Reid Travis rocked college basketball by announcing his commitment to Kentucky on Wednesday.
We’ve talked about it at great lengths already, but there are a few more leftover thoughts I had following what I believe will go down as one of the biggest commitments of the John Calipari era.
Gunning for the top
While this was something that had been in the works for a while, it was nonetheless a major day for a program that’s taken a bit of a dip from the level Calipari had it at over his first six seasons.
That was a span in which Kentucky went to five Elite Eights, four Final Fours and hung banner No. 8 in 2012. Since that last Final Four trip in 2015, Kentucky has lost in the Round of 32, Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
Don’t get me wrong. Those were fun seasons full of special wins and plenty of great memories. But for a coach who once said he was chasing UCLA’s 11 national titles, it’s been disappointing to see Kentucky not even make the Final Four for the last three seasons, especially when you realize Calipari probably doesn’t have many years left in him.
With Travis, you get an all-conference performer that balled out against great competition and will elevate a great group of talent into a serious national title threat. This feels like a team ready to be at the top when the season ends and the nets are coming down.
The youth factor
While Kentucky was going to have a great roster without Travis, it still wasn’t one you felt great about getting to the Final Four. They return PJ Washington, who certainly had his moments as freshman, but he also had far too many games he disappeared to wonder if he’s ready to be a team’s best player for 35-40 games.
Nick Richards and Quade Green also had some flashes, but they also combined for just one double-digit scoring game in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
Kentucky does have a great recruiting class coming in. EJ Montgomery, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans are going to become special players. But as we’ve learned in Kentucky’s era of freshman-heavy teams, it can be a dangerous game relying on them from start to finish in a season.
Even guys like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Teams needed time before hitting their strides, but they had experienced, talented veterans around them to help shoulder the load as they came along.
Would Washington, Green and Richards have been enough to help carry the load while Hagans, Montgomery and Johnson came into their own?
It would have been dicey, but now, Kentucky doesn’t have to worry. Now, they have one of, if not the best, veteran player they’ve ever had under Calipari. Travis can help shoulder a major workload for this roster while the youngsters find their own.
The recruiting “slump”
While Calipari has still recruited at a very high level in recent years, it hasn’t quite measured up to what we had become accustomed to. In Cal’s first five seasons in Lexington, Kentucky landed nine top-five recruits in the RSCI rankings, an average of almost two per season.
But over the last four recruiting classes, Kentucky has landed just one top-five recruit, and that was Slal Labissiere, who will go down as arguably the biggest bust in Calipari’s tenure.
Needless to say, Calipari has had a tough time getting those elite, program-changing recruits recently, including the 2018 class in which he missed on R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, Bol Bol and Romeo Langford (the latter he essentially passed on).
But then came Travis, who effectively ended that slump and gave Calipari that game-changing recruit he desperately needed. While Travis isn’t a high school recruit, he is an elite one-and-done prospect (via graduation) like those aforementioned guys.
And while I would still take Barrett and Reddish over Travis, I’m still taking him over any other recruit in 2018. So in essence, Kentucky is adding that top 3-5 recruit they needed to ensure they become a title contender next season.
Making everyone better
Travis is already close to being the best version of himself, but obviously the rest of Kentucky’s roster still has some work toward getting there.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another player in college basketball that can be a better teammate for a young roster than Travis, who’s become a special player in large part due to his intense work ethic.
One player who went up against Reid Travis in an NBA workout recently: “He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever played against.”— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) May 30, 2018
Travis is the kind of physically-imposing bully that will make everyone on Kentucky’s roster better, especially young talents like Washington, Montgomery and Richards.
“He’s really, really physical,” ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He’s a beast on the offensive glass — I think that’s really where he’s best. If you look at him, he looks like an NFL tight end. He’s strong, big shoulders, really aggressive, thick legs.
One of Kentucky’s biggest issues last season—which was painfully evident during their 10-8 stint in the SEC—was they got bullied around far too often. Teams like Tennessee, Missouri and Texas A&M would just push Kentucky’s bigs around far too easily. When Jarred Vanderbilt got healthy, that helped stop the bleeding, but he’s gone now, and Kentucky needed more beef up front.
“I think it’s going to help just because he’s a veteran guy and he’s played in big games before,” Schmitz said. “Again, you have a guy who you can rely on and has played in those moments. And he’s a hard-playing guy. He’s not soft. He’s going to attack the offensive glass. He’s going to finish through contact. He’s going to try and dunk on you when he’s able to get his feet under him. So I think Cal’s going to like that.”
And let’s face it: Richards may have been the softest 7-footer in a Power 5 conference last season. That’s OK when you’re a freshman, but he has to make major strides there if he’s ever going to become the lottery pick Calipari thinks he can be.
Having Travis as a teammate will go a long way toward making that happen.