Kentucky football: Staying on top of the 1-and-done game
Kentucky and 1-and-done culture is nothing new. John Wall, Julius Randle, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and so on.
Just at the point when the roundball Wildcats have actually enjoyed something of an old age movement, with their oldest team since the 1950s, the gridiron Wildcats picked up the momentum of the 1-and-done. And as well as they’re doing with it, Lexington and 1-and-done may become synonymous with Mark Stoops and not John Calipari.
Back in July 2019, when COVID-19 was not yet a thing and the transfer portal was humming along much more slowly, Kentucky took a flier on a transfer defensive back. Kelvin Joseph had shown great promise in his season at LSU, but he had been suspended for the bowl game and wanted out from under the then-stacked LSU depth chart (funny how THAT has changed). Again, in those ancient times, Joseph had to sit out the 2019 season, but when 2020 came, he was on the field from Day 1 for the Wildcats.
It was an up-and-down 2020 season for Joseph, but in the 9 games he played, he tied for 2nd place in the SEC with 4 interceptions. NFL scouts saw enough that Joseph was taken in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. And what started as a trickle became something near a deluge.
Fellow LSU Tiger Dare Rosenthal saw what happened with Joseph and thought Lexington was as good a destination as any. Rosenthal has started every game this season for the Wildcats at left tackle. He could be another UK 1-and-done, or he might stick around for another year of NFL seasoning in Lexington.
One guy who probably won’t stick around is Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson. Misused by the Huskers, Robinson returned to his home state and has been one of the SEC’s leading receivers (77 receptions for 886 yards) and is all but certain to skip his senior season for an early shot at the NFL.
Former Ole Miss Rebel Jacquez Jones has a decision of his own to make. A 2-year starter at Ole Miss, Jones virtually walked into a starting spot in Lexington after the spring injury of projected starter D’Eryk Jackson left the Wildcats short-handed at linebacker. Jones has led UK in tackles (74), and his 4th-down pass breakup against Florida will probably guarantee that he never has to buy a meal in Lexington. He might go to the next level or return for an extra season.
But don’t think that Kentucky’s dabbling in veteran plug-and-play transfers will be a temporary proposition due to COVID-19. The Wildcats have already gotten 1 potential 1-and-done transfer with Syracuse receiver Taj Harris. Harris has 151 catches for 2,028 yards at Syracuse, and he’s an immediate 2022 replacement for Robinson as the big-play target in UK’s passing game. Rumors have circulated of other transfer defensive backs who could be fellow Wildcat 1-and-done transfers.
In basketball, Kentucky’s string of 1-and-done recruits was a national story. Nobody could miss the talent of the top players in the recruiting class, and when the NBA rule said they could play 1 year and head out, nobody batted an eye. Stoops’ 1-and-done crew has been a more gradual outgrowth of transfer culture. And when the 1-and-dones are 20 or 21 years old, instead of 17 or 18, the potential for significant contribution has been more of a certainty than a possibility.
Who’d have thought it? After coaching in the long shadow of Bear Bryant, Stoops might have passed on copying Bryant to instead copy Coach Cal. If he grabs enough 1-and-dones like Joseph and Robinson, he might just start gaining on the Bear as well.