UK Men's Basketball

Can Kentucky be Kentucky without one-and-done players?

How is Kentucky basketball dealing with the loss of Reid Travis?

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks about how the team is dealing with the loss of Reid Travis. The senior forward is out at least two weeks with a sprained knee. UK plays host to Auburn on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at Rupp Arena.
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Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks about how the team is dealing with the loss of Reid Travis. The senior forward is out at least two weeks with a sprained knee. UK plays host to Auburn on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at Rupp Arena.

News came Thursday that the NBA began a process that would end the phenomenon of the so-called one-and-done college player. Of course, John Calipari has built his Kentucky program on a foundation of such players.

His reaction? A verbal shrug. He even made light of the possible ramifications.

When asked Friday what would form a new foundation for Kentucky basketball, Calipari said, “I don’t know yet. We’ll figure out what it is, and we’ll be first at it.”

Calipari then predicted other programs will follow Kentucky’s example.

But the UK coach spoke confidently of UK’s future, no matter if the NBA allows players to enter a draft out of high school.

“This program has been special,” Calipari said. “And it’s going to remain special whatever the rules are.”

USA Today reported Thursday that the NBA had asked its Players’ Association to agree to lowering the minimum draft age from 19 to 18. If adopted, the change would begin in 2022.

Calipari said he preferred such a change rather than the current rule of making the G League the only NBA path open to players coming out high school.

Calipari said he opposed the so-called “baseball rule,” which requires players to choose between turning professional or committing to three college seasons. The UK coach said he’d prefer players have the option of turning pro whenever they chose.

A Nike problem?

Duke star Zion Williamson sprained a knee this week when one of his Nike shoes split apart as he planted a foot and began to pivot. Although UK players wear Nike shoes, Calipari denied having any concern about safety.

“That kid’s torque and his explosion would blow out any shoe . . . ,” Calipari said. “And he’s not 120 pounds, now, doing that. He’s got some weight to him. . . .

“The kid’s so unusual size-wise, explosiveness, quick-twitch. I mean, I don’t care what he had on, it’s a wonder both shoes didn’t blow out.”

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks about Zion Williamson’s injury. The Duke freshman sprained his knee when his Nike shoe blew out during a game against North Carolina. UK basketball players also wear Nike shoes.

Three-for-all

Auburn is synonymous with three-point shooting. In SEC play, the Tigers have made 40 more threes than the next most-prolific team from beyond the arc. That’s 155 threes for Auburn. Florida has the second most with 115.

When asked Monday why he believed so fervently in the three-pointer, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said, “The first reason is it’s worth one more than two. It’s simple math.

“The second thing is sometimes when you have a three-point shot, it’s an open shot. It’s not contested. There’s no contact. Like a free throw, there’s nobody guarding you at the foul line. If you can get an open shot, you should try to take it.”

By contrast, Kentucky ranks last in league play with an average of 6.0 three-point baskets per game. As UK’s personnel suggests there’s wisdom in long-range prudence, Pearl sees the three-pointer as a good fit for his players. Shooting guard Bryce Brown (47.1 percent) and point guard Jared Harper (37.5 percent) rank second and sixth in three-point shooting accuracy in SEC play.

After suggesting Auburn might attempt 35 or more three-pointers Saturday, Calipari said, “Your job is to make sure if they shoot 35, they’re a hard 35.”

Kentucky sophomore center Nick Richards talks about the injury to teammate Reid Travis. A senior forward, Travis is out two weeks with a sprained knee. Richards is expected to see more playing time during Travis’ absence.

No Travis

Pearl on UK playing without Reid Travis: “Travis was playing well and was a big factor for them defensively and a really good screener. I believe Nick Richards was a McDonald’s All-American, so they’ll rotate somebody else in that position.”

Pearl suggested Richards could contribute in a different way.

“Nick Richards is an elite rim protector,” Pearl said. “Reid Travis is a great rebounder, defender, screener and physical presence. Richards will block more shots and protect the rim even better. . . .

“The issue would then be depth. Can we get it inside enough to maybe get them in some foul trouble inside?”

CBS

Pearl mentioned that the game will mark the second time CBS has televised an Auburn game in his five seasons as coach. The first was a home game against Tennessee in 2015.

“CBS and Turner are the home of the NCAA Tournament, so obviously it will be a big-time environment,” he said.

Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel will call the game for CBS.

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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