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How Wildcats getting Matt Haarms could actually help them keep EJ Montgomery

UK is still hopeful of keeping EJ, and landing Haarms may actually help.

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The Kentucky Wildcats are working hard to finalize the 2020-21 roster. That includes keeping current players who are considering the NBA, as well as pursuing transfers that become available.

One such transfer is Purdue center Matt Haarms, who is regarded by many as the top frontcourt transfer this offseason, and he’d be a major addition to any school that landed him, Kentucky included. good luck finding a 7-2 center with 210 career blocks that also was a starter on an Elite Eight team that came within a shot of making the Final Four in 2019 that can also hit threes.

When the offseason initially began, there was hope sophomore EJ Montgomery would return and be penciled in as Kentucky’s starting center next season with Keion Brooks Jr. manning the 4 spot. However, the recent buzz has been Montgomery is leaning toward going pro.

Kentucky’s pursuit of Haarms was initially viewed as yet another sign that Montgomery is trending toward the draft, even though the sophomore forward isn’t projected to be drafted and will likely struggle just to earn a two-way deal with an NBA team next season.

However, Kyle Tucker of The Athletic just put out an interesting tidbit on how getting Haarms, a true 5 man, may actually help Kentucky keep Montgomery, who wants to stick to the 4 and be more free to roam the paint and perimeter.

The coaching staff still has hope that Montgomery will see the light and come back in an effort to duplicate Richards’ junior-year leap. In fact, there is some thought that landing Haarms would help lure Montgomery back. He fancies himself a true stretch-4 and isn’t keen on playing center next season, so having another giant to patrol the paint would alleviate that concern.

It makes perfect sense, though one has to wonder if Montgomery would be willing to return and compete with Brooks for that starting 4 spot. Brooks showed a lot of potential down the stretch last season, including his mini breakout game in the win at Florida to end the season.

However, that was a game Brooks played on the wing a lot, including the final minutes when he scored two critical shot off perimeter drives and nearly converted another that Montgomery tipped in for the go-ahead score. Brooks also blocked a Scottie Lewis desperation three as the shot clock expired with 27 seconds left, giving Kentucky the ball down 70-69 to set up Montgomery’s game-winner.

That lineup saw Brooks at the 3, Montgomery at the 4 and Nick Richards at the 5. In fact, Kentucky had three bigs on the floor for much of the second half after falling behind 18 and rallying for the last-second win.

Brooks playing on the wing helped the Wildcats hold Florida to just 10 points over the final 10:37 of game time.

Perhaps Kentucky and Montgomery see the potential of having a similar lineup for stretches next season with Haarms replacing Richards at the 5, assuming Richards leaves for the NBA as expected.

One complication here is incoming top-five recruits Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston was widely expected to man the 2 and 3 spots, limiting Brooks’ minutes at the 3. But both Clarke and Boston showed improved ball-handling over the course of their senior seasons, enough that both are expected to get some run at the point next season.

Whenever that happens, or one of Clarke/Boston needs a breather or is in foul trouble, Brooks can move to the 3 and make a positive impact there, allowing Montgomery to play the 4 and Haarms at the 5.

It’s certainly going to be a juggling act for John Calipari if it comes to fruition, but if anyone can do, his ‘positionless’ approach is just what the doctor ordered

And it sounds like that approach could actually be causing Montgomery to give more consideration to returning for a junior season.