John Clay

Kentucky, Louisville among college hoops programs enjoying productive summers

Ashton Hagans reaction to Richards, Montgomery returning to Kentucky

Ashton Hagans talks about his reaction to Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery coming back to Kentucky for another year and the potential of this year's team.
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Ashton Hagans talks about his reaction to Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery coming back to Kentucky for another year and the potential of this year's team.

College basketball’s hazy, lazy days of summer could end rather abruptly, of course, what with the big, bad NCAA threatening to hit up to six schools with allegations of rule violations now that the FBI corruption trials have come to a close. Seems there are always storm clouds overhead.

The gloom and doom forecasts aside, however, there have been plenty of plot twists this college hoops off-season and not all of them bad. In fact, here’s a list of programs that, so far, are having productive summers.

Kansas: After winning or tying for 14 straight Big 12 titles, the Jayhawks limped home third in the league standings last season before being buried in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Auburn. Not to worry. Rock Chalk looks ready for a return to form. Sophomore guard Devin Dotson is headed back to Lawrence to join junior center Udoka Azubuike, back from another hand surgery. Silvio De Sousa was ruled eligible after sitting out last season. And Bill Self picked up both grad transfer Isaiah Moss from Iowa, who de-committed from Arkansas, and four-star forward Jalen Wilson, who de-committed from Michigan.

Louisville: Heading into his second season at U of L, Coach Chris Mack had already signed a top 10 recruiting class. Then came an unexpected ‘Ville victory — last year’s leading scorer, Jordan Nwora, pulled out of the NBA Draft for a return to River City. Combine that shot of good news with the addition of grad transfer Lamar Kimble, who averaged 15.6 points per game last season at St. Joseph’s, and no wonder hoops pundits have Louisville as a top-five team heading into next season.

Kentucky: John Calipari lost a trio of first-round picks in PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson — what else is new? — but dueling big men EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards dropped out of the draft right before the deadline. Cal also picked up grad transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell to go with his annual star-studded freshmen parade. If ex-Virginia Tech center Kerry Blackshear chooses Kentucky for his gap, er, grad transfer year, the Cats will catapult to the top of this list. And probably the AP preseason rankings.

Cincinnati: Perhaps the most unheralded and maybe most important NBA Draft withdrawal happened up the road at Cincinnati where Jarron Cumberland struck his name from the selection pool. The 6-foot-5 senior-to-be averaged 18.8 points per game last season. He threw down 33 points on Kelvin Sampson and Houston in the AAC title game. And he should smooth the edges off new coach John Brannen’s transition after Mick Cronin left for the Hollywood Hills, i.e. UCLA.

LSU: The NCAA still could bring the Tigers tumbling down, of course, but right now Baton Rouge has to be bullish on LSU’s 2019-20 prospects. Head coach Will Wade is still, well, the head coach, despite an FBI wiretap and a late-season suspension. Plus, sophomore guard Javonte Smith and senior guard Skylar Mays pulled out of the draft to join fab freshman Trendon Watford.

Maryland: True, big man Bruno Fernando stayed in the draft and went No. 34 overall to Atlanta. But head coach Mark Turgeon welcomes back senior guard Anthony Cowan (15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game last season) to go with sophomores Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins. With Michigan taking a massive hit in the coach and player department, Maryland should be Michigan State’s biggest threat for the Big Ten title come December.

Connecticut: Never mind any player or coach happenings in Storrs, UConn’s off-season has been a roaring success for one reason and one reason only. The Huskies are headed home. And home is the Big East Conference, where UConn built itself into a national power — along with Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, etc. — before the school chased the possibility of a football windfall to the American Athletic Conference. News broke this week that starting in 2020-21, the Huskies will be back where they belonged all along.

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