Since Alex Oriakhi was rumored to want out of Connecticut earlier this month, his name has been linked to Kentucky. Oriakhi was an instrumental member of the Connecticut Huskies team that won the NCAA Championship last year, but saw his playing time greatly reduced this year as he clashed with Jim Calhoun and the coaching staff.
Because the NCAA has ruled Connecticut ineligible for post-season play next year, Oriakhi is free to transfer to any school and play immediately, starting next year. Note that this is different than the "graduate transfer" rule that allows players who have graduated with a bachelor's degree to transfer to another school and play immediately, provided that the new school offers a graduate program the transfer's prior school does not. Jeremiah Masoli, who transferred from Oregon to Ole Miss, is the unofficial SEC "poster child" of that scenario. The SEC banned the acceptance of graduate transfers last summer.
Today, Kevin Duffy, sports blogger for the Connecticut News-Times, tweeted that Kentucky has reached out Oriakhi about possibly transferring for next year. That's an interesting twist, changing the likelihood of Oriakhi being a Wildcat from unfounded rumor to potential possibility.
Kentucky and North Carolina among schools to contact Oriakhi since release, source says. Oriakhi will not consider Duke— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) March 27, 2012
After the season, Kentucky is likely to lose Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the NBA Draft, as well as Eloy Vargas to graduation, leaving Kyle Wiltjer as the only returning frontcourt player. Kentucky currently has two signed frontcourt prospects, center Willie Cauley and combo forward Alex Poythress. Both uncommitted prospects Devonta Pollard and Tony Parker recently dropped Kentucky from their lists, but the Wildcats are still in the mix for top center Nerlens Noel and combo forward Anthony Bennett.
Presumably, if Kentucky were to land neither Noel nor Bennett, the Wildcats would start the season with Cauley at center, Wiltjer at power forward, and Poythress at small forward. There would be zero depth behind those three. Landing a player as capable as Oriakhi would be a huge boon to that team as comprised, which lacks size and experience. Oriakhi would bring both.
On the flip side, having Oriakhi on the team for just one year could take away valuable development time from a promising player like Wiltjer. Further, there is the possibility that highly touted recruits like Noel or Bennett would not want to defer to Oriakhi, rather feeling more comfortable taking over in an immediate starring role instead.
Right now, Kentucky is clearly more focused on winning an NCAA Championship. However, with the Late Signing Period rapidly approaching, Kentucky head coach John Calipari has some decisions to make regarding the future of Kentucky's program. It now appears that Alex Oriakhi is firmly in that mix.