LEXINGTON, Ky. — The word “reload” has become synonymous with Kentucky basketball offseasons in the John Calipari era, but the Hall of Fame coach has never had to reload quite like this. The addition of Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr on Wednesday gives Kentucky a total of 10 new faces for next season, the highest number of incoming players in Calipari’s decade-plus tenure in Lexington. Nine of those will be scholarship players — six high school recruits and three transfers — to join just two scholarship holdovers from this past season: freshman forward Keion Brooks and freshman guard Dontaie Allen.
Brooks, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game, will be the only scholarship player on next season’s roster who actually played for the Cats this past season. Allen, who was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2019, redshirted his first year on campus — though he did practice with the team — due to a knee injury suffered in high school.
Everyone else will be new to UK basketball. And the Cats probably aren’t finished adding to next season’s roster. You’re probably going to need a program.
The 7-footer from France played his first three seasons for Wake Forest and decided to enter his name in the NCAA transfer portal following the school’s decision to fire head coach Danny Manning in April. After less than a week in the portal, Sarr announced Wednesday that he would transfer to Kentucky for his final season of college basketball. The 255-pound big man is exactly what the Wildcats needed following the departures of Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina from this past season’s frontcourt. Sarr averaged 13.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a junior, earning third-team all-conference honors. There is still some uncertainty over Sarr’s eligibility for next season. Since he is not a graduate transfer, he will have to apply to the NCAA for a waiver to play immediately at Kentucky, though some analysts think his circumstances — arriving in good standing from a school that just fired its head coach — will make it more likely for Sarr to be granted the waiver. If he is eligible, he’ll be Kentucky’s starting center next season.
The 6-foot-3 combo guard from Charlotte, N.C., missed all of last season at Creighton after suffering a serious ankle injury late in the preseason. He announced this month that he would leave the Bluejays as an immediately eligible graduate transfer and play for Kentucky, which was in need of another playmaker in the backcourt following the NBA exodus of starting guards Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, as well as the transfer of freshman guard Johnny Juzang. Mintz will add some experience and leadership to a talented-but-green group of younger guards. He averaged 9.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game — shooting 34.7% from three-point range — during the 2018-19 season. He also emerged as a lockdown perimeter defender in the Big East and can play the point guard position. He should be a perfect fit for the Cats’ 2020-21 roster.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Brooklyn wasn’t highly touted as a recruit, but he carved out a role as a contributor at Rhode Island as a freshman this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 30 games (with three starts) before deciding to transfer. Toppin — the younger brother of national player of the year Obi Toppin — has three years of eligibility remaining at Kentucky, but he would need the NCAA to change its rule regarding traditional transfers in order to play during the 2020-21 season. If he does not get a waiver to play right away, he’d have to sit out until the 2021-22 campaign. UK views Toppin as more of a long-term addition anyway, and with some added strength and weight to his already impressive athleticism, he could be a key contributor in the future. “He has some experience, but he’s only scratched the surface of how good he can be,” Calipari said. “My hope is our culture brings out the best in him.”
The only point guard in Kentucky’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class, Askew is a 6-foot-3 playmaker from California known for his competitive drive and willingness to spread the ball around even if it means a drop in his own scoring opportunities. Askew doesn’t turn 18 years old until late July — he reclassified from 2021 to play for UK next season — so he will be one of the youngest freshmen that Calipari has had at Kentucky. There will likely be some growing pains as Askew transitions to college basketball, but he’s as competitive as they come and should give Kentucky a nice boost as a three-point shooter. His unselfishness with the ball is the defining part of his game. Askew is the No. 25 overall recruit in the 2020 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Few high school basketball players had a better season than Boston, the first commitment for Kentucky’s 2020 recruiting class and a dynamic, 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a ton of upside. Boston left the Atlanta area last summer to play his senior year at star-studded Sierra Canyon — the California high school team that featured the sons of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — and he elevated his game even more, going from No. 17 to No. 4 overall in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings. Boston is a wiry scorer, creative with the ball in his hands, and crafty when it comes to getting to the basket. He’s also a capable three-point shooter and has the length and athleticism to be a quality perimeter defender. He projects as one of two NBA lottery picks on next season’s Kentucky roster …
… and Clarke is the other incoming freshman expected to be a lottery pick after one season at Kentucky. Like Boston, he has a lot of size and athleticism for a shooting guard — some list him at 6-7 — and can score in a variety of ways. He’ll need to work more on his outside shot, but few players in the 2020 class can get to the basket the way Clarke can. He might be able to play some on the point, and he also projects as a gritty perimeter defender. The G League targeted Clarke to take part in its new “straight to the pros” program out of high school, but the Boston-area native has said he’ll be skipping that opportunity to play for the Cats next season instead. The 247Sports composite rankings have Clarke at No. 4 in the class.
The 6-foot-6 — and, perhaps, still growing — wing from St. Louis is the lowest-ranked of Kentucky’s six star recruits, but he has plenty of untapped potential. A super-athletic player with an improving skill set, Fletcher caught Kentucky’s eye last spring and later became the second player to join the Wildcats’ 2020 recruiting class. The expectations for instant success at UK aren’t as high as some others on this list, but Fletcher should be able to find the court right away if he can use that athleticism to become a glue guy of sorts for next season’s team, the type of player that rebounds his position, fights for loose balls, and hounds opponents on defense. Fletcher’s offensive game is still coming along, and he projects as a multi-year player with plenty of upside for Kentucky. He’s No. 46 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings.
One of the more intriguing newcomers for next season, Jackson — a 6-foot-9 power forward from Detroit — brings the reputation as one of the best rim-protectors and most athletic post players in all of high school basketball. He’s a pogo stick on both sides of the court, blocking shots at a high rate — 7.3 swats per game as a senior — and finishing alley-oops with aplomb. He also runs the floor tremendously well for his size and is becoming more of a versatile offensive player in halfcourt situations. He could be a multi-year difference-maker in Lexington, or he could be a one-and-done draft pick. Jackson is the No. 28 player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Sharing the freshman frontcourt with Jackson will be Ware, another 6-foot-9 power forward with an evolving game. The New Jersey standout blossomed last summer — under the tutelage of new high school coach Rick Brunson, a former NBA player and assistant — and earned a UK scholarship offer in the process. He’s a versatile offensive player that can score with his back to the basket or facing the rim, and he could be among UK’s best rebounders next season. Ware took a major leap in his game over the course of his final AAU season, and Kentucky’s coaches are hoping he makes similar progress next season in Lexington. He’s the No. 31 player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
The newest walk-on addition to the Kentucky basketball program has a last name that’s familiar to the Wildcats’ head coach. DeGregorio’s grandfather is Joe DeGregorio, who was Calipari’s college coach at Clarion State in the early ‘80s. Isaac is a 5-foot-11 point guard from the Pittsburgh area who would also like to be a college coach someday, and Calipari is taking him under his wing at Kentucky for the next few seasons. DeGregorio is also a pretty good player in his own right. He was getting looks from Division II and III programs before deciding to take Calipari up on his walk-on offer. He averaged 17.3 points per game as a senior and made nearly 300 three-pointers — shooting at about a 40% rate — over the course of his high school career.
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