After taking a cue from Santa Claus and checking it twice, the surprising (and perhaps sobering) fact could not be denied: Neither PJ Washington nor Reid Travis or any other Kentucky Wildcat made Andy Katz’s list of the top 20 players returning to college basketball next season.
Washington and Travis (along with Quade Green) are being counted upon to give next season’s Kentucky team a savvy veteran presence that can enhance the next group of ballyhooed freshmen. The mix of heralded recruits and productive veterans revives memories of 2011-12 when UK rode veterans (Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb) and freshmen (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) to a national championship.
But with Katz having trained an eye on college basketball for decades, his list seemed to suggest it might be wise for the BBN to tap the brakes on its runaway expectations. Or did it?
A follow-up call to Katz was made to find out.
Katz, formerly a high-profile reporter for ESPN, now works for NCAA.com and the Big Ten Network. He gave both Washington and Travis plenty of consideration.
Washington, who returned to practice on Tuesday after rehabbing finger surgery, puzzled Katz. “You can go back and forth on should I add him in,” he said. “I debated it. I debated it.”
Among the factors Katz said he weighed were a player’s value to his team, his previous statistics and expected ability to influence team success.
Three Southeastern Conference players made Katz’s list: Tennessee forward Grant Williams at No. 11, LSU guard Tremont Waters at No. 17 and Missouri forward Jontay Porter at No. 19.
Another name familiar to UK fans made the list. Katz put North Carolina forward Luke Maye, whose game-winning shot in the final seconds eliminated Kentucky from the 2017 NCAA Tournament, at No. 2. Guard Carsen Edwards of Purdue was No. 1.
“I’m not saying Luke Maye is a better pro than PJ Washington,” Katz said. But in Katz’s estimation, Maye can be a more impactful player in the 2018-19 college season.
As for Travis, the mystery surrounding his basketball future kept him off the list. When Katz selected the 20 best returnees, Travis was in basketball limbo. He had said he would transfer from Stanford. But he had yet to tweet his decision to transfer to Kentucky.
“We didn’t know where he was going,” Katz said. “That was the problem. I thought about, ‘do we put him in there unaffiliated?’ But then if we do that, then we’re stuck. That was my issue because I didn’t know when he was going to make his decision. There was still always the possibility he could have said, ‘I’m going to play overseas.’”
When he watched telecasts of Stanford games the last few seasons, Katz came away impressed with Travis, a two-time All-Pac 12 selection.
“He is a physical player who I think more than anything gives Kentucky what they haven’t had since Patrick Patterson ...,” Katz said. “A veteran guy who can score in the post, who can be a great locker room guy, who can be that bridge with this young team. ...
“That older, veteran guy that can sort of bail them out of situations. Reid Travis is not going to be fazed by going into crazy atmospheres in the SEC because he’s already played in high-profile situations. I think he’s exactly what they’ve been missing the last couple years.”
Here is Katz’s list of the top 20 returning players: 1. Carsen Edwards (Purdue); 2. Luke Maye (UNC); 3. Caleb Martin (Nevada); 4. Ethan Happ (Wisconsin); 5. Kyle Guy (Virginia); 6. Tyus Battle (Syracuse); 7. Marcus Howard (Marquette); 8. Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga); 9. Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s); 10. Ky Bowman (Boston College); 11. Grant Williams (Tennessee); 12. Juwan Morgan (Indiana); 13. James Palmer Jr., (Nebraska); 14. Bennie Boatwright (Southern Cal); 15. Mike Daum (South Dakota State); 16. Kellan Grady (Davidson); 17. Tremont Waters (LSU); 18. Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State); 19. Jontay Porter (Missouri); 20. McKinley Wright IV (Colorado).
Wiltjer or Won’t-jer?
It would have been fun to watch, but former UK player Kyle Wiltjer will not play for Team Toronto against Kentucky in the Bahamas.
Team Toronto Coach Roy Rana texted on Friday that Wiltjer was no longer on the roster. Rana cited Wiltjer’s new contract with a professional team in Spain as the reason.
T.J. Beisner, the editor of CoachCal.com, said on his “Behind Kentucky Basketball” podcast last week that Wiltjer would play for Team Toronto. UK is scheduled to finish its four-game trip to the Bahamas by playing Team Toronto on Aug. 12.
Beisner mentioned Wiltjer in helping to make the case that the games in the Bahamas will be competitive. UK fans should not over-react should the Wildcats lose, he said. He suggested that Wiltjer was not the only opposing player who could test UK.
“Do not judge this team based on the won-loss record in the Bahamas,” Beisner said on the podcast. “Do not hit the panic button if they lose a game. ... They’re facing men.”
On a recent teleconference, ESPN NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz said that UK’s annual abundance of talent could prevent an individual player from showing his full range of skills.
“With Kentucky guys, you kind of want to see them away from that setting at times,” he said.
Another ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, suggested the same could be said about Duke.
Wendell Carter was “more capable than he showed,” said Bilas, who added that Carter played most of his minutes last season beside Marvin Bagley III.
Marvin Bagley III on his ambitions as an NBA player: “I want to be the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. And I mean that in the most humble way possible.”
Former LSU Coach Dale Brown called last week seeking help with his memory. As preparation for an appearance on a sports talk radio show, he called to make sure he correctly remembered details of his Tigers’ 95-94 overtime victory over Kentucky on Feb. 11, 1978.
A handy UK media guide plus a Google search confirmed the score, UK’s No. 1 ranking going into the game and the fact that five LSU players fouled out: Kenny Higgs, DeWayne Scales, Lionel Green, Durand Macklin and Ethan Martin.
Brown said that he believed such a set of circumstances would never happen again: a No. 1-ranked team beaten by an opponent that had five players foul out.
He cited two other college basketball feats that he believed will not be repeated nor surpassed: Pete Maravich’s career average of 44.2 points per college game and UCLA’s run of seven straight national championships (1967-73) and 10 in 12 years (1964-75) under John Wooden’s guidance.
With UK playing Duke on Nov. 6 in Indianapolis, fans might be interested in an opportunity to scout the Blue Devils next month.
ESPN Plus will be the place to watch what’s being called the Duke Canada Tour. The Blue Devils play two games in Toronto against Ryerson University and the University of Toronto on Aug. 15 and 17, then play McGill University in Montreal on Aug. 19. Game times are 7 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. EDT and 3 p.m. EDT, respectively.
Duke’s website trumpeted the games as the debut of the No.1-ranked freshman class. Canada native R.J. Barrett leads the class that includes Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. All four were ranked in the top 10 of the class of 2018.
Another Canadian, Dan Shulman, and analyst Jay Bilas will call the games.
‘Going to be hard’
Before playing in the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am on Wednesday, former UK Coach Tubby Smith said he’d like to make his new program, High Point, another Davidson or Butler. That is to say a mid-major that makes a mark in the NCAA Tournament. High Point, which is Smith’s alma mater, has never played in the NCAA Tournament.
“But the previous coach did a great job there, won four straight Big South (regular-season) championships,” Smith said of his predecessor, Scott Cherry, who guided the Panthers to league titles from 2012-13 through 2015-16. “So it’s going to be hard even duplicating that.”
To a former Herald-Leader editor Bill Hanna. He turned 96 on Friday. ... To Jules Camara. He turns 39 on Monday. ... To former Georgia Coach Jim Harrick. Now an assistant for Mark Gottfried at Cal State Northridge, Harrick turns 80 on Wednesday. Gottfried was an assistant on Harrick’s staff at UCLA in the late 1980s and early 1990s.