BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With a mix of seasoned veterans and another crop of talented newcomers, the Kentucky men’s basketball team will once again be the hunted. Of course that’s the same mantra every season, but a select panel of media confirmed the standard for 2018-19 when it voted the Wildcats to win their sixth regular-season title under 10th-year head coach John Calipari (pictured).
Should Kentucky achieve the feat, it would mark the program’s 49th overall regular-season title.
It’s the 14th time since the 1998-99 season the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite. Calipari has directed his teams to regular-season SEC crowns in 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Kentucky has claimed the SEC Tournament title in each of the last four seasons and six in all, winning in 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Each school selected media members that cover their team and additional media from across the nation were selected by the conference office to comprise the voting panel. Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for two All-SEC teams.
In addition to the preseason poll, two players were selected to the preseason All-SEC squads. Reid Travis was picked to the first team, while PJ Washington was tabbed to the second team. Both players, along with Keldon Johnson, received at least one vote for the preseason pick for SEC Player of the Year.
Travis is joined by Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, LSU’s Tremont Waters, South Carolina’s Chris Silva and Tennessee’s Grant Williams. Williams was the choice of the media for the preseason player of the year. Joining Washington on the second team were Auburn’s Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, Florida’s Jalen Hudson, Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon, Missouri’s Jontay Porter and Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield.
Travis is a graduate transfer who earned All-Pac 12 First Team honors at Stanford a season ago after averaging 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in all but one of his 35 games, including a career-high 33 points at Washington. He finished his decorated career with the Cardinal having become one of just three players in program history to amass at least 1,400 career points and 700 rebounds in fewer than 100 games played.
Suiting up for the Wildcats this summer on the Bahamas exhibition tour, Travis averaged 10.9 points and a team-high 10.3 rebounds in the four wins. He had 19 points and 15 rebounds for a trip-ending double-double against Team Toronto. He also drained a pair of 3s in that game.
Washington is UK’s leading returning scorer at 10.8 points and rebounder at 5.7 per game. He started in 30 of the 37 games he played in a season ago. He saved his best basketball for late in the season where he scored in double figures in 11 of the final 12 games of the season, averaging 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor. He played in all 40 minutes and posted a double-double vs. Kansas State in the Sweet 16 with 18 points and a career-high 15 boards to couple with a career-high-tying three teams.
Washington scored in double figures in all three NCAA Tournament games. In four games in the Bahamas, Washington averaged 14.5 points, 7.5 boards, 2.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He shot 51.4 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. He scored in double figures in all four games, including a 20-point, 12-rebound effort vs. Mega Bemax.
Kentucky is slated to begin exhibition play beginning with its annual Blue-White Game on Sunday. That game will air live on the SEC Network at 7 p.m. UK will follow that with two tune-ups against Transylvania on Oct. 26 and Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 2. Both of those games will also air live on the SEC Network with 7 p.m. tip times.
The Wildcats open the regular season in Indianapolis for the State Farm Champions Classic. They will face Duke at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught