The NBA Draft on Thursday will remind us that Kentucky is the place to go to make basketball dreams come true. Three likely first-round picks will reinforce the already well-established perception of UK as a reliable proving ground for those who aspire to play in the NBA … ASAP.
Then there’s Reid Travis.
He entered last year’s draft after a career at Stanford that saw him twice named to the All-Pac 12 team. The NBA feedback he received included being advised to return to college to improve his perimeter shooting and become a more versatile defender. So he decided to come to UK as a graduate transfer. A variation on the one-and-done theme seemed in the offing.
Yet when the NBA recently posted a draft guide that included biographical sketches of 114 players, Travis was not included.
This led Bobby Marks, a former assistant general manager of the Nets, to suggest an intriguing what-if.
“If he had not gone to Kentucky, where would he have been compared to where he is now?” said Marks, who now analyzes NBA front office decisions for ESPN.
Marks pointed out how Travis’ numbers decreased at Kentucky. From 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for Stanford in 2017-18 to 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds for UK.
“A lot of that was because of the players around him,” Marks said. “There was less talent at Stanford.”
That would seem a no-brainer for NBA teams to understand. But Marks also pointed out another potential problem: Travis will turn 24 on Nov. 25.
“It’s like teams are almost willing to draft younger players believing there’s more upside here compared to somebody we know what he is,” Marks said. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t be in the league six years or seven years or even more.”
Not being included in a list of 114 players in a guide for a 60-player draft seems discouraging. But only three times since 1990 has the NBA media guide contained biographies of all 60 players ultimately selected.
In a recent interview with Minneapolis television station KSTP, Travis said his one season for Kentucky was “something I cherish.”
When it was suggested he was the “anti- one-and-done” player, Travis smiled.
“I knew I wasn’t a one-and-done player,” he said. “I knew that out of high school. So the decision for me was trying to pick a school that definitely set me up for life, and I could have those ties for a lifetime. Stanford really spoke to me. I’m very happy with that decision.”
Travis also expressed satisfaction with his one season for Kentucky, which he described as akin to one-and-done.
“I don’t think there’s a better college experience I could have asked for,” he said of his Stanford-Kentucky career.
Travis thanked UK Coach John Calipari. “I feel I learned so much from him that I’m going to apply to my career after Kentucky.”
As for the upcoming draft and its aftermath, Travis said he hoped to get a spot on a NBA team’s summer league roster, then use that as an entry to a two-way contract that would mean splitting time between the G League and the NBA.
It’s unlikely that Travis will be drafted, Marks said before adding, “But that doesn’t mean the sky is falling or the end of the world is here.”
A key will be getting with the right team, Marks said. A team that has been adept at developing players (the Nets, the Heat, the Nuggets). He added that Portland and New Orleans would be the wrong teams because neither has its own affiliate in the G League for next season.
UK and Duke
The ties that bind arguably college basketball’s highest-profile programs — Kentucky and Duke — figure to surface in this year’s NBA Draft. Since 1966, or what the NBA considers “the common era,” UK has had the most No. 1 overall picks with three: John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015).
Duke figures to equal that number with Zion Williamson expected to be picked first this year. The two earlier Duke players picked first overall were Elton Brand (1999) and Kyrie Irving (2011).
And since the NBA adopted a two-round draft in 1989, Kentucky has had the most first-round selections with 37. Duke is next with 36 first-round picks.
Speaking of Zion Williamson, here’s how the NBA’s media guide for this year’s draft quotes then St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin describing the Duke star:
“I would morph Charles Barkley and Shawn Kemp and put them together (to come up with a comparison). When he gets to the NBA, and he plays with that extra space they have in the wide key, he’s going to be a monster.”
Since 1989, Kentucky holds the record for the most picks in any NBA Draft — six each in 2012 and 2015.
Ja Morant (full name Temetrius Jamel Morant) is expected to become the second player from Murray State to be selected in the first round. Cameron Payne was chosen by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 14th pick in 2015. Payne and Isaiah Canaan, a second-round pick in 2013, are the school’s only two picks since 1996.
This might surprise: De’Andre Hunter has a chance to become Virginia’s first top-10 pick since Olden Polynice in 1987 and only the second first-round pick since 1995 (Justin Anderson in 2015).
G League ahead?
Of the 60 players who were drafted last year, 37 spent time in the G League during the 2018-19 season. That includes 12 first-round selections that range from the No. 13 pick (Jerome Robinson, L.A. Clippers) to the 60th pick (Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks).
UK Coach John Calipari saluted the work ethic of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Former Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams spoke similarly of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is the former UK player’s cousin.
“He’s the most conscientious worker I’ve ever been around as far as his diligence every single day,” Williams is quoted in an NBA Draft guide. “Not just on the court, but how he treats his body, his diet, how he trains. … He’s got the same (game film) software stuff on his computer I have on mine. He’s probably watching just as much tape or more.”
No to alcohol
Reader John Wehrle used an email to voice his hope that UK does not expand alcohol sales to all fans at its games. At its spring meeting, the Southeastern Conference gave its schools the option of selling alcohol to all fans beginning in August. UK said that Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart would lead a study into how to proceed.
“As a UK grad with two sons who are UK grads, and as someone who held basketball and football season tickets for 40 years, I know how crazy Cats fans and opposing fans can get at games,” Wehrle wrote. “Selling alcohol at college games would only make the game experience less enjoyable and less safe for virtually everyone.”
Wehrle also wrote that he wished UK Coach John Calipari had voiced opposition to expanding alcohol sales. Calipari did not oppose nor support such a change. “It’s the way of the world right now …,” he said on June 4. “I’ll roll with whatever they want to do.”
Retired referees John Clougherty and Don Rutledge suggested that the increasing revenues was a reason the SEC gave its schools the option of expanding alcohol sales. Such a move might also boost attendance.
“I’m concerned about fans who wouldn’t come to support the Cats — unless they could drink,” Wehrle wrote. “If drinking, and paying more to do it, is more of a draw than cheering for the Cats, I wouldn’t look forward to maneuvering in the parking lot and side streets in my car, or especially on foot with kids, after a game.”
Wehrle, 64, is a native of Lexington and a 1976 UK graduate with a degree in accounting. He said he has been a season-ticket holder in basketball and football for 40 years. He is a retired senior vice president of finance and human resources for a science and technology corporation.
To Gimel Martinez. He turned 48 on Friday. … To Tim Stephens. He turns 61 on Sunday (today). … To Immanuel Quickley. He turns 20 on Monday. … To Joe Crawford. He turns 33 on Monday. … To former NBA Coach Del Harris. He turns 82 on Tuesday.