Like every other coach in the business, John Calipari has cast his net upon the recruiting waters and, per usual, reeled in a haul of players glistening with stars and accolades. The new guys will locker next to the returning veterans and yes, there are a few of those, actually – most notably, P.J. Washington, who decided not to gamble on the NBA draft.
Think of Washington as probably the most important member of the new recruiting class. And remember: the second-most valuable addition may still be out there. Reid Travis hasn’t made up his mind yet.
Travis is the 6-foot-8, 245-lb. power forward set to graduate from Stanford. After averaging 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Cardinal, earning 1st-team All-Pac 12 honors, Travis is moving on as a graduate transfer and all indications are that he’ll be a Wildcat. The question is, which kind? Villanova or Kentucky?
Whichever school lands him will become instantly richer on the front line. So says Tom Fitzgerald, a sportswriter with the San Francisco Chronicle who’s seen practically every one of Travis’ home games and a number of road games as well.
“He walked into the school with an NBA body,” Fitzgerald said on a recent episode the Big Blue Insider radio show. “He’s gotten stronger. When he showed up he was an imposing figure and he’s steadily improved his rebounding and scoring throughout his career.”
Stanford won the NCAA’s first basketball championship, in 1942. The Cardinal didn’t return to the Big Dance again until 1989; it made its only other return to the Final Four in 1998, losing to UK in the semifinals. If Travis chooses the Lexington Wildcats, this would make for Stanford’s second-worst loss to Kentucky.
“It was a huge disappointment to the fans and coaches that he decided to go elsewhere as a graduate transfer,” Fitzgerald said. “I think a lot of people in the program thought he was heading for the draft.”
But instead, he’s decided to hone his skills with one more season at a college basketball platform with greater visibility. “For him, it’s always been about pro ball,” said Fitzgerald. “He’s a smart kid. He’s a brute on the basketball court. He’s going to be a great addition for whoever gets him.”
Travis will bring a brand of experienced physicality that Calipari’s teams haven’t seen since Patrick Patterson graduated. “He’s a rough and tumble guy,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s not a lot of finesse to his game. I think the fans are going to love him back there. They certainly loved him here.”
But there just weren’t enough of them. Stanford plays in an arena that seats 7,500 but rarely fills the house. And while NBA scouts can dig out draft prospects from even the smallest villages in countries all over the world, there’s a lot to be said for playing one more year of college ball where the spotlight burns the brightest.
“On the national stage, he would really shine,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll get a lot more visibility from Kentucky or Villanova and I’m sure that went into his thinking.”
He can only assume that’s the case because Fitzgerald has not yet spoken with Travis. None of the media who cover the Cardinal has. “He and his family have kept their cards very close to the chest,” Fitzgerald said. “I think they were waiting in Kentucky’s case to see how many of those forwards withdrew from the draft. I’m not sure about the Villanova situation.”
The Kentucky situation had Washington returning, but two forwards leaving – Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, which would seem to open up the possibility of much more playing time for someone who wants – and needs – to make the most of his final season.
“He wants to start and he wants to be one of the big guns up front, so he’s looking for a situation that’s going to give him that opportunity,” Fitzgerald said. “It makes sense on a bunch of different levels. He wants to play top-drawer national basketball. In the Pac 12 there are strong teams – Arizona, UCLA – but he would probably face stronger competition at Kentucky.”
John Calipari would love to give him that opportunity. That new locker room at the Joe Craft Center is filling up fast, but they’re more than willing to hold some space for Reid Travis.