Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky fine without Blackshear, but could have been better than fine

Florida basketball coach Mike White picked up a commitment from grad transfer Kerry Blackshear on Wednesday.
Florida basketball coach Mike White picked up a commitment from grad transfer Kerry Blackshear on Wednesday. Associated Press

Without Kerry Blackshear, Kentucky basketball is still a contender to reach the 2020 Final Four. With Kerry Blackshear, Kentucky basketball would have been a favorite to reach the 2020 Final Four.

As the Cats are concerned, that’s the bottom-line takeaway from the former Virginia Tech center’s decision to play his graduate season at the University of Florida, turning down UK, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech in the process.

Blackshear’s decision makes sense. He’s from Orlando, a mere two hours from Gainesville. And even before adding Blackshear, Mike White’s Gators were expected to be a top-20 team next season. Sophomore stars Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson all return. And White recruited a top-10 class that includes top-50 freshmen Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.

With Blackshear, the Gators are now a sure preseason top-10 team, perhaps even top five. With Kevarrius Hayes graduating, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Blackshear fills a definite hole on the UF roster. And he does so as someone who was second-team All-ACC last season, averaging 14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

His move also follows precedent. Gainesville has apparently built a transfer pipeline from Blacksburg. Both Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Hudson finished as Gators after starting their college careers as Hokies.

What does this all mean for Kentucky? Well, it means a team the Cats play at least twice a year in the SEC will be a much tougher test. And it means there will be more pressure on a pair of current players on John Calipari’s roster to produce.

Those would be EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, a pair of “bigs” who declared for the NBA Draft before withdrawing at the last minute. Both have yet to reach their expectations. A relative novice in basketball terms, Richards has shown flashes but not consistency. Heralded as a top 10-to-20 recruit last year, Montgomery sometimes struggled to stay on the floor.

Both should be better in 2019-20. Both should be helped by the addition of 6-9 grad transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell plus a group of talented freshman forwards in Keon Brooks, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Johnny Juzang. It doesn’t hurt that guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are back for their sophomore seasons, or that they are joined by standout freshman Tyrese Maxey.

The Cats will be good. Long before the Blackshear Derby hit the home stretch, preseason prognosticators were tabbing the Cats as a top-five team for next season. That shouldn’t change. Still, Wednesday’s news had to come as a disappointment for Big Blue Nation. Without Blackshear, UK will be good. With Blackshear, it would have had the chance to be better.

Links

Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader writes about Blackshear’s decision to pick Florida over Kentucky and Tennessee.

UK is also set to host 7-footer N’Faly Dante from Mali, who is ranked No. 11 in the class of 2020 but could reclassify to 2019, reports Ben.

Former Cats Enes Kanter and Julius Randle trade shots on television and Twitter, reports Matt Stahl of the Herald-Leader.

My column argues that the Breeders’ Cup has no choice but to pull its 2019 event from Santa Anita. The Cup’s board of directors is scheduled to meet Thursday.

By winning the College World Series, Vanderbilt leaves no doubt it is a program for the ages, writes Joe Rexrode of the Tennessean.

A 13-year-old quarterback from Charlotte has offers from two top college programs, reports the Charlotte Observer.

Lou Holtz says college football coaching salaries have gotten out of hand, reports Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer.

The NCAA is tightening its transfer guidelines, reports USA Today.

Mick Cronin’s move to UCLA wasn’t just about basketball, writes Myron Medcalf of ESPN.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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