UK Men's Basketball

Youth is served to extreme in Kentucky-Transy matchup

Transylvania men's basketball and golf coach Brian Lane
Transylvania men's basketball and golf coach Brian Lane

Kentucky Coach John Calipari likes to note how his team will be less experienced than every team on the schedule this season. But that won't be true in Friday night's exhibition game, which will show that UK isn't even the youngest college team inside New Circle Road.

That distinction goes to Transylvania, which has 13 freshmen among its 19 players. UK has "only" nine freshmen.

When asked how a roster could have so many freshmen, Coach Brian Lane quipped, "It's worked well for Coach Cal, so we thought we'd try the same strategy."

Actually, a combination of factors left the Pioneers in complete-rebuild mode. A solid class of seniors led by Ethan Spurlin, Barrett Meyer and Brandon Rash completed its eligibility with a 20-8 record last season. Most in the class that would be seniors this season chose not to wait three full seasons for the chance at significant playing time.

The lone returning starter, Parker Stansberry, has practiced sparingly this pre-season because of back pain and is questionable to play Friday.

A Division III rule forbids practices — even individual instruction — before Oct. 15. Throw in a Transy roster that has only one player taller than 6-foot-6 (and six 6-1 or shorter) and it's easy to understand how Lane likens the game against Kentucky to a common anxiety dream.

"It's like taking a chemistry class and coming in for the first time with a week left in the semester," he said. "OK, we're going to have the final exam on Saturday. And we're going to televise it to the entire world.

"What do you end up doing? You study twice as much, and that's what we ended up doing."

Sophomore Joe Jennings, a 6-9 sophomore, has lost almost 40 pounds since arriving at Transy, Lane said. Jennings is "significantly closer" to being ready to compete on Transy's level, the coach said.

Among the freshmen, Lane noted how Trevor Tiller, a 6-1 guard from Paintsville, has college-ready strength and Logan Wade, a 6-3 guard from Louisville, has progressed faster than expected.

Still, 13 freshmen is anything but a lucky number. For instance, Lane noted how players on defense failed to rebound missed free throws in a scrimmage.

"I thought the guys were reacting slow," he said.

But a review of the tape of the scrimmage revealed that the players were playing by the high school rule, which prohibits a player from entering the lane until the free throw attempt hits the rim. In college, players can move once the shot is released.

Transy's youth also showed itself in pre-season conditioning. Lane, who is entering his 12th season as coach, has continued a long-standing tradition of requiring players to run seven lengths of the court within 42 seconds. Players must do that eight times to pass.

Only seven players passed this pre-season, which Lane attributed to the Division III rules limiting contact with coaches and the lack of older players to serve as guides.

"That was discouraging," he said. "We haven't had 10 players miss it the last seven or eight years total."

As Transy prepared for what Lane called the "sidewalk series" with UK, he took a bit of solace in the other college team he coaches. Lane leads Transy's golf team, which is ranked No. 1 nationally.

"We would win in golf," Lane said of a hypothetical matchup with Calipari's players. "And we might be able to beat them by a wider margin in golf than (Kentucky will win) in basketball."

Transylvania at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV: WKYT-27, Fox Sports South

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader