That came to fruition this week when Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery became the latest Cats to leave for the pros, joining Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey. While Maxey, Hagans, Quickley and Richards were expected to go pro, losing Montgomery really stings, as he’s not projected in any mock draft and could be bound for an overseas stint instead of returning to lead a Final Four-contender UK team.
Now, Kentucky’s frontcourt is in a world of hurt in terms of experience. Keion Brooks Jr. had some nice moments as a freshman, but he only 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game.
Kentucky also has a pair of promising freshmen joining the team next season in four-star forward Lance Ware and five-star forward Isaiah Jackson. However, neither of them is viewed as elite one-and-done talents, and they should probably have roles more similar to what Brooks had as a freshman for a presumed Final Four contender.
Having returning veterans would help allow them to be brought along slowly and potentially become impact players later in the season, but right now, there isn’t much experience on Kentucky’s roster to speak of, especially in the frontcourt. That’s why it’s now become imperative Kentucky gets Purdue graduate transfer Matt Haarms.
Viewed as a top-three grad transfer this year (ranked as high as No. 2 overall by ESPN), Haarms would bring a much-needed veteran presence in the frontcourt, not to mention a great shot-blocker with 210 career blocks. He can also hit from deep
Heck, there’s a real chance Haarms is actually an upgrade over Montgomery. Haarms has higher career Player Efficiency Rating of 22.2 compared to 14.7 for Montgomery, a better true-shooting percentage (61.2% compared to 52.3% for EJ), and a higher box plus/minus (11.5 vs. 6.9).
More importantly, Haarms was a key starter averaging 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 22.8 minutes per game for a 2018-19 Purdue team that came within a shot of making the Final Four. That kind of experience would be extremely valuable for a 2020-21 Kentucky team that has very little experience, especially when it comes to March Madness.
Of course, there could be better frontcourt transfer candidates emerge, but there’s no assurance of such options emerging. And even if they did, who knows if they’ll have legitimate interest in Kentucky, something Haarms clearly has.
All of this is why it’s become very important for John Calipari to get Haarms to Lexington next season. Otherwise, it’s scary to think how much the Wildcats’ frontcourt will struggle just to stay afloat in deep and unforgiving SEC schedule next season, not to mention non-conference matchups with Kansas, Louisville and UCLA, all of whom are preseason top-25 teams next season.
Haarms recently announced a list of 10 schools he’s considering, which included Kentucky among the likes of Arizona, Gonzaga, Memphis and Texas Tech among others. It’s unclear when Haarms will make his decision, but this is a battle Kentucky desperately needs to win in order to have a team capable of making a deep NCAA Tournament run next season.