Heading into 2018-19, this Kentucky basketball team was expected to boast a pair of strengths over last season’s club. It would have experience. And it would have depth. That hasn’t quite been the case.
Both areas took a hit Wednesday when the school announced sophomore guard Quade Green would be granted his release to transfer. The Philadelphia native was averaging eight points and nearly 18 minutes per game.
Green’s announcement was not a shock. His status was a hot off-season topic with rumors transferring was at the top of Green’s to-do list — rumors Green denied — after UK signed freshman guards Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. And through nine games, Green had played just 160 minutes as a sophomore compared to the 209 he played last season during the same time frame as a freshman.
One more thing: Aside from the injured Jemarl Baker, Green was the only scholarship player on John Calipari’s roster who had not yet started a game.
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“He felt like he was in a situation that he couldn’t overcome and he had the maturity to come in and sit down and talk through it with me,” said Calipari in a UK press release on Wednesday.
Though his minutes were second-fewest among UK’s top nine players, Green’s exit affects the current roster in a couple of different ways. One, the Cats lose someone who averaged 25.6 minutes per game last season. And two, Calipari loses another option off the bench.
Yes, I know, even with Green, UK has the second youngest roster in the country. Still, that roster included a graduate transfer in Reid Travis and a trio of sophomores in Green, Nick Richards and PJ Washington. Compare that to last season when for all but seven games Calipari started five freshmen.
Alas, circumstances have sapped that strength. After starting all 37 games last season, Richards is averaging just 12 minutes per game this season. His “minutes played” number has been single digits in three of UK’s nine games, including a brief one-minute appearance against UNC Greensboro. The sophomore center has scored 11 points with eight rebounds over 32 minutes in his last four games. Now subtract Green, which leaves Washington as the only UK player with meaningful minutes from a year ago who is a factor on this year’s team.
Same goes for depth. You could envision the Cats breaking down to Richards and freshman E.J. Montgomery at center; Washington, Travis and freshmen Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson playing the forward or swing slots with Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Baker and Green manning the guard spots. No platooning, promised Calipari, but he had the makings of a strong 10-man rotation.
Now, the number is considerably less. Richards’ playing time has dropped as Calipari has lost confidence in the second-year player. (“He’s not going to have it handed to him,” assistant coach Kenny Payne said of Richards a couple of weeks ago.) Baker hasn’t been healthy. Now Green is gone. The rotation is down to seven.
That may be what Calipari wants. There comes a point in most seasons when the coach repeats (again) that John Wooden once told him he’s playing too many people. Cal will say he’s ready to trim the rotation to seven or eight cornerstone players for March.
And Green’s exit frees more playing time for freshmen Hagans, Quickley, Herro and Johnson, all of whom can play in the backcourt. That may have been the case already. Green played a combined 18 minutes the last two games, turning the ball over three times in 10 minutes against Seton Hall. And his defensive skills have always been a work of progress.
Still, on a team that currently ranks 182nd in three-point field goal percentage, Green ranked second in three-pointers made with 11 (one behind Herro) and first among UK’s guards in three-point percentage at 42.3 percent. He had also made 89.5 percent of his free throws. There may well be a time this season when Green will be missed.