Days after landing #1 recruit Nerlens Noel, the Kentucky Wildcats were hoping to add another big man to their 2012-13 puzzle. Instead, Alex Oriakhi, who had scheduled a visit to Lexington on April 20, decided to choose the Missouri Tigers as his transfer destination.
Oriakhi had played his previous three years with the Connecticut Huskies and won the NCAA Championship alongside Kemba Walker in 2010. After a tumultuous junior season, Oriakhi decided to transfer and had listed Kentucky amongst his preferred destinations. With the Wildcats expected to lose their three starting forwards--Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist--to the NBA Draft, head coach John Calipari was looking for an experienced, talented big man to fill the void.
That piece won't be Oriakhi, who announced he was transferring to Missouri on his visit today. Oriakhi had previously expressed interest in teaming with former BABC AAU teammate Phil Pressey, Missouri's rising junior point guard who averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 assists per game for the Tigers this year. Despite being a transfer, Oriakhi will be eligible for the 2012-13 season after the NCAA banned Connecticut from postseason play next year due to academic violations.
Though the Tigers lose four major contributors to graduation, including Big 12 First Team guard Marcus Denmon, Missouri has plenty of pieces in place to have a solid year next year. Oriakhi will team with redshirt senior Laurence Bowers to form a formidable frontcourt, and Pressey returns with senior guard Michael Dixon to run the backcourt. Kentucky fans won't shake off Oriakhi that easily, either. Don't forget: Missouri's inaugural season in the SEC starts next year.
As for the Wildcats, losing Oriakhi hurts, as he would have provided a wealth of experience that next year's team will be sorely lacking. However, the Wildcats still have plenty of options to round out their frontcourt. Backup Kyle Wiltjer is currently penciled in as the starting power forward, and Calipari is still recruiting highly touted forwards Anthony Bennett and Amile Jefferson. And even if Bennett and Jefferson choose other schools, the Wildcats have a potentially great, if sorely inexperienced, front line of Wiltjer and freshmen signees Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein.