In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 10 overall recruit, Kentucky's E.J. Montgomery. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What he means for the Wildcats' recruiting class
Kentucky’s recruits are all impressive, but Montgomery might be the one that coach John Calipari is most excited about. After decommitting from Auburn last fall after the FBI investigation into college corruption broke, Montgomery committed to Kentucky in April. Calipari has said that he hopes Wildcat fans can “understand just how good E.J. is,” hyping up his talents as a skilled big man who can “affect the game in a number of ways.” Montgomery, a McDonald’s All-American, is the country’s No. 2 ranked power forward. He’s another five-star addition to the ’Cats highly touted freshman class and is exactly the type of position-less talent that Calipari seeks out in his players. A Georgia native, Montgomery trained alongside the Wildcats' top-ranked freshman point guard Ashton Hagans (No. 14 in the RSCI rankings) in high school from time to time. The two Southerners join wing Keldon Johnson (No. 12), point guard Immanuel Quickley (No. 23), four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro (No. 35) and Lexington Catholic forward Zan Payne, a walk-on player who will sit out the season while rehabbing a knee injury, at Kentucky this season.
How he fits
Listed at 6’10”, 228 pounds, Montgomery is eerily reminiscent of Anthony Davis, Kentucky’s former star forward who led Calipari to his first national championship with the Wildcats in 2012. Montgomery is leaner than many former Calipari big men like DeMarcus Cousins or Karl-Anthony Towns, but that makes him even more of an Anthony Davis-type with the added athleticism and agility that his frame affords. He finished his senior season averaging 25.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and five blocks per game and quickly got buckets in his summer debut for Kentucky in the Bahamas before sitting out the rest of the trip with a lower back injury. He’ll likely see time alongside sophomore forward P.J. Washington and graduate transfer Reid Travis, who both also impressed in the Big Blue’s Bahamas trip, with fellow freshman Keldon Johnson at the wing. Either a Montgomery/Washington or Montgomery/Travis duo forms a formidable frontcourt for the Cats that will be difficult for defenders to contain. Montgomery’s greatest asset, however, is his versatility. He can play just about anywhere on the court and can drain threes from the perimeter, but he’s also got the skills to finish in the paint. Like Davis, Montgomery owns the rim on both ends of play, showing impressive command of the court. He’s a consistent perimeter shooter, can knock down a jumper with ease, or take it directly to the post, giving him prime NBA potential as big man with above-average offensive production. He’s got a soft shooting touch and a mean block to boot, making him the perfect four for Calipari in UK’s almost position-less play. Montgomery is a threat offensively and defensively, with guard-like skills that are rare for a forward. He can be used anywhere at anytime and you can be certain Kentucky will use him to do just that.
Importance to Kentucky's success/team outlook
Calipari’s 2018 class has plenty of guards, they’ve got a stellar small forward in Keldon Johnson, solid returning talent ... and then they’ve got E.J. Montgomery. Montgomery will be given significant responsibility with this team this season, as he’ll likely be expected to fill whatever voids the team finds as they continue to practice together. His versatility makes him a great glue-guy candidate, and the fact that Calipari sees him as one of the team’s biggest stars means high expectations. He’s a talented all-around player who guarantees points for the Wildcats. Whether he’s used exclusively from the four or in a more flexible role won’t matter for this freshman—Montgomery will make an impact on the court no matter where he is, making even more of a case for Kentucky as national title contenders.