By LARRY VAUGHT
Only a few hours after Kentucky announced that Reid Travis had transferred from Stanford to join the Wildcats, ESPN adjusted its early preseason top 25 poll to have Kentucky No. 1.
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch is already contemplating a similar move with his belief now that Kentucky even has more talent than Kansas.
Few can doubt that John Calipari now has the team to beat this year.
First, he got P.J. Washington back. He withdrew from the NBA draft to return for his sophomore season and is a reliable inside player and leader who proved what he could do last year. He also has center Nick Richards and guard Quade Green back for their sophomore seasons after they played extensive minutes last year.
Calipari signed a banner recruiting class with guards Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley along with forward E.J. Montgomery. If that’s not enough, Georgia guard Ashton Hagans also recently reclassified and is now on campus to add to an already potent and deep backcourt.
Kentucky also has guard Jemarl Baker back after he missed last season with a knee injury. He’s a knockdown outside shooter but also a more versatile player than many realize.
Now you add Travis, a two-time all-Pac 12 player and the top graduate transfer in the country this year. He averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year. Combine him with Washington and Kentucky no longer is soft inside and both guys can also play on the court — as can Montgomery. Kentucky still has a rim protector in Richards — or should have. But if Richards does not play more physical, Calipari doesn’t have to keep playing him like he did often last year when he felt he had no other options.
Travis, like Washington, took his name out of the NBA draft after going through the combine and working out for various teams. He averaged 21.5 points and 10 rebounds last year in two games against Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, the likely No. 1 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
One NBA scout told me that Travis is as physically strong as he player he saw this year and can dominate opponents with his strength. Kentucky has not had a player like that in the last few seasons.
Ironically, Travis is from Minneapolis. Guess where the Final Four is this year? You got it — Minneapolis. Kentucky fans have to believe that is karma.
Travis will be part of a team as talented as he is. He won’t have to be the sole star and do everything. He can also showcase more of his talent.
More importantly, he can provide a stabilizing influence for a young team and by all reports he’s a great leader. Normally for Calipari a veteran sophomore is a old player. Now he has a fifth-year future NBA player in Travis on the roster to lead the team. Vocal leadership will not be a problem with him on the team and that has to have Calipari downright giddy.
Travis knows the NBA scouts know what he can do. He’s at Kentucky to be a one-and-done but the reason he came is to win a national championship. He’s been on solid teams. Now he wants to be on a great team and his arrival gives UK a superb chance to have that special, special year.