It’s all systems go for the 2020-21 Kentucky Wildcats as Isaiah Jackson became the final piece of the puzzle to land safely in Lexington on Saturday. Jackson and company are now all moved into the Wildcat Coal Lodge and officially begin practice on Monday.
Jackson, a 6-9 forward from Michigan, was originally supposed to be on campus over the July 4th weekend, but was delayed for undisclosed reasons. Most of the newcomers arrived at the end of June and have been in a “tight bubble” according to UK Coach John Calipari who recently said that players have been scheduling times for weight training, conditioning and individual shooting as part of new safety precautions for COVID-19.
As practice begins, players will continue to undergo regular testing and will be confined to the lodge and the Joe Craft Center, just a short walk from individual dorm rooms and meal prep areas. In addition, Calipari and current players are actively promoting the use of wearing masks through various social media outlets in response to Governor Andy Beshear’s mandated order that went into effect on July 11th.
With the start of the college basketball season still up for debate, Kentucky fans can at least find solace in the fact that the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class will be ready for action, when or if, we tip off the 2020-21 season.
All six incoming freshmen were ranked inside the ESPN Top 100 with B.J. Boston (7), Terrence Clarke (10), Devin Askew (26), Jackson (34), Lance Ware (46) and Cam’Ron Fletcher all primed to lead the Cats on a quest for its ninth national championship. Kentucky finished 25-6 last season after winning the regular season SEC title (15-3) before surprisingly closing the year, not with another Final Four run, but with an emotional intra-squad game in mid-March at the Joe Craft Center as postseason play was officially cancelled.
Jackson, who picked Kentucky over Syracuse and Alabama, has been compared as a Marcus Lee type of player with a 200-pound frame who plays bigger than his size as a solid post defender and rebounder. Jackson, Ware and sophomore Keion Brooks will all have to pick up the slack after the Wildcats lost its entire front court as Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery both declared for the NBA draft and Nate Sestina departed after graduation.
Ironically, Kentucky’s success this coming season just might be in the hands of the NCAA who will soon make an official ruling on the eligibility of Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, who signed in early May. The 7-0 foot center, a third-team All-ACC selection last year, averaged 13.7 points and nine rebounds per game as a junior for the Demon Deacons and was the most sought after player in this year’s transfer portal.
With Sarr in the mix, Kentucky has been listed among the nation’s top five teams in numerous “way-too-early” pre-season polls as the Cats will once again be tested early with a neutral site game scheduled for November 10th against Kansas as part of the Champions Classic at Chicago’s United Center. Last year, Kentucky opened with a 69-62 win over No. 1-ranked Michigan State on November 5th at Madison Square Garden.