By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans were anxious to see just what Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis would look like during UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas.
He showed them plenty, too, to have Kentucky fans even more giddy now than they were when he opted to take his name out of the NBA draft and transferred to UK to join a roster that seemed to have everything except an experienced, physical inside player like him.
“Kentucky has not had a guy like Travis,” said ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi. “I have always loved him. He’s always been a winner. I have appreciated his game and just having his experience in high level games is big. His willingness to come to a loaded roster and still be comfortable tells me how competitive he is. A lot of guys would have run away from a roster like this. He embraced it.”
He also seems to embrace puling down any rebound he gets close to. He was a two-time all-conference player at Stanford who averaged a double-double last year. Travis showed just how relentless he can be in the Bahamas and that only figures to get even better the more comfortable he gets with John Calipari and his new teammates.
Travis’s numbers were not mind boggling in the Bahamas. He averaged 10.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He was only 15 of 44 from the field but made 11 of 14 free throws (78 percent). However, numbers are not everything.
“He is a borderline pro prospect,” said Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy. “If he was an automatic pro, he would have already gone to the NBA. He would not have needed to stick around for another year of college. But there are things he can improve on and must improve on by the nature of the way the NBA game is being played.
“He can make his body more dynamic. We have seen players do that. If he wants to be a NBA player he needs too how he can play away from the basket. It’s not like he was ineffective as a face-up 4 (power forward), but he can be better. If he can do that and then John plays him at the 5 (center), they can really stretch defenses out. He came to Kentucky to be that type of player for John.”
Travis really didn’t show he could be a player to stretch the defense during the games in the Bahamas. Sophomore center Nick Richards did hit several 15-foot baseline shots after Calipari had said earlier this summer that he wanted all his interior players to train like guards.
Kentucky teammate P.J. Washington plays a physical style like Travis and Calipari said he wants both of them to “bully” opponents but also work on outside shooting to spread the floor.
“Right now we really don’t pass to each other very well,” Washington said. “That will get better. We are two of the best forwards in the country and we have to play like it. He just has a knack for rebounding the ball. It’s hard to box him out. He he has a great mind for the game and I love playing with him.”
Travis’s importance to Kentucky was not lost on SEC Network analyst Dan Dakich, who can be blunt with his analysis and is not always a UK fan favorite. However, before UK’s first exhibition game he labeled UK not only as a Final Four team but the team that would win the national championship.
“Reid Travis is a perfect fit for Kentucky. I think they are the favorites to win the national championship with him,” Dakich said. “He will be fine. If they have 99 problems, he ain’t one of them. Reid Travis on the block is going to be death all year long.”
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus won’t go quite that far — but he also won’t deny that once Travis completely learns the new UK system, he could be special.
“He is going to be fine. He is getting shots in areas he has never been taking shots from. We are playing him in ways he has not been played. He came here. He wanted to be challenged. He is in the gym and watching film to become a better version of himself.,” Justus said. “He is playing on different parts of the floor. He is showing what he can be. He is getting his hands on balls and rebounding. He is showing he can move his feet and guard the one through five.
“He is going to be really good in our system. There are going to be times he will struggle right now but he is playing hard. These young guys are so blessed to have him. They love playing with him. He is doing outstanding things for our basketball team that are not showing in the boxscore and will continue to do so all year.”
And how does Travis feel about his first UK experience?
“What a great experience to play in front of BBN down here in the Bahamas,” Travis posted on Twitter after UK’s final game. “Blessed to be apart of this special group.”