Reid Travis made it official Wednesday by tweeting that he will play for Kentucky next season as a graduate transfer.
Travis said he was looking for a program that aligns "my academic and athletic interests.” There was “no better place” to do so than Kentucky, he said.
A two-time all-Pacific 12 selection, Travis is seen as the kind of veteran player who can cement UK’s status as a national championship contender.
“If Reid Travis does go to Kentucky as a grad transfer, the Wildcats might become the favorite to win the national title ...,” ESPN analyst Jeff Goodman tweeted earlier this spring. “Reid Travis would be a game-changer for any program.”
Travis announcing that he would play for Kentucky was something Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin jokingly (?) did not want to hear.
When asked last week about Travis, who then had been mentioned as bound to Kentucky or Villanova, Martin said in a light-hearted tone, “Hopefully Kentucky is just mentioned (and) he doesn’t end up there because I don’t want to play against him.”
As California’s coach, Martin got an up-close view of Travis.
“He’s at least 6-8, and maybe 6-9,” Martin said. “You’re talking about 240 pounds. Strong, physical, tough. And he played football in high school. Runs the floor. His strength level reminds me a lot of Jarnell Stokes, who we had at Tennessee. Just a strong, physical guy. So he puts you in the mode of Jarnell Stokes. He’ll beat you when he’s on offense and defense because he’s so physical. He plays hard. He’s one of those guys. He embraces contact and physicality.”
Stokes was an all-Southeastern Conference player for Tennessee in 2013-14 and a second-team selection in 2012-13.
Martin described Travis as something of a throwback in terms of welcoming physical play.
“Ten, 15 years ago, most guys played that way with that size,” the Missouri coach said. “But nowadays, he separates himself from the competition by the way he plays. He loves the contact. He’s not wild. He’s not out of control. He knows how to hit you and make moves around the rim. If you don’t match his intensity and his toughness, it’ll be a long night for you.”
Former UK player Marcus Lee played against Travis this past season. Lee likened him to Julius Randle, a physical presence and all-SEC player for Kentucky as a freshman in 2013-14.
Martin did not fully endorse the Travis-Randle comparison.
“Similar from the standpoint of physicality around the rim,” the Missouri coach said. “But Julius played out on the perimeter a little bit. But, obviously, Reid has improved his perimeter shot, 15, 17 feet out. I watched him a lot last season. I think Julius kind of made his moves off the dribble, slashing from the wing and that sort of thing. But Reid really played around the rim a lot or at the elbow.”
Travis entered his name in this year’s NBA Draft. He withdrew reportedly in part because NBA teams told him he needed to improve his face-the-basket shooting.
“Reid is a very good player,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said in a text message. “He needs to refine his offensive game to step away and be able to consistently knock down a perimeter shot. He is so strong. Excellent rebounder. Great kid.”
When asked if Travis reminded him of any player, Bilas answered with a question: “Daryl Thomas?”
Thomas was a two-time captain for Indiana. He made the pass to Keith Smart, who hit the winning shot against Syracuse in the 1987 national championship game.
Thomas, a 6-foot-7 forward, was a two-time all-Big Ten player. He scored 1,095 points for Indiana. He averaged 15.7 points and 5.7 rebounds as a senior.
UK Coach John Calipari welcomed the addition of Travis.
"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. "You're talking about a two-time all-conference player who could have very well entered the NBA Draft with what he's done in his career. He was one of the best big men in the Pac-12 last season, if not the country. Our fans know when it comes to talent and experience, I'm always picking talent, but Reid gives us both."
Travis is a native of Minneapolis. As a high school prospect rated in the top 40 by Scout, ESPN and Rivals, he chose Stanford over Duke. He was a McDonald’s All-American.
In the 2016-17 season, Travis was named to the coaches’ All-Pac 12 team. He was one of only five players in a power five conference to rank among his league’s top five players in scoring and rebounding. He averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
As a fourth-year junior this past season, Travis was again voted to the coaches’ All-Pac 12 team. He averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds, which ranked him third in the league in both categories.
Travis also became only the third player in Stanford history to score at least 1,400 points and grab at league 700 rebounds in less than 100 games. He has scored 1,427 points (16th on Stanford’s career list) and grabbed 758 rebounds (10th).
That wealth of experience is seen as invaluable for the next Kentucky team, which like recent Kentucky teams, is dependent on contributions from freshmen.
“Well, I’ll tell you this: His experience and his toughness and all those things, it’ll be hard for him to come off somebody’s bench,” Martin said of Travis. “If he’s coming off somebody’s bench, you got a really good team. If you’re a young guy, you better be ready to match his toughness. If not, it’s going to be a long night.”