By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – So now, in addition to getting more than anyone’s reasonable share of the top high school seniors in the country, is Kentucky coach John Calipari hanging his shingle to get the best graduate transfers, too?
The addition of Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis to Kentucky’s stacked 2018-19 roster on Tuesday doesn’t mean Calipari is diversifying his recruiting portfolio. But it’s not a stretch to see "high-end graduate transfer destination" as another in Calipari’s long list of top-level college basketball services.
If you’re looking for forward-looking strategies in college basketball, watching Calipari is instructive.
He was ahead of the curve in crafting a vision and program for elite level college basketball players looking to springboard from one or two years of college straight to the NBA after the association instituted its age limit.
Now that the NBA has sent a memo to teams advising them that “eligibility rules” for the NBA Draft could change in 2021 (but not before), college coaches are more than likely looking at another adjustment to their recruiting strategies.
Note of advice to any of them for planning purposes: Watch what the guy in Lexington does. (As if they aren’t doing that already.)
In the short term, of course, it’s just about getting the best players, and Calipari has built for his 2018-19 Kentucky team one of his best blends of experienced and incoming talent.
As a rule, Calipari hasn’t dabbled too much in transfers at Kentucky, nor has he needed to. He took Mychal Mulder for the 2015 season. The only graduate transfer that he has taken was Julius Mays for the 2012-13 season.
Travis is a bit different kind of graduate transfer. The 6-8, 245-pound power forward is not a mid-major guy looking for a bigger stage, nor is he a disgruntled player just looking for a change in scenery. He was one of the best players in the Pac-12 last season, has better than 1,400 career points and averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in a Power 5 league last season. He knows how to play. Not only that, he was a three-year captain at Stanford, and graduated with a prestigious degree.
He was a no-brainer. And while his arrival at Kentucky doesn’t necessarily signal any kind of change in Calipari’s way of doing business, it could send a message if it’s a successful move by Travis.
It also could make Kentucky the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and increase its chances at a second NCAA title for Calipari and ninth for Kentucky.
Travis hit on both of those ends in comments released by UK.
“I’m excited to work hard every day and give everything of myself to the program to compete for a national championship,” he said. He also said he wants to, “turn the game I love into a profession.”
Calipari knows that if you’ve played three seasons of college basketball and not been drafted, the notion that you could somehow become NBA ready in one more season is probably a longshot.
Then again, Kentucky brings a lot of visibility. And if there’s a way that Calipari could establish his program as one that gives players with potential a second chance at that first impression, well, why not?
Who knows if anything more will come of this. Maybe Travis is the exception to the rule. Or maybe he isn’t.
“I felt good about where we stood with next year’s team, but when I found out how much Reid wanted to be here, I had to take a look and say, ‘OK, can he help us? Can he help our team become even more potent and can we help him reach his dreams?’” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “The answers were absolutely. You’re talking about a two-time all-conference player who could have very well entered the NBA Draft with what he’s done in his career. He was one of the best big men in the Pac-12 last season, if not the country. Our fans know when it comes to talent and experience, I’m always picking talent, but Reid gives us both.”
In the past week, Kentucky has added a point guard who reclassified to join the Wildcats early (Ashton Hagans) and a post-up forward who has graduated to join the Wildcats for one last college hoops run.
That’s working both ends of the spectrum. Calipari’s best Kentucky teams have had that talent-experience mix. His first team. His 2012 championship team. The 2015 team that went to the Final Four unbeaten.
Next year figures to be that kind of mix.
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