The Kentucky Wildcats got great news Wednesday when Olivier Sarr and Jacob Toppin both announced they were eligible for the 2020-21 college basketball season.
Sarr transferred in from Wake Forest this offseason after becoming one of the best centers in America last season, so much that one coach said only Second Team All-American Vernon Carey was better in terms of ACC big men.
“I want to start by thanking the NCAA, the SEC and Kentucky for this opportunity,” Sarr said in a press release. “I am excited to finish my college career in front of the Big Blue Nation and chase No. 9 with my team.”
In his third season with the Demon Deacons, the 7-foot Sarr averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He shot 52.7% from the floor, made the All-ACC Third Team and was the runner-up for the 2020 ACC Most Improved Player award.
The native of France scored in double figures in 23 games and was a two-time ACC Player of the Week. He finished the season on a six-game double-figure scoring run with three double-doubles. Included in that was a 20-point, 13-rebound game vs. Pitt in the 2019-20 finale, a career-high 30 points and 17 rebounds in a win vs. Notre Dame, and 25 points in a double-overtime victory over Duke. Sarr also enjoyed three straight double-doubles in January vs. Virginia, Clemson and Boston College and recorded 21 points and 13 rebounds vs. nationally ranked Arizona.
In addition, Sarr will be the 10th 7-footer in UK history and the first since Isaac Humphries in 2016-17.
As for Toppin, the younger brother of National Player of the Year Obi Toppin, the 6-8 forward transferred in following a promising first season at Rhode Island. He was expected to sit out this season. However, Toppin has been impressing in practice early on, and the NCAA is giving out a free year of eligibility to winter athletes. Once Kentucky applied for a transfer waiver, it was only a matter of time until he was ruled eligible.
“This is a big day for me and I want to thank the NCAA and my Kentucky family for their help in this process,” said Toppin. “I can’t wait to get on the court with this group of guys and play in front of our fans.”
Originally from Brooklyn (NY), Toppin became an immediate contributor for a Rhode Island team that went 21-9 on the season and finished 13-5 in the Atlantic 10. He scored in double figures five times in his freshman season, highlighted by 12 points and eight rebounds vs. Richmond, a potential at-large NCAA Tournament team this past season, and 12 points in 11 minutes vs. Saint Joseph’s. He also performed well vs. his future SEC foes Alabama and LSU, scoring 11 and 10 points respectively.
By adding the two frontcourt players to the fold, John Calipari will have one of the most experienced teams he’s ever had in Lexington between Sarr (senior), Toppin (sophomore) Creighton grad transfer Davion Mintz (redshirt senior), Keion Brooks Jr. (sophomore) and Dontaie Allen (redshirt freshman).
Oh, and Calipari also has the top-ranked recruiting class coming in, so this is shaping up to be a special year in the Bluegrass.
“I’m excited for Olivier and Jacob,” Calipari said. “Both have worked really hard and deserve this opportunity. They were both hopping and skipping out of my office after getting the news because they’ve been waiting on this day. I want to thank the NCAA and the SEC for considering the unique circumstances surrounding this season and we appreciate them working with us throughout this process.
“In Olivier’s case, I know this has been difficult for him, everything from the coaching change at Wake Forest, to deciding his future to waiting through this process. He’s gone about his business every day and continued to work hard in hopes of joining his teammates on the floor this winter.
“Jacob came here needing a fresh start. From day one, he’s been a great teammate and been an important part of this group in practice. He has tremendous upside and a great spirit about him.
“I know we’re all looking forward to chasing our goals soon.”