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Kentucky’s search for big man hit paydirt with Olivier Sarr

Olivier Sarr (Wake Forest Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

So, it looks like Kentucky’s search for an experienced big man for the 2020-21 season might have hit paydirt.

Olivier Sarr, a 7-foot transfer from Wake Forest, signed with the Wildcats on Wednesday. For now that looks great but with the NCAA Board of Director’s recent recommendation that the Division I Council not take up discussion on the passage of a “one time only” no-sit out transfer policy for this fall it’s still up in the air whether Kentucky will receive any help for their low post needs from a traditional transfer like Sarr this year unless he receives a hardship waiver.

Sarr, a Third Team All-ACC performer for the Demon Deacons last year, might have a case for a traditional hardship waiver because of the unusual timing of the firing of former Wake Forest Head Coach Danny Manning. Sarr says he made his decision to return to Wake Forest assuming Danny Manning would still be the head coach and therefore he missed out on declaring for the NBA Draft.

He looks to be a nice pickup for Kentucky overall and a good fit for John Calipari’s playing style.  Sarr is a very mobile 7-footer that plays hard and with passion – on both offense and defense — while getting his teammates involved with crisp passes in the low post area. He is a good shot blocker, rebounds well and has relatively quick feet for a man his size — 7 feet and 255 pounds.

One other aspect of the game that John Calipari will like is his ability to get out on the break and run the floor. That could prove very beneficial with the highly regarded recruiting class UK has coming in next season.

Another traditional transfer player that might still be on Kentucky’s recruiting radar besides Prolific Prep’s 6’9” Frank Anselem — a player I had discussed previously here on — is Evansville’s 6’9” Deandre Williams. Williams, part of the Evansville team that helped to defeat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena last season, is leaving Evansville and has Kentucky listed as one of his possible destinations.

While Willams appears to have a great offensive game — he averaged 15 points per game and shot 45 percent from 3-point range — he seems to lag on the defensive end of the floor. He can score against anyone with some great outside shooting and nifty moves to the basket using either hand, but on defense he seemed out of position a lot, didn’t rotate well to pick up players cutting to the basket and tended to reach a lot on defense. Those aren’t the marks of a good defensive player but are all traits that could be corrected and he would have a couple of years to improve his defense under John Calipari if he chose to come to Kentucky.

In a perfect world if I were doing the recruiting for UK — and I’m not — and could have gotten any of the three players, I would have taken Olivier Sarr for the short term and hope that I could persuade Frank Anselem to come to join the Wildcats for the long term. Both players are athletic and seem to enjoy playing defense as much as offense, which is a given if a player is going to play a lot of minutes for John Calipari.

So if Kentucky could only get one other player of the two left I would take Anselem. He is extremely athletic, 6-11 with a long wingspan, has quick feet for a guy his size and could pay dividends for at least a couple of years.

I think overall Kentucky will still be a great team next season — if a season is played — whether Sarr receives a hardship waiver or not. The key to me for this whole process of trying to fill a void in the low post has been can UK pick up a guy or two that can help them in 2020 plus 2021 and 2022 after this 2020 class has all moved on the NBA. It looks like with the addition of Sarr and the possibility of adding Anselem they have the potential to do that.

Calipari is a great developer of big men so my guess is however the cards play out he will get one or more of the players on Kentucky’s roster next season to develop into a dominant big man at UK. After all, a history of sending guys like Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Karl Anthony-Towns and Nerlens Noel to the NBA after one season should be proof enough to anyone that if a player is an athletic, hardworking big man they can come  to Kentucky and through the development process become  a prime performer in the NBA.

You know what they say, at Kentucky, like the SEC, “it just means more.”

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