The summer international trip is always a great learning experience before the college basketball season. The players learn a lot about how to play together, the coaches learn about what they can get out of their players, and fans learn a little bit about the new players.
The Kentucky Wildcats rolled through international competition in the Bahamas last week, and there was a lot to take in from the first look at this year’s team.
After processing the information overload and getting over the fact that they throttled professional teams four games in a row, here are the four biggest surprises that came out of the Wildcats’ trip to the Bahamas.
Sophomore Nick Richards
I both hate and love the fact that “Sophomore Nick Richards” is the official reference for the player formerly known as Nick Richards. But in many respects, he is a completely different dude.
Nick Richards takes the contact and finishes the and-1. pic.twitter.com/AuC58kHaNQ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 12, 2018
Richards was last on the team in minutes played (besides Jonny David and Brad Calipari), yet averaged 12 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and nearly one steal per game. The numbers speak for themselves, but this new Richards just moves like a different guy.
He was aggressive, attacking and intimidating.
Dude tries and fails to move Reid Travis and then Nick Richards swats his shot with two hands. pic.twitter.com/KNt6Zj7qBe— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 12, 2018
For a guy that almost looked lost in the shuffle once the roster was set, Richards established himself as one of the better players on the team during this run. I did not expect to type that this week.
Tyler Herro is a stud
Yes, I have been saying for months that he is more than a shooter. But I was not expecting what we saw in the Bahamas. Herro led the Wildcats in points with 17.3 per game and unleashed a scoring arsenal that I don’t think any of us were prepared for.
Herro shot 44.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, 57.5 percent from the floor, and made all 15 of his free throws. He came off screens and hit shots, created his own shots off the dribble, and ran the floor like a race horse. He made smart, accurate passes. And honestly, his shots barely touched the rim.
I have hesitated to make any comparisons for this year’s team, but after watching him in the Bahamas I feel comfortable saying he looked a lot like Malik Monk. Strong outside shooter, money from mid-range, and fun around the rim.
He may not get the minutes to put up Monk-like numbers, but he is as dangerous of a scorer as John Calipari has had at Kentucky.
Immanuel Quickley’s efficiency
When Ashton Hagans committed to Kentucky and reclassified, many people automatically counted Quickley out as being the team’s top point guard.
And not to take anything away from Hagans, who is an absolute stud, but in the Bahamas Quickley did everything you want a point guard to do.
Quickley was incredibly efficient, putting up 18 assists and committing only two turnovers during the entire trip. He shot 40 percent from behind the arc, and even averaged 4.5 rebounds per game to go with his 7.3 points.
Hagans is a relentless defender and will demand time on the court, but Quickley is also a strong defender and is the prototypical college point guard. At this point, I would imagine Quickley gets the starting nod and I think they will both be on the floor with the game on the line.
Reid Travis is adjusting
I think most of us expected Reid Travis to take the floor and be a polished, All-American level basketball player. While I think he could still be that guy come October, he certainly was not in the Bahamas.
Despite leading the team in field goal attempts (44), he made only 34 percent of his shots and often looked a bit discombobulated. Although he did have a monster game in the trip finale with 19 points and 15 rebounds, giving him a double-double average for the trip (10.8 points, 10.3 rebounds).
Coach Calipari discussed his struggles and attributed his mistakes to the process of learning new habits.
“We’ve got to create new habits,” Calipari said in his post-game presser. “That’s what I just told him. You’ve got to get quicker to the basket, runners, some little seven-foot shots — not jump shots, just get it to the rim quickly. It’s thrown to you, the first thought is to get it to the backboard. And we’ve got to work with him. We have not worked with him. We’ve done nothing with him. But we will when we get back.”
As good as Reid was at Stanford, Calipari sees a lot of room for improvement. If he is right (and he usually is), that will be a problem for anyone that steps into the paint with Reid once the season begins.
Reid Travis sends this shot into the bench. pic.twitter.com/F7iZmbuR5q— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 12, 2018
The most important thing that we all learned from the Bahamas trip is how much fun these guys are going to be to watch. Kentucky fans have grown accustomed to getting a slow start to a season and hoping they are ready for March.
This year, though, we are all in for a fun ride from the get-go.
What else surprised you from the games in the Bahamas?