Even before Stanford power forward Reid Travis announced his plans last week to leave the school and play elsewhere as a graduate transfer next season, Kentucky had emerged as the frontrunner for his commitment.
Travis is expected to visit both UK and Villanova before making a final decision — CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported Monday that those trips will happen after Travis graduates June 17 — and a decision on where he’ll play his final year of college basketball is expected shortly thereafter.
A former McDonald’s All-American and a first-team all-Pac-12 selection this past season, Travis would be a major addition for any program. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound player averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Cardinal as a redshirt junior last season, and he’d give UK a more physical presence in the post, should he pick the Cats.
“He’s really, really physical,” ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a beast on the offensive glass — I think that’s really where he’s best. If you look at him, he looks like an NFL tight end. He’s strong, big shoulders, really aggressive, thick legs.
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“I think he’s actually improved quite a bit in terms of his ability to straight-line drive and dribble hand-offs and play on the perimeter. He shot a few more threes this year, so I’m sure — from his perspective — that’s probably something he’s open to continue a little bit. But he’s an interior bruiser all the way.”
Travis — a native of Minneapolis, Minn. — was 18-for-61 from three-point range (29.5 percent) last season after taking just one three-pointer in 63 games over his first three seasons at Stanford.
If he ends up at Kentucky, he’ll likely be looked upon to bring toughness and physicality to the front court, and he could be the Cats’ best option to start at the "5" spot.
“I think if you’re playing him at the ‘4’ you’re probably doing yourself a disservice, especially with the way basketball is going nowadays,” Schmitz said. “I would use him as a ‘5,' a little bit like they used PJ Washington at times this year. He’s physical. He can straight-line drive and kind of take slower guys off the bounce. But just his physicality is going to be a major factor right when he gets there.”
UK, of course, already has Washington and Nick Richards, who started every game at center this past season, coming back as sophomores, and 6-10 McDonald’s All-American EJ Montgomery will join them in the Wildcats’ front court.
Schmitz envisions a lineup with Travis playing at center to free up Montgomery and Washington to use their versatility at the "4" spot. UK will also have a loaded backcourt next season with top recruits Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro joining returnees Quade Green and Jemarl Baker, with five-star point guard Ashton Hagans likely to reclassify and join the team this summer and five-star wing Keldon Johnson bringing more versatility to the perimeter.
The addition of Travis would give John Calipari even more options, and it would surely take some of the pressure off of UK’s other bigs.
Richards, who didn’t start playing basketball until high school, stayed in the starting lineup all season, but his court time diminished toward the end of the Wildcats’ campaign. Bringing Travis aboard would allow him more time to build confidence and develop as a player, as well as giving him a tough veteran to practice against every day.
Richards’ struggles also pushed Washington into more of a "5" role as UK’s season progressed, a spot that suited his bully-ball ability in the paint but one that also negated some of his more versatile skills away from the basket.
Montgomery has tremendous ability as a post player but clearly prefers to play more of a face-up game. Travis’ addition would free him to do just that.
With Travis, the UK coaching staff would have someone they could count on to consistently get the job done in the post.
“I think he’s going to be reliable,” Schmitz said. “He’s tough, and you know how Cal is with guys who don’t play with toughness. I think he’s going to be a nice safety net for him to rely on, just because you know what you’re getting with him. You know he’s going to be physical.”
Perhaps more important than his toughness is Travis’ experience at the college level.
Transfers and early departures for the NBA Draft will again make Calipari’s team a young one, with Washington, Richards and Green — all sophomores next season — the only returning scholarship players with any game experience.
Travis has played in 98 games (starting 82 of them) over the past four seasons — his sophomore year was cut short after eight games due to a knee injury — and he scored in double figures in 34 of 35 games this past season.
“I think it’s going to help just because he’s a veteran guy and he’s played in big games before,” Schmitz said. “Again, you have a guy who you can rely on and has played in those moments. And he’s a hard-playing guy. He’s not soft. He’s going to attack the offensive glass. He’s going to finish through contact. He’s going to try and dunk on you when he’s able to get his feet under him. So I think Cal’s going to like that.”
And when the younger Wildcats see the old guy play and practice with that kind of attitude, the hardworking style could be contagious.
“For sure,” Schmitz said. “And I think that’s probably the hope — that there’s a trickle-down effect and those guys do that as well.”