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Kentucky Basketball: The impact that new transfer rule could have on UK

Of course there will be positives, but the downside is bigger than most think.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at UCLA Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The strength of any collegiate athletic program that has ongoing success is the ability of the coaching staff to recruit high school athletes. The NCAA is mulling a new transfer rule, which almost seems imminent at this point, that would give the entire recruiting model a major shake up.

The new rule would allow all college athletes, potentially meeting a certain GPA standard, to have one free transfer to a different school without penalty. Currently, the penalty is that they have to sit out for a year before participating with a different program.

When this rule was announced, I heard a lot of, “Man, think about how great it will be if Coach Cal can utilize that rule to recruit transfers.” I fully agree that John Calipari is often ahead of the game and would find a way to utilize the new rule to benefit his program and any players that he could bring on board because of it.

But what essentially would become college free agency could completely change the dynamic of how we view recruiting and building a team. Because it is such a drastic change, we also need to consider that the change may also have a negative impact on the Kentucky Wildcats.

Picture a standard Kentucky recruiting class. There is normally 3-5 guys that are 5-star recruits with potential to be one and done. Coach Cal also brings in a guy or 2 that he is taking a chance on or may meet a niche need for the team, like outside shooting or being a defensive specialist.

I realize that every season is different. But generally 2 or 3 of those top guys stand out and it becomes obvious that they are only going to be in Lexington for a year. Then it is always clear that a few of the top recruits will be around for at least another year or two.

This season, the Wildcats have returning 5-star players Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Obviously teams need players like those guys. Previous guys on this list include Terrence Jones, Alex Poythress, and the Harrison twins. The Kentucky program has greatly benefited from players that were a little disappointing early on but ultimately ended up making great contributions as returning players.

Looking at Kentucky’s depth chart this season, though, how happy do you think Wenyen and Sacha are? Wenyen was a starter for most of last season. He has played a lot of minutes so far this year, and he has been really productive at times, but with Jarred Vanderbilt back you can count on Wenyen’s playing time to decrease. Sacha, who is a former McDonald’s All-American, plays less than 16 minutes per game.

Just like we have seen before, the returning sophomore players have been buried behind a group of shiny, talented new players. With the penalty of having to sit out a year, it is more risky for them to leave than to stay and fight for more minutes in hopes of having a breakout year.

But if they had the ability to transfer and play immediately, do you think they would return to Kentucky to watch other guys play?

There are players that have moved on from Kentucky and found success, despite having to miss a year of action. Charles Matthews is the leading scorer (14.5 points per game) for the Michigan Wolverines this season, who just worked their way into the top 25.

Marcus Lee is averaging 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the California Golden Bears right now. And, of course, Kyle Wiltjer had amazing success at Gonzaga before going to the NBA.

As you can see, there are players that have shown there is success to be had if you choose to leave Kentucky and make a name for yourself. I have no doubt that Sacha and Wenyen could be starters for dozens of solid programs out there.

So if this rule change takes place, could we see players like Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones be more likely to transfer after their first year?

Would the return that Coach Cal could get from recruiting other transfers make up the difference?

Ultimately, would this rule be more likely to help or hurt the Kentucky basketball program under John Calipari?