By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
“I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.” John Wooden, Hall of Fame UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach and ten time National Champion, said that many years ago. It still holds true today. Talent is important. Experience is important also. When you get them both in the same package that is a rare find indeed for Kentucky Basketball. The last time the Kentucky Basketball Team had this many experienced inside players returning was the the Final Four team in 2015 that included Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson.
This year’s Wildcats have four players that can compare favorably to that group. Maybe a little less experience but a lot of talent. No one can deny that having PJ Washington and Reid Travis posting up down low will be an opposing coach’s nightmare knowing that he may also have to defend against Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery on the offside. Sophomore PJ Washington and senior Reid Travis – both at 6’8″ and 240 lbs – should be very interchangeable pieces in the offense.
Both are very good scorers in isolation in the low post and both are extremely skilled at following up missed shots for put backs and dunks around the basket. Both players should provide Kentucky with an inside presence that will work well with the plethora of outside scoring UK should have from multiple guard and wing positions. No opposing coach wants to see a team that can shoot well from the outside and also have an inside game that consists of two physical players that can rebound and put the ball back in the basket like Washington and Travis should do this year.
The other two inside players are not as complementary as Washington and Travis. More opposites actually. Sophomore Nick Richards at 6’11” and 245 lbs is a shot blocking, defensive player who can score around the basket while Freshman EJ Montgomery – 6’10” and 228 lbs – is more of a finesse player that can also shoot from the outside. One of his strengths is his ability to see the floor from the high post and as a good passer he could play a key role in any high-low game that Kentucky uses this year with either Washington or Reid Travis. He reminds me a little bit of a slower version of Jarred Vanderbilt in his ability to handle the ball in the open court and make the diagonal pass in traffic to a teammate for a layup on the fast break.
Kentucky’s group of big men this year are a pretty good assortment of low post defense and scoring pieces that John Calipari should be able to work into a very attractive looking puzzle by the end of the season. He can mix and match guys depending on the opponent and can take advantage of whoever has the best offensive matchup in each game.
His biggest concern this year should be how his big men will perform on defense as rim protectors. With only one true shot blocker on the inside the Wildcats will have to play good position defense in the low post and get help from the guards by denying the easy entry pass into the post.
At 6’8″ both Washington and Travis need to use their quickness and experience against any taller opponents. But at the other end of the floor opposing big men that are not both quick and physical will find it hard to stop either Washington or Travis from scoring in the paint.
As UK works through it’s four exhibition games in the Bahamas keep an eye on how Coach Cal uses his big men under the basket. He will have the luxury this year of four extra games to decide if Washington and Travis will be able to play together or if he will go with a bigger lineup by inserting either Montgomery or Richards in the 4 or 5 spot, respectively.
At the end of the day Coach Cal has a lot of talented options at his disposal for playing the low post area and a lot of experience to go with the talent . And remember the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, said he would take talent over experience. But in Kentucky’s case John Calipari gets to choose both.