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Kentucky Basketball: PJ Washington returns, Jarred Vanderbilt goes, Reid Travis buzz and other Musings

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There are big things on the horizon for Kentucky Basketball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kansas State vs Kentucky Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The roster for the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team is closer to being finalized but there are still two pieces to the puzzle that John Calipari would like to solidify.

Yesterday the three players that were testing the NBA waters without hiring an agent made their final decisions. PJ Washington was the only player to return to school while Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt are going to try to make professional teams somewhere.

PJ’s Back

If you asked 100 Kentucky fans I think the majority of them would have said that getting PJ Washington back was the most important outcome on Wednesday.

With only EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards on the 2019 roster, Calipari desperately needed at least one of the three of PJ/Wenyen/Vando to come back and, out of the three, Washington is arguably the best player.

He averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds last season and notched three double-doubles. Compare that to Wenyen Gabriel (6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, one double-double) and Jarred Vanderbilt (5.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and one double-double) and it is clear that Washington is the most proven commodity.

Washington has an opportunity to come in and be one of the best forwards in the SEC. He showed flashes of dominating last season and has an intensity that will mesh well with Keldon Johnson’s.

The trap that Washington cannot fall into is trying to prove to the NBA that he’s a jump shooter. The feedback that he received from the pros is that he needs to improve as a shooter, which is true. At 6’7, Washington is undersized for an NBA power forward and will have to develop a jump shot.

That being said, it could be counterproductive if Washington ignores his strengths to solely focus on what he is best at; which is being a bully around the basket.

The Vanderbilt enigma

We will never know how good Jarred Vanderbilt could have been at Kentucky. Mysterious injuries kept him from playing even half a season as a Wildcat and now he’s opted out of college all together to pursue a professional career.

Arguing whether or not Vanderbilt should have stayed at school is moot at this point. He’s gone and I think it’s been fairly clear throughout that his endgame was always going to be somewhere other than UK.

It was a strange season for Vanderbilt, Kentucky fans, and John Calipari. The talented forward injured himself before he stepped foot on campus. But he got healthy in time for practice; but then all of a sudden he was hurt once again for an undetermined amount of time.

At first we all thought he was going to be out for the season. But then Calipari said that the injury did not require surgery and that Vanderbilt would indeed play. There was never an established time table so fans waited...and waited...and waited for Jarred to play.

As the season progressed Vanderbilt started dropping hints on social media that he would play. He would show up to warm-ups dressed in his uniform. And then, when the game started, he would be on the bench in street clothes.

Frustration mounted with every passing game until the impatience of the fans started to show up in John Calipari’s press conferences. Cal, who rarely throws players under the bus, all but said Jarred isn’t playing because he doesn’t want to even though physically he’s able.

When he finally did play, Kentucky fans got a taste of his hustle, his ball handling skills, and his rebounding. While he found it difficult to score, he brought a lot to the table in terms of his overall ability.

But it was short lived as once again he was struck by a mysterious injury right before the SEC tournament. There were conflicting reports in regards to the severity of the injury and whether or not he would even play in the postseason. His father weighed in on the situation and indicated that Vanderbilt could be available.

He never did play and his injury was never disclosed. He didn’t even participate in the NBA combine.

It’s fair to say that the people around Vanderbilt were trying to protect him for the NBA, which is understandable. But without a true sample size of his ability it’s going to be hard for the NBA to truly evaluate him.

While his decision leaves many fans scratching their heads, I get it. Even if Jarred would have returned, there is no guarantee that he would have been healthy for a full season.

The only thing left to do at this point is wish him well and root for him if he gets to the next level.

Reid Travis is a game changer

Yesterday reports of Reid Travis transferring from Stanford to Kentucky started to explode on the internet.

He averaged 19.5 points a game and 8.7 rebounds. He was a proven commodity in the PAC 12 and ended the season as the third leading scorer in the conference.

At the moment Kentucky is one player in the post away from being truly special for next season.

Adding Reid Travis would more than put them over the top. He is a senior that would be able to come in and add maturity to a team consisting of freshmen and sophomores.

At the end of the day yesterday, the return of PJ Washington and the possible addition of Travis was the best possible scenario for John Calipari and the Wildcats. They would have perfect balance in the post.

It’s not a done deal for Travis but it is looking to be sooner rather than later.

2019 roster outlook

The roster watch for this offseason has been one helluva ride but there is finally some clarity.

Here are the players we know will be on the team in 2019:

Guards:

  • Quade Green
  • Tyler Herro
  • Immanuel Quickley
  • Jemarl Baker
  • Keldon Johnson (wing player is a better description)

Bigs:

  • PJ Washington
  • EJ Montgomery
  • Nick Richards

There is the potential of adding two more players to the team. I’ve already discussed Reid Travis. The other player is point guard Ashton Hagans. Hagans committed to Kentucky with the plan of reclassifying from 2019 to 2018 so that he could play this season.

If Hagans is able to reclassify, I think this is what Cal would be working with.

First team:

  • Ashton Hagans- PG
  • Quade Green- SG
  • Keldon Johnson- Wing
  • PJ Washington- Forward
  • Redi Travis- Forward

Second team:

  • Immanuel Quickley- PG
  • Tyler Herro- SG
  • Jemarl Baker- Wing
  • EJ Montgomery- Forward
  • Nick Richards- Center

Of course, this is all conjecture. I can see EJ cracking the starting line-up at some point. And before you say “Travis is too small to play center” Bam Adebayo was also 6’8 (as is Travis) and there were times last season when Washington played in the middle.

Calipari is going to have numerous options next season and it’s going to be fun watching him try to work it out.

If the above roster is indeed the one Kentucky emerges with from the Bahamas, you’re looking at the number one team in the country.