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Now that he’s eligible to play this season, Olivier Sarr confirms Kentucky’s title-contending status

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The only thing that felt longer than the year 2020 itself was the ruling on whether or not Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr would be eligible to suit up for Kentucky this season. He is, and that’s fantastic news for Kentucky’s title chances.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Wake Forest
Olivier Sarr was one of the best big men in the ACC this past season. He’ll be a (literal) big boost for Kentucky’s chances to make a championship run this season.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Olivier Sarr

  • Class: (Transfer) Senior
  • Height: 7-0
  • Weight: 255
  • Hometown: Toulouse, France
  • High School: INSEP (Paris)

There’s a reason why the ruling over Olivier Sarr’s immediate eligibility was arguably the biggest talking point during this offseason for Big Blue.

Without Sarr being ruled eligible to play in Lexington this season, Kentucky would still be a pretty good team with the talent they had, but their ceiling seemed to have the feeling that it was capped.

However, with Sarr (and fellow incoming transfer Jacob Toppin, brother of Obi) getting the thumbs up to finish his collegiate career with the Cats this season, that ceiling could well be national champions for the ninth time in school history. He’s literally a big deal.

Over the next few weeks as the season draws closer, we’ll be taking a dive into what Kentucky’s probable rotation will look like for the 2020-21 season, breaking it down player by player in the projected rotation. Today’s breakdown is on Sarr, who was one of the most consistent centers in all of college basketball a season ago and has shown real improvements in his game over the last couple of years.

Olivier Sarr during his junior season at Wake Forest

30 games played (15 starts), 13.7 points on 52.7 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 76.1 percent from the free-throw line on six attempts a game and a 24.2 usage percentage.

How does Sarr turn Kentucky into a true title contender?

(Well, I broke that down here a couple months ago and you should read that, too.)

With Nick Richards turning pro after a fantastic season a year ago, EJ Montgomery deciding to leave school early, Nate Sestina graduating and Purdue transfer Matt Haarms choosing former Kentucky big man Mark Pope’s BYU program over Kentucky, the Cats really needed to address their lack of experience up front.

John Calipari and his staff don’t doubt that Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher can make an impact this season, but they needed one of Calipari’s bread-and-butter pieces: a true back-to-the-basket big that can take over games and be a consistent rebounder and scorer on both blocks.

That’s exactly what Olivier Sarr already is.

Olivier Sarr was big in big games last season for Wake Forest.

Sarr took 253 shot attempts a season ago for the Demon Deacons with 130 of those attempts coming at the rim (with 45 dunk attempts). He had 13 games of 10+ rebounds, including 17 in the signature 30-point performance of his campaign against Notre Dame this past February. His usage percentage was a pinch under 26 percent in 11 top-50 quality games a season ago, per BartTorvik.com, with a 122.4 offensive rating and a 63.2 true shooting percentage.

When you look at Sarr’s statistics and who they compare to, especially in his junior season, some of the past names should stick out to college hoop fans: Quincy Acy and Cory Jefferson (both were on Baylor’s Elite Eight team in 2012 that lost to Kentucky), current Atlanta Hawks star and former Wake Forest forward John Collins, current Miami Heat forward Meyers Leonard and ... former Stanford and Kentucky big man Reid Travis.

He’s not the shot-blocker that Jackson is projecting to be or even a defensive player of the year-type of player Richards was a year ago due to moderate lack of quickness in that big frame of his, but 12 games of multiple blocks recorded isn’t something that can be glossed over. Sarr’s a productive player that almost feels like Thanos getting the final Infinity Stone to complete his destiny ... or rotation in Calipari’s case.

He’s not Nick Richards on the defensive end, but Sarr’s not a liability on that end with his massive frame and long reach to at least alter shots.

How does Sarr project into this year’s rotation

He’s not Nick Richards. Let’s just be clear. Richards is the more athletic player in the open floor and on the defensive end, on top of being a more confident perimeter shooting out to 16-18 feet.

But, this one’s easy. Calipari and his staff found the next best thing to Richards returning for another season.

From my film breakdown on Sarr back in May:

The advanced numbers loved Sarr. During 11 contests against top-50 teams this year, Sarr’s true shooting percentage was 63.2 percent, up from his 59.6 overall percentage. His defensive rebound percentage (DRB%) was 25.8, a top-20 number in all of college basketball last season. He ranked 25th in the country fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.6) and his free throw rate was an otherworldly .692. (For reference, Nick Richards’ FTr last season was .571.)

Not only was he drawing fouls at a strong rate, he was making them. Sarr shot 137-of-180 (76.1%) at the line this past season. Kentucky is constantly among the nation’s leaders in free throw attempts, so having an experienced big man that can make freebies is an added bonus. It’s like Richards never left in this department.

Oh, and this, too:

His 9.3 offensive rebounding percentage was 10th in the ACC and his 11.4 overall ORB% was 0.1 better than ... Nick Richards.

If you enjoyed watching Richards this past season, you’re going to enjoy Sarr. He’s a workhorse down low on both ends with valuable experience in the ACC the past three seasons with inferior talent compared to that he’ll be playing with in Lexington this season.

Sarr will likely be the starting center in the early going and if he’s the guy that made huge strides for Wake Forest a season ago, he’ll not only be an everyday starter and a heavy-minutes guy for Kentucky up front, having that reliability in the middle just makes the Cats all the more dangerous with their explosive scoring on the perimeter.