Jayden Quaintance hopes to improve Kentucky's defense alongside Somto Cyril

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan04/01/24


This summer, John Calipari will once again bring to Lexington one of the best high school recruiting classes in the country. This year’s six-man group of 2024 prospects ranks second in the nation, according to On3, trailing only the Duke Blue Devils.

Just as Calipari has done since he took the Kentucky job over 15 years ago, he’s putting an emphasis on young talent. But after another early exit from the NCAA Tournament coming against a team with older veterans, a portion of fans are understandably worried that staying young in today’s game just isn’t going to get it done anymore.

But it wasn’t just youth that doomed Kentucky by the end of the 2023-24 season. It was a porous defense that leaked points worse than a damaged faucet. UK finished the season ranked No. 110 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Some of the defensive problems can be connected to having younger players, which in turn typically makes for a less physical style, but the majority of players on Kentucky’s roster simply weren’t good defenders no matter how physical they played — not even the experienced ones.

The Wildcats will look to round out next season’s roster through the transfer portal, but a pair of incoming rookies could feasibly help Kentucky’s defense from the jump. They would be the two centers: five-star Jayden Quaintance and four-star Somto Cyril.

Quaintance and Cyril are both bigs, but with different skill sets that won’t overlap much if the two are on the court at the same time. Quaintance, who is only 16 years old, is 6-foot-10, 225 pounds with a long wingspan, quick bounce, and active hands. Meanwhile, Cyril is 6-foot-10, 250 pounds with elite rim-protecting skills (3.3 blocks per game this past season at Overtime) and a clear physical presence around the rim.

Together, despite their youth, they could make for an effective and intriguing defensive frontcourt. The size is certainly there, especially for Cyril, who is nothing but muscle.

“I think it’s gonna be fun,” Quaintance said at the McDonald’s All-American Game Media Day on Monday about playing alongside Cyril. “Kentucky kinda struggled on defense a little bit last year and I feel like, defensively, we kinda bring a lot of impact that way, just being physical, both being shot blockers. Me being able to kind of play passing lanes and play different positions, guard (different positions). I think it’s gonna be a fun experience for sure.”

It’s going to take more than just physicality to improve Kentucky’s issues on defense from last season, but having two big, instinctual defenders who can change the game in various ways is a good starting point.

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