LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
Wow. When you look at everything surrounding UK basketball this winter, it’s hard to come up with any other conclusion than wow.
Kentucky begins gearing up for the 2018-2019 season as the favorite in Las Vegas to win its ninth national championship in April in Minnesota. There are so many reasons why, it’s difficult to know where to start. But I will try.
Experience, something the Wildcats have lacked in the one-and-done era. Three returning players with a ton of playing time in forwards P.J. Washington and Nick Richards, who were starters last winter, and guard Quade Green, who alternated starter and reserve. They combined to average 25 points and 13 rebounds a game last winter.
Leadership. One name. Reid Travis. The graduate transfer may be the most priceless asset to this team. A four-year starter at Stanford. A degree from a top 10 academic school in Science, Technology and Society. He’ll turn 23-years-old next month. A different kind of Cat than this club has been used to. And a generation gap that could provide superior “coach-on-and-off-the-floor” abilities. And the guy can play. One of just three Stanford players in program history to have at least 1400 points and 700 rebounds in less than 100 games. The kind of guy who will get the attention of the video game new kids on the block.
New kids on the block. Another top ranked recruiting class, seven newcomers, including Travis. The other six are freshmen ranked among the best in class. Athletically gifted but taking a learning curve with the jump to light speed that is UK Basketball. At issue is how they blend together virtually overnight for the six months or so they are together.
John Calipari. If anybody can do it, he can. He’s been to this rodeo before, but never with such an intoxicating mixture so uniquely this. This team reminds me of UK’s 1996 National Title Team that lost just four games, had 9 future NBA players, had virtually no peers. We’ll learn a lot right out of the gate, with the incredibly sexy season opener Nov.6th in Indianapolis with rival Duke.
The eye test. I’m really big on this. It’s helped me pick Kentucky Derby winners before, like Barbaro. The moment he walked off the van on the backside at Churchill Downs, I knew he would wear roses. And wagered accordingly. UK’s 1996 team, same. At the end of the day my question has always been, does it pass the eye test? One word about UK Basketball this winter. Wow.