With the FIBA U19 play having wrapped up last week, all of the Kentucky Wildcats are now on campus.
Now is the time that we start hearing about who is impressing the staff, what kind of team dynamic there might be, and other little offseason tidbits that prime us for the fall. Throughout the season, I’m going to be updating a power ranking that shows the direction that the Cats are trending on a weekly basis once the season begins. There will be a few updates throughout the offseason based on the things we are hearing over here on A Sea of Blue, so stay tuned.
The first edition is going to be mostly based on projection for this upcoming season, but also takes into account experience where there is any. Walk-ons will not be included in the rankings, at least until Brad is the first off the bench against Kansas in the Champions Classic.
To be clear, these are my opinions. Other writers here at A Sea of Blue will disagree with me, so I suspect you might disagree as well. It’s very early and I will most definitely be proved wrong in multiple aspects come season’s start, but what fun would it be otherwise?
With no further ado, let’s see where the Cats stack up.
11. Tai Wynyard, F/C (RS So.)
Wynyard gave Kentucky some decent minutes last season when Bam found himself in foul trouble and Humphries slumped throughout conference play. He logged a season high 12 minutes against Georgia, a memorable overtime game that ended in a 90-81 win after Malik Monk spontaneously combusted into flames. He is a bruising big man who will bang for rebounds and bring immediate toughness into the game. He has average athleticism and a limited offensive repertoire, which has held him back from playing time and a higher spot on this ranking. His position here isn’t as much a knock on Wynyard’s ability as much as it is a testament to the depth and talent that this Kentucky team will have.
Calipari recruited Baker to fill a specific need: knock down shooting. That is what Baker will bring to the table. But what else he’ll bring remains in question. He has an ability to drive to the basket, something he isn't given much credit for as a player. But playing in the SEC, his size at the two-guard (6’2”) can be problematic in certain regards. We have also yet to see how well he can stay in front of speedy guards on the defensive end, which is something we’ll hear more about as the season approaches. If he can’t guard, he won’t see much run and will find himself in the Mychal Mulder role — which may not be a terrible place for him to be as a freshman.
This may be the first surprise to you so far. It’s not that I’m low on Richards — I think he will be a very important contributor to this roster — but again, the depth of this team! He can rebound and protect the rim, something Cal values and will get him time on the floor. The reason he falls lower than you might expect for someone ranked 17th overall in his recruiting class is because of questions concerning his hands and ability to score in post-ups. That, and there are seven other five-star players on this roster. Richards will be a vital player for the Cats.
Green may very well be the starting point guard when the Cats take the floor against Utah Valley on November 10. He is the higher ranked point guard in the 2017 recruiting class, and will be among the best distributors in the college ranks this season. There has been little to no buzz regarding Green yet, as he was the last Cat to report to campus, having just arrived in the middle of June. A late graduation and palpable hype around another Kentucky guard keep Green from being higher, neither of which are his fault. I expect Green to be one of the biggest risers on this power ranking in the next few editions.
7. Sacha Killeya-Jones, F/C (So.)
One of the few returning Cats on scholarship, Killeya-Jones may have the most to prove this upcoming season. There was a huge cloud of mystery hanging over his head amidst a freshman campaign where his playing time was reduced to zero about half way through. Look for an article to be published soon about the improvement we could see from him as a sophomore. Spoiler alert: I think he will be a lot better. He is a skilled, versatile offensive player who has the physical profile to become a good college defender. He looks to have hit the gym in a big way and has developed a chip on his shoulder. Richards may prove early to be the better player, but I give SKJ the nod to start the season.
Vanderbilt would be ranked much higher if more were known about his health. After a non-contact injury in the Jordan Brand Classic, very little was made public regarding his status. The nature of the injury is still in question. Though his outlook is more positive now that he’s doing some workouts, the injury still kept him from trying out for Team USA and limited his participation in workouts/scrimmages with his soon to be teammates.
Despite this, he comes in at 6 because of the versatility and play-making ability he brings at 6’8”. He has the balanced, Swiss Army knife type of game that makes him a valuable asset in any scenario. He should be higher on this list in the near future, once he starts going full-swing.
The highest player on the board in respect to his 2017 class ranking, Gilgeous-Alexander has been the source of all of the noise coming from campus this week. Whether it is teammate Kevin Knox calling him the sleeper of the team or 247 Sports’ Jerry Meyer slotting Shai 19th on his personal ranking (higher than consensus opinion) and saying that he has the look of a potential one-and-done, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the freshman point guard. At 6’6”, he can bully smaller guards on his way to the rim and put pressure on them defensively. Gilgeous-Alexander will be a pleasant surprise for Cats fans this fall.
4. Wenyen Gabriel, F (So.)
The Cats’ leading returnee from last season, Gabriel had a very up and down season. He would disappear for stretches of the season, start to look like he had turned the corner (highlighted by a 23 point, 8 rebound effort against LSU), then disappear again. As the season progressed he’d lost most of his leash to Derek Willis, only playing 4 minutes in the Elite Eight against UNC.
Characterized by motor and upside, Gabriel is looking to make his basketball skills a bigger part of the discussion. An improved body will help him guard the power forward position, and he has shown that he can hit twenty footers from the baseline extended.
A year of experience should help him better respond to adversity and keep him out of his own head. As a leader, improved confidence from Gabriel will go a long way as he looks to show an opened-up offensive skillset.
One of three Cats to attend the Team USA U19 camp and one of two to play on the Calipari-coached team, P.J. Washington is a bulldog. Another 6’8” forward, he will play all over the floor for Calipari. He looks to see most of his time at the 4-spot, though he can stretch the ball out towards the three point line and may even see time as a small-ball center.
P.J. impressed with the USA U19 team, averaging 12.9 points per game to be the leading scorer. He did not impress with his free-throw shooting (48% in seven games), so that is something he should be working on especially hard before the season.
At UK, Washington will do a lot of the things that Kentucky fans love, projecting to be the best rebounder from the power forward position that we’ve seen since Julius Randle. While not as flashy as the next player on this list, P.J. gets the job done with grit. A fan favorite to be.
2. Hamidou Diallo, G (RS Fr.)
Kentucky fans are and should be thrilled to return Diallo. The number one shooting guard of his original 2017 class before joining the Cats early for the second semester, Diallo is a monster athlete. He posted one of the bests verticals (44.5”) in NBA Combine history, and his YouTube mixtape speaks for itself. His jump shot remains a concern, but the video below at least shows that he can at least knock it down in an empty gym.
I’m not sure how comforting that is to you, but hey it’s something. Like P.J. he struggled at the free-throw line for the U19 Team USA, but he impacts the game in other ways not typical of guards. He rebounds on both ends very well and has a knack for simply finding himself in the right spot and putting himself in a good position to score despite his limitations, which is an underrated skill for a basketball player.
Diallo should be the lockdown perimeter defender that Kentucky missed last season, and will be one of the most exciting players in transition at any level of basketball. SportsCenter Top 10, be ready.
Hamidou Diallo from real deep. pic.twitter.com/HqVrxuSn42— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) June 20, 2017
The last addition to Kentucky’s 2017 recruiting class, and a surprise one at that, holds the number one spot on the first edition of A Sea of Blue’s Wildcat Power Rankings. He comes in as the most balanced player on the roster. He can shoot, he can drive, he can bounce, and he has good size at the position.
There isn't one part of his game that jumps out over the rest; he is just really good at all phases. Knox will probably start day one, and be the focal point of the offense to boot — especially in the half court. He is the type of scoring small forward that has eluded Cal for a while now, in the mold of a Brandon Ingram or Justin Jackson type.
Kentucky fans would have had a lot of fun watching him alongside Washington and Diallo this summer had he not tweaked his hamstring near the end of Team USA tryouts. This kid can get a bucket. Whether it’s putting the ball on the floor or utilizing his quick-developing jump shot, Knox will likely be the guy that the team turns to at the end of close games.
Calipari has likened Knox’s scoring ability to Malik Monk’s and given the amount of talent on this team, the rest of college basketball is sure hoping that he’s wrong.