(photo credit UK Athletics)
By Jordan Brown
Big news struck the Bluegrass and Kentucky’s basketball program Wednesday evening. After months of uncertainty and waiting, transfers Olivier Sarr and Jacob Toppin were ruled eligible for this upcoming basketball season. This Kentucky team just added more talent and experience to a team with already high expectations.
The two transfers were finally ruled eligible by both the NCAA and SEC after months of continued hard work and development with the team. The two arrived on campus along with the rest of the players this summer and have been practicing even though they were unsure if they’d be able to play this season. With an already highly talented backcourt, John Calipari rounds out his front court with a stretch forward and traditional post big man that we knew the team was missing. The two being eligible adds more true experience to the team in hopes of make a run for a ninth national championship.
This year, Coach John Calipari added three veteran transfers to the program to join his group of diaper dandies. Davion Mintz, the graduate transfer from Creighton University, has already been a veteran role model helping to mold the talented guards leading into their freshman season. I see Toppin, and more importantly Sarr, being the same presence and voice in our frontcourt. Kentucky will have to replaced 94% of their scoring from last season, and I see Sarr making up for a big chunk of that.
Sarr, who transferred to Kentucky after three seasons at Wake Forest, is a 7-foot traditional big man with a bright upside. He averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season for the Demon Deacons. He managed to shoot an impressive 52.7 % from the floor, leading to him making the All-ACC Third Team and runner up for the conference’s Most Improved Player.
“I want to start by thanking the NCAA, the SEC and Kentucky for this opportunity,” said Sarr, a centerpiece at Wake Forest over the last three seasons, who transferred to UK in early May. “I am excited to finish my college career in front of the Big Blue Nation and chase No. 9 with my team.”
With the experience and confidence that Sarr should already have after his development at Wake Forest, I believe Sarr has an even better chance to succeed as a Wildcat because he won’t be able to be keyed on with so much talent around him. With so much talent and scoring playing on the perimeter, he should have more room to operate in the low-post and better players to draw attention and create plays for him. I see Sarr making his biggest impact on the offensive glass and as a shot blocking presence this season.
Jacob Toppin, brother of highly talented top-ten projected draft pick Obi Toppin, transferred to Kentucky after one season at Rhode Island University. Toppin adds a traditional stretch four wing to the program at 6 foot 8. Toppin was efficient when given opportunities at Rhode Island, shooting 42.6% from the floor throughout the season and knocking in 13 3-pointers. He was a big contributor for his team last season that finished the season with a 21-9 record. He scored in double figures five times last season with a high of 12 points and eight rebounds versus Richmond. He showed that he could be effective playing in a better conference after scoring 11 and 10 points against Alabama and LSU, teams that Kentucky will also be facing this season.
Only a sophomore, I see Toppin finishing out his collegiate career at Kentucky. Though Toppin is talented and adds athleticism and shooting to the team, he will have his work cut out for him to find himself in a consistent rotation. With returning Keion Brooks Jr. and freshman Brandon Boston Jr. and Lance Ware rounding out our forwards on the team, it might be a season before Toppin finds himself taking up those minutes. Either way, having him eligible adds depth that Kentucky teams usually lack throughout the season.
This Kentucky team has all of the tools to be one of the greats in Calipari’s era here. I see this team being able to score a lot of points that will allow us to beat teams even if the defensive is subpar. We should all be excited for this upcoming season as the program pushes once again to bring home it’s ninth title.