By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has the big man it desperately needed for its 2020-21 roster, but now will be be eligible to play next season?
Olivier Sarr announced today he would transfer to Kentucky. The 7-foot junior averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last year and shot 53 percent from the field. He was named to the All-ACC third team. In his final game in the ACC Tournament he had 20 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Pitt.
Sarr is not a graduate transfer like Reid Travis and Nate Sestina were the previous two years and won’t be able to add enough credits this summer to earn his degree. That means he will need a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible.
However, one has to think UK John Calipari and staff think that can happen and it should. Wake Forest fired coach Danny Manning after he helped persuade Sarr to remove his name from the NBA draft. After Manning was fired in late April, Sarr did not have time to put his name back into the draft. He told ESPN last week that if he does not get a waiver to play next season he will then pursue what professional opportunities he can find.
The key here might be whether Wake Forest signs off on the transfer. New coach Steve Forbes did all he could to keep Sarr and even angered UK fans by appearing to take a shot at the educational value of a Kentucky degree. Calipari almost always does what he can to help his players get eligible if they transfer like Jemarl Baker and Quade Green did last season.
Sarr had an emotional social media post explaining his decision. Here’s part of it”
“To the fans at Wake Forest, thank you for adopting me and making me one of your own. I’ll never forget my time in Winston-Salem and the memories our team made playing for you. Once a Demon Deacon, always a Demon Deacon.
“With everything that has happened in the last 2-3 weeks, I’ve had a lot to think about and consider. If I’m being honest, it’s been an emotional struggle for me. Coach Manning and the staff were family. After thinking deeply about it, talking with my support system and weighing my future, I just didn’t feel like I could be at my best by returning to Wake Forest.”
Several ACC writers told me they knew Sarr wanted a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, something that likely would not happen at Wake Forest and that could have been a big factor in picking UK. But more than anything, UK needed a player who does just what he does — rebound, score inside and play defense.
Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy believes the 255-pound Sarr is a much better fit for UK than Purdue graduate transfer Matt Haarms would have been if he had picked UK and not BYU.
“He has the ability to run the floor, is an alert passer and an effective shot-blocker. He attempted 180 free throws and converted at a 76 percent rate, but needs work on his finishing ability,” DeCourcy wrote. “Haarms is a superior shot-blocker to Sarr, but he never has averaged more than 22 minutes per game in his career.”
Now Kentucky just has to get him eligible to go with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, returning forward Keion Brooks Jr. and Creighton grad transfer Davion Mintz, a point guard.
Count ESPN analyst and former college coach Seth Greenberg as one who quickly made his support for Sarr being eligible known.
“Olivier Sarr should be eligible immediately. Have alway felt when a school makes a coaching change players should have the opportunity to transfer,” Greenberg posted on Twitter. “Especially in Wake situation where they made the (coaching) change so late in the process.The WFU administration should support his appeal.”
Yes they should because it’s the right thing to do for the player and that’s what college athletics is supposed to be about, isn’t it.