Because it’s synonymous with one-and-done players, the Kentucky basketball program is viewed as a springboard to the NBA. Its siren call to recruits might as well be this: Step right up, young man, and step right out.
UK’s abundance of draft choices in John Calipari’s first nine seasons as coach played a part in Reid Travis deciding to play his final college season with the Cats as a graduate transfer from Stanford.
Yes, he liked the idea of capping his college career by playing at the highest level in front of large crowds and competing for a national championship. But as his father, Nate Travis, said, his son also saw playing for Kentucky as a way of “solidifying himself as a prospect in the draft.”
Yet, as the NBA Combine unfolds this week in Chicago, Travis’ status for the June 20 NBA Draft is not solid. Travis was not among the 66 players invited to the Combine nor the 80 players participating in the G League Elite Camp that precedes the Combine.
“There’s still some uncertainty,” Nate Travis said Monday of his son’s draft status. “We felt if he played at Kentucky, he’d have some certainty coming off the season. As a father, I’m a little concerned with that. I thought he’d have a little more of an understanding of when he’d fall in the draft.”
To ask why there remains uncertainty about Travis produces multiple responses.
Nate Travis said his son had to balance individual goals with a leadership role on the Kentucky team.
“He probably had more of a leadership role as far as helping younger players develop,” the elder Travis said. “Maybe his abilities got somehow shifted a little bit for the sake of helping younger players develop and understand the process. … He kind of took that role and kind of got away from what he wanted to do when he came there.”
Those individual goals, which were based on feedback from NBA scouts a year ago, included showing improvement as an outside shooter and ball-handler.
Travis’ three-point shooting accuracy decreased slightly this past season. He made 26.9 percent of his three-point shots (seven of 26). For Stanford in 2017-18, he made 28.9 percent of his three-point shots (11 of 38).
His assist-to-turnover ratio also dipped: from 30-41 in 2017-18 to 28-51.
Travis’s agent, Merle Scott, said the UK big man was a known commodity.
“If he was a player we didn’t know where he kind of fit in, we’d be a little more concerned,” Scott said. “We know 85 percent what he can provide and what he needs to show teams. If the other 15 percent is ball-handling and ability to shoot, that’s not his calling card right now. So we’re not focused on it. We focus on what are his strengths. And weaknesses we’ll work on as the summer progresses and when he goes to a particular team.
“There’s not 10 guys in the draft that are like him.”
Scott listed Travis’s strengths as maturity, overall skill set and athleticism.
There might not be unanimity on whether Travis has NBA-level athleticism. “That’s a question,” said Ryan Blake, a draft consultant for the NBA. “Is he a good athlete? We don’t know.”
Travis’ decision not to participate in last month’s Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament did not help, said Bobby Marks, an NBA front office insider for ESPN. Marks said this was a “missed opportunity” to raise Travis’ draft profile.
Blake, who helps bring players to Portsmouth, said he twice sent invitations to Travis. Nate Travis said that his son decided to be cautious after recovering from the sprained knee he sustained at Missouri on Feb. 19. Upon the advice of UK coaches, he passed on playing at Portsmouth.
Marks said the NBA’s growing preference to draft younger players has “basically swallowed up” Travis.
But Blake said that this perception can be over-stated. He pointed out how former Florida player Udonis Haslem played in France for a season after going undrafted in 2002. After losing 50 pounds, Haslem returned to this country and played 16 seasons (and counting) in the NBA.
Scott likened Travis to another former UK player he represented: Josh Harrellson. Although not invited to the NBA Combine, Harrellson was taken with the 45th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
“He’s an example of why I don’t panic right now,” Scott said of Harrellson.
Travis would accept playing in the G League or overseas, his father said.
Players with the One Legacy Sports Management will play in a Pro Day event on Wednesday. Representatives of all 30 NBA teams are expected to attend this Pro Day. Nate Travis said his son plans to work out for teams in the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft.
“He’s in good spirits,” Nate Travis said. “He’s still optimistic about where he could end up.”
Kentucky connections: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro (Kentucky); Ja Morant (Murray State); Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky); Charles Matthews (Michigan)
TV coverage: 3-7 p.m. both days (ESPN2)