LEXINGTON, Ky. — Three whole months ago, John Calipari was losing his magic touch on the recruiting trail. Remember that terrifying time for Kentucky fans? Well, scratch that.
It was fair enough to wonder what was going wrong back then, when rival Duke and Mike Krzyzewski had successfully signed the No. 1, 2 and 3 overall players in the Class of 2018 — RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson — despite Kentucky’s best effort to land each of them. But then Calipari clapped back with quite a response.
When the Wildcats announced the addition of Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis on Tuesday, it completed a clean sweep of their top remaining targets for the 2018-19 season.
In the last 72 days, Calipari has added the No. 1 power forward in 2018 (EJ Montgomery), the No. 1 point guard in 2019 (Ashton Hagans), who reclassified and is already on campus, and the No. 1 transfer on the market in Travis, a former McDonald’s All-American and leading candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
And just like that, Kentucky is legitimately 10-deep again for the first time since its loaded 2015 squad that went 38-1. (Like that team, this one will get a head start on building chemistry with a summer trip to the Bahamas to play exhibition games against foreign professional teams.)
You could make a strong case that the Cats should be ranked No. 1 when they open the season against, of all teams, Duke on Nov. 6. There will be an absurd amount of talent on the court that night in Indianapolis.
That’s always true for Kentucky, but Travis, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Cardinal last season, gives the Wildcats a rare and valuable senior star. The two-time All-Pac-12 pick was expected to visit reigning national champion Villanova after checking out Lexington this weekend, but Calipari did not let him get off UK’s campus.
“I felt good about where we stood with next year’s team, but when I found out how much Reid wanted to be here, I had to take a look and say, ‘OK, can he help us? Can he help our team become even more potent and can we help him reach his dreams?’ The answers were absolutely,” Calipari said. “Our fans know when it comes to talent and experience, I’m always picking talent, but Reid gives us both.”
In announcing his decision — two days after earning his degree from Stanford — Travis said that his visit to Kentucky made clear there is “no better place” to chase his goals, which are “to compete for a national championship and turn the game I love into a profession.”
His addition gives the Wildcats eight players on the roster who were 5-star recruits, McDonald’s All-Americans or both. All 10 scholarship players are former top-100 prospects, split evenly between front-court and back-court players.
Travis and rising sophomore PJ Washington, who pulled out of the NBA draft, give Kentucky perhaps the most potent pair of power forwards in college basketball. Not to mention the 6-11 Montgomery and 7-foot Richards, both McDonald’s All-Americans.
Hagans, a John Wall clone, joins burger boys Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson in what could be Calipari’s best defensive back court in years. Sophomore Quade Green, another McDonald’s All-American, could find playing time tough to come by — but he would be instant offense off the bench as a near-40 percent 3-point shooter.
It is an embarrassment of riches for Kentucky. Again. Which is to say: Maybe it was foolish to doubt John Calipari’s ability to assemble an elite roster.
MEET THE NEW GUYS
- Hagans didn’t want to wait to be next great UK point guard
- Montgomery born to ball, ready to embrace AD comparison
2018-19 Wildcats by recruiting ranking (247Sports composite)
PF EJ Montgomery (6-11, Fr.) — No. 9 overall in 2018
PG Ashton Hagans (6-4, Fr.) — No. 12 overall in 2018
SF Keldon Johnson (6-6, Fr.) — No. 13 overall in 2018
PF PJ Washington (6-7, So.) — No. 15 overall in 2017
C Nick Richards (7-0, So.) — No. 18 overall in 2017
PG Immanuel Quickley (6-3, Fr.) — No. 22 overall in 2018
PG Quade Green (6-0, So.) — No. 26 overall in 2017
PF Reid Travis (6-8, Sr.) — No. 36 overall in 2014
SG Tyler Herro (6-5, Fr.) — No. 37 overall in 2018
SG Jemarl Baker (6-4, R-Fr.) — No. 73 overall in 2017