Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption] The Kentucky Wildcats basketball team is just over two weeks away from taking the floor for the first time this season against Morehead State on November 25th. As fans, we will get our first look at the team on Thursday as UK is hosting a Pro Day that will be televised at 7:00 p.m. on SEC Network. The SEC Network will also televise Big Blue Madness on November 20th at 9:00 p.m. I’ve already broken down each of the eight primary rotation players and you can check out those articles by following the links below: Keion Brooks, Davion Mintz, Olivier Sarr, Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, Lance Ware, B.J. Boston, and Isaiah Jackson. Coach Calipari always keeps a pretty tight rotation, but this team will have a few additional players who will be fighting for minutes. In some order, Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen, and Cam’Ron Fletcher will be the ninth, tenth, and eleventh men on the Kentucky bench. Each of these players has the talent to play sizable minutes for this team, but at least a couple of them are likely to play very little this season. Having a deep bench is an extremely valuable tool regardless of whether or not that ninth, tenth, or eleventh guy ever plays meaningful minutes. You have the obvious injury factor that could slide Toppin, Allen, or Fletcher into a primary rotation spot if someone were to go down. However, probably the most valuable part of having so many talented players is what it allows you to do in practice. Coach Calipari now has 11 players that are legitimate high-major talents which makes each drill and scrimmage much more competitive. It also helps push the other players along in their development because they know they have very capable backups fighting for their minutes at all times. So, what can we expect from Dontaie Allen, Jacob Toppin, and Cam'Ron Fletcher? They each have their own unique question marks that make it hard to predict who will find themselves in the primary rotation or who may be a year away from contributing. They each also have specific talents that could be useful from day one for this team if they are called upon. Especially in the first few games it is likely we see each of these guys get an opportunity, but by Southeastern Conference play I would be surprised to see more than just one of them playing consistent minutes. Let's dive in and break down each of these three guys and go over what can get them on the court and what may keep them on the bench.
Dontaie Allen[caption id="attachment_322515" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Dontaie Allen.
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption] Dontaie Allen was a four-star high school prospect that put up some insane numbers at Pendleton County High School. The Mr. Basketball award winner didn’t come to Kentucky to sit on the bench. Allen expects to compete with the five-stars that surround him and will have opportunities to earn some major minutes thanks to his ability to shoot the basketball. Unfortunately, Allen hasn't played in a basketball game in nearly two years after suffering a torn ACL during his Senior high school season. Allen missed all of the 2019-2020 Kentucky basketball season but gained some valuable experience just from getting to be around the team in practice and in the film room every day. His grasp of the concepts and what Coach Calipari expects will give him a leg up heading into this season. Now that he is healthy and competing at 100% it will be interesting to see where Allen fits into the depth chart this season. Behind B.J. Boston, there is a chance that Allen is the second-best pure shooter on the team this season and that alone will earn him opportunities early in the season. However, unless Kentucky is struggling to score the ball he might be stuck in a situation where his skillset just isn’t needed yet. Allen has a very smooth, repeatable stroke and is the type of guy where you expect all of his shots to go in. Our own Jack Pilgrim got to see him at a workout earlier this summer and you can check out that video here. Especially with the rave reviews surrounding Isaiah Jackson, I could see Kentucky playing some larger lineups this season with Jackson and Sarr paired together. In these scenarios, you probably could see Allen sliding down to the "3" to get some additional shooting on the floor. He also could even relieve Keion Brooks and play some small-ball "4" at times as well. As a coach, you are always going to find minutes for a guy that can make shots at a high percentage. If Allen makes the most of some early opportunities I think he has a real chance to force Coach Cal to extend the rotation and get him on the court. Regardless of what his role is this season, Dontaie Allen will make plenty of 3-pointers in a Kentucky jersey before his career is over.
Jacob Toppin[caption id="attachment_322534" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Jacob Toppin.
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption] He isn’t just Obi’s brother, Jacob Toppin has a year of college basketball under his belt and will provide some extra frontcourt depth for the 'Cats this season. Just like his brother, who was the consensus National Player of the Year last season at Dayton, Jacob is extremely athletic and bouncy. As he continues to add some muscle his game will improve exponentially. Toppin has some offensive limitations at this point but he has proven he can be productive at the college level after a solid Freshman season for a 21-win Rhode Island team. In terms of a role this season I think Toppin's most direct route to consistent minutes is actually beating out Lance Ware. When evaluating Ware, I see him as similarly limited offensively but probably a better rebounder and more physical right now. However, I think Toppin's year of college experience matters a lot and it wouldn't shock me at all to see him get 10 minutes per game behind Keion Brooks this year. As a freshman at Rhode Island, Toppin appeared in all 30 games averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Some extra frontcourt depth would be a great luxury for UK this season and Toppin should provide just that. Olivier Sarr is going to eat up as many minutes as he can play at the "5" and with the hype surrounding Isaiah Jackson you have to assume he is going to play a major role this season as well. However, Keion Brooks will need to improve a lot from last season (as I expect he will) to lock down the "4" spot and I'm not sold that Jacob Toppin isn't just a better player than Lance Ware right now. Simply based on need, I think there is a pretty good likelihood that we see quite a bit from Toppin this season. However, the plan wasn't even for him to be eligible this season so if he isn't ready to compete at the SEC level just yet then a year of practice and some extra time in the weight room should get him ready for a big year next season. Watch him work here.
Cam’Ron Fletcher[caption id="attachment_322533" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Cam'Ron Fletcher.
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption] A four-star recruit from St. Louis, Cam’Ron Fletcher is a strong wing that can impact the game on both ends of the floor. Fletcher isn’t super polished but has all the raw tools and abilities to force his way into the rotation sooner rather than later. He is a good driver and slasher with excellent finishing ability around the rim. Fletcher is excellent in transition as well. If I had to pick one of these three guys to be the odd man out I would probably have to go with Fletcher for this season, but I think he has a very productive future in Lexington. Fletcher's path into the rotation is similar to Dontaie Allen's in terms of getting minutes at the "3" primarily, but I just think Allen is further along at this point. However, his athleticism and motor definitely stand out on film and it is possible that he can earn minutes through sheer force of will. On a team with as much skill as this season's Kentucky team will have you can afford to play someone like Fletcher who brings more toughness and intangibles to the table as opposed to raw skill. Much like I've said with Allen and Toppin, it isn't so much about what Cam'Ron Fletcher can contribute this season. Anything he brings to the table this year is just a bonus. However, getting a year under his belt and coming back as a sophomore will be huge for his development. You can expect big things from this guy in a Wildcats uniform. Watch him work here. @BRamseyKSR