative and apparently forgetful too…Boogie , Towns, AD, Bam, Noel….



    • catsby.5
      5:36 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Untrue Dave, both Richards and EJ were top 20 recruits, add that to Noel and our small ball 5s like PJ and Travis. Just because they don’t always pan out as one and dones like they’re projected doesn’t mean we consistently miss.



  2. IrishCat
    4:43 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    This is going to allow Brooks and Whitney more time on the floor together. I hope it also gives Nick a boost of confidence, and allows him to play through some mistakes. EJ is going to have to play more 5 than we probably thought, and we’re obviously going to need some production from Sestina. Lots of options, and I like my team.



  3. kentuckybackupplayer
    4:55 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    sestina will be an awesome stretch 4 type player for cal, you can mark it down.



    • JT55
      1:54 am August 14, 2019 Permalink

      He’ll be a liability on defense.



  4. UKFanSC
    5:12 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    I never saw this guy in blue, so I’m not disappointed. As for our team, I love our pieces. We can go “small” with a lot of athleticism, and be a pressing elite defensive team. Unlike many, I think Nick and EJ will show considerable improvement from a very timid 2018. I don’t know enough about Sestina to comment, but expect a 5-8 min/game from him……maybe more.



  5. Tom Bombadil
    5:13 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    I like my team! I really think this will pay off in the long run because these guys have been gelling together the entire Summer. There is now plenty of minutes to go around. Brooks will get some time at the four… I think this will be an explosive running team!. Go CATS!



  6. ibescootch
    5:21 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Yeah, I’m just not really that worried. I think in the past when we’ve had 4-5 guys that can switch into those frontcourt positions, it’s almost been detrimental because there’s a constant pressure to perform and get in the flow of the game immediately, or they’re yanked out. Obviously, that can be a good thing because it pushes competition, but I just wonder how good guys like EJ and Nick would be if they were just left in to play through their mistakes? It seems like Nick especially is always in his head, so maybe allowing him the freedom to just play will push that button in his mind. Who knows.



  7. dave1964
    5:27 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Can anyone name the last really good center we had last one I can think of is D.C.



    • catsby.5
      5:33 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel (before the injury), Enes Kanter if he’d been allowed to play, and both EJ and Nick were top 20 recruits.



    • UKinMKY
      5:36 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      AD, KAT, Bam.



    • runningunnin.454
      7:09 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      I don’t see how anyone could forget A. D.



    • 4everUKblue
      7:37 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      I guess Dave never heard of AD.



    • catsarerunnin
      8:14 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Dave is a Dick.



  8. KYfaninTN
    5:36 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Agreed basketball is now a guard driven game.



  9. VirginiaCat
    5:50 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    As Jack pointed out, we missed out on all nine big prospects this season, and haven’t landed a top-5 recruit in several years. Admittedly, luck does play a part and we have had our share of bad luck, but I think it goes deeper than that. I am hopeful that Cal will do a zero based review of his recruiting apparatus and see if any changes need to be made with respect to his recruiting approach or changes to the coaching staff, Just because something once worked doesn’t mean it will always work. Times change and you have to adjust accordingly. This is a first world concern, of course, and pales in comparison to other more important national issues. We will still win a lot of games to keep the BBN happy and Cal will get more players into the NBA. Hopefully #9 will grace the rafters of Rupp in the not too distant future.



  10. a21CATSfan
    5:51 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    A 4-out, 1-in, Dribble-Drive Motion Offense sounds good to me. Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Brooks, Montgomery, and Quickley, Maxey/Whitney, Juzang, Allen, Richards, with Sestina filling in at the 4/5 in certain situations would be fantastic. But, Cal is a defense/rebounding (effort) coach, so this may not last long. CATS



  11. DelrayCat
    5:53 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Playing small just means the guards and small forwards must rebound the ball. Defensively we will have a rim protector, but rebounding will be the key.



  12. Ridge Runner
    6:02 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t see this as a surprise as there just won’t be the amount of playing time here.



  13. mashman 93
    6:04 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    I believe we will all love this team and 4 out 1 in dribble drive is going to be fun to watch if it happens and I think it will. GO BIG BLUE!!!!



  14. Catcasey1
    6:17 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Folks we are loaded so calm down



  15. msu52
    6:22 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    I wonder just how much negative recruiting was done by Green ?



    • runningunnin.454
      6:40 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Quade? He’s at Washington.



    • msu52
      10:45 am August 14, 2019 Permalink

      You’re right, my bad.
      I just don’t understand why these guys going to schools like Oregon, Wash and LSU. If you’re an elite player, why do you not go to an elite school



  16. runningunnin.454
    6:33 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    No concern here, whatsoever; I like our team. You don’t have to have a 7 footer in the paint. When Kareem went down with an injury, 6’8″ Magic Johnson played center, and led the Lakers to the NBA Championship, dropping 42 in one game. He told the coach before the game, “Never fear, E.J is here”.
    Oh, E.J. is here, too…and Nick is a 7 footer. Relax.



    • DoubleB65
      6:39 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      The big difference: Magic Johnson isnt walking through that door. EJ is no Magic Johnson. Fact.



    • runningunnin.454
      6:42 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Granted; that was tongue-in-cheek. My point was that you can win with small ball.



  17. Larkin123
    7:11 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Cal uses two big most lineups. Anything that changes his tunnel vision like small ball will help that…



    • allday
      7:35 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Who really cares at this point. Everyday you guys boost these guys up talking bout they coming, they deciding,. Give us something relevant instead of a bunch of vauge articles.



    • 4everUKblue
      7:39 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Speaking of tunnel vision….Larkin. You, mashbum and VACat are all in the same tunnel.



    • runningunnin.454
      7:54 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      It’s a dark tunnel, too. Wait, I see a light…$hit, it’s a train, run for your lives.



    • 4everUKblue
      8:21 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Ha ha ha!



  18. natedaddy
    8:14 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

    Anybody that thinks that this years team is gonna be any better than last years or the year befores team, is delusional. We have not had a consensus top 5 high schooler or multiple consensus top 10 high schoolers since the Fox, Bam, Monk team. Which coincides with the last UK team that I really liked, the last UK team that really had a chance to win it all and the last guy we put in the NBA that has the potential to be an all star (Fox). Our recruiting just isn’t as good as it was 5 years ago. This years team will be terribly inconsistent albeit win a lot of games. They will get better as the season goes on and look somewhat good down the stretch around tourney time and get everybody’s hopes up. Then lose to an inferior team in the sweet 16/elite 8 in the ncaa tournament due to the inexperience and aforementioned inconsistency. Mark it down. Call me a hater.

    I have season tickets and will be at nearly every home game, but this will be the last season. I love my Cats but I certainly don’t expect them to live up to a bunch of homer fans expectations. But speaking your mind is apparently something you can’t do here on KSR without being told to go root for puke. I love the cats but simply can’t get behind the hype anymore until recruiting improves from what is now and has been the last couple years and we get the guys that are not ready for the pros to come back.



    • VirginiaCat
      8:21 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Batten down the hatches, Natedaddy. Incoming headed your way.



    • 4everUKblue
      8:23 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Not gonna call you a hater but see ya later…and thanks for freeing up some season tickets.



    • JASUN74
      8:59 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      See ya!! I’m sure Cal will miss you terribly!! That’s exactly what quitters do. Can’t wait until Cal goes on strike until you come back! Lmao. Dude get over yourself



    • UKBigBlueForever
      11:30 pm August 13, 2019 Permalink

      Do u remember our team before Calipari?? Gtf over yourself. You are a disgrace



    • HerroFor3
      3:28 pm August 14, 2019 Permalink

      Fake Fan. You are a ?



  19. JT55
    1:58 am August 14, 2019 Permalink

    This team isn’t going to be a top 5 team IMO. Sure, they’re capable of making a run in the tourney. But they will have obvious deficiencies.



  20. bbn606
    2:56 pm August 14, 2019 Permalink

    Yes the sky did fall. Just can’t seem to land the critical recruits to get over the hump anymore.



  21. KYFAN4LYFE
    4:22 pm August 15, 2019 Permalink

    And yet, here’s KSR, day after the “announcement”, and they’re still writing about him. How about just writing about the guys that DO want to be here…the one’s that ARE coming here? Get out there, talk to them…their families, friends…do some actual, you know, REPORTING for a change. Give us something other than the same tire crap you do with every single potential recruit, just with the name changed. FFS, this site is such a joke.