Kentucky basketball has found the big man it desperately needs for next season.
...Or has it? The Wildcats landed Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr on Wednesday, scoring the clear top option left on the dwindling transfer market and ensuring they're adding a valuable piece to their frontcourt. But the big question now: when will he be eligible?
Sarr is expected to apply for a waiver to be immediately eligible for 2020–21, a ruling that could be pivotal to Kentucky's title chances for next season. Given the Wildcats' need in the frontcourt, it seems fair to presume John Calipari feels like Sarr has a good chance of being granted that waiver, especially in the wake of the Demon Deacons' recent coaching change.
Wake Forest fired head coach Danny Manning in late April, replacing him with East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes. In a letter posted on Twitter on Wednesday, Sarr said the last two to three weeks have been an "emotional struggle" and that Manning and his staff were "like family" to him.
Sarr, a rising senior, is reportedly not on track to graduate, which is why the grad transfer option is not available. The 7-footer is coming off a strong season for Wake that saw him average 13.7 points and 9.0 rebounds, including a 25-point, five-rebound outing vs. Duke and a 30-point, 17-rebound effort vs. Notre Dame late in the season.
Despite playing for one of the ACC's bottom dwellers and starting only half of the Demon Deacons' 30 games, Sarr posted some impressive numbers. Per KenPom, his offensive rating was 15th-best in ACC play, and he was top-10 in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, first in free throw rate and eighth in true shooting percentage. He's also a very capable free throw shooter, making 76.1% of his 180 attempts as a junior, and will bring invaluable veteran experience to a young Kentucky roster.
After missing on Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, the pressure was on for Calipari to find a starting center option for 2020–21. Centers Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina all departed this offseason, leaving only incoming freshmen 6’9” power forwards Isaiah Jackson and Lance Wear (both top-40 recruits) as traditional frontcourt options (6' 7" sophomore Keion Brooks is capable of playing the four as well). Kentucky did also recently land 6' 7" Rhode Island transfer forward Jacob Toppin (brother of Wooden Award-winning Obi), but he is set to sit out a year.
With all five starters off to the NBA and an incoming No. 1 recruiting class heavy on guards and wings—including five-stars Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston and Devin Askew—Calipari turned to the transfer market for the third straight year to shore up the frontcourt. Last April, Kentucky landed Sestina from Bucknell, and in 2018–19 he added coveted Stanford big man Reid Travis.
If Sarr is not granted eligibility for the 2020–21 season, Kentucky will be back to square one—at least as it pertains to this winter. A high school reclassification option is still an option for Calipari to add depth either way, but there's no question that the Wildcats' pursuit of a ninth national championship will be made a lot easier in 2021 if Sarr is suiting up.