Why Reid Travis is the one-and-done Kentucky needs

Reid Travis averaged 19.5 ppg at Stanford last season. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With Reid Travis announcing his decision to transfer to Kentucky, John Calipari's squad is now the team to beat in college basketball. Yes, Kentucky has enjoyed an extensive stretch as a national title contender under Calipari, who has led the Wildcats to a national championship and four Final Four appearances.

But Travis, an All-Pac-12 forward from Stanford who averaged 19.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG last season, is a next-level addition who makes the Wildcats a threat against any opponent in the country.

Coaches in the Pac-12 expect him to dominate in the SEC.

When asked to describe Travis, immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, Cal's Wyking Jones used one word: "BEAST!!!"

Travis is the catalyst behind our decision to move Kentucky to No. 1 in our Way-Too-Early Top 25.

"He's a kid that you played against that you had an unbelievable amount of respect for because he was competitive, tough and really good," said Jones via text.

Kentucky was previously No. 3 in our poll, anchored by the return of PJ Washington (10.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG), a tenacious big man who showed promise at the NBA draft combine, and the arrival of ESPN's No. 2 recruiting class. Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson are all five-star wings. Quade Green and Nick Richards return.

E.J. Montgomery, a five-star big man, Washington and Travis could form the nation's best frontcourt.

Lorenzo Romar, now head coach at Pepperdine, was an assistant at Arizona last year when Travis averaged 21.5 PPG and 10.0 RPG in two games against Deandre Ayton and the Wildcats.

"He's really good," Romar said. "He's very strong. He has very good footwork from 17 feet and in."

Travis, by all accounts, is one of the strongest men in college basketball, too.

"He is impossible to guard one-on-one at the college level," said one Pac-12 assistant. "He imposes his will offensively, gets to the strong hand and physically dominates opponents. He's a great college player. It's a huge loss for the Pac-12."

There is more to Travis, however, and his decision.

This is a young man who was a five-star recruit but has never made the NCAA tournament at Stanford. His numbers alone weren't enough to elevate a team that struggled to surround him with sufficient talent some years and wrestled with injuries in others.

At Kentucky, Travis will be the powerful centerpiece of a team with national championship ambitions.

He can also be a key voice for a young team. Calipari's greatest challenges with his teams in the last two years were attached to a lack of vocal leadership in the locker room. But Travis is a veteran who has to win now. The young Wildcats will follow him and respond to his sense of urgency and work ethic.

Travis fought back from a leg injury that cost him 22 games during the 2015-16 season. He averaged 17.4 PPG the following season.

When he couldn't find a solution for his troubling free-throw challenges, he used a virtual-reality simulator, which implemented crowd noise and other distractions, to help him improve.

He made 68 percent of his free throws last season. Not impressed? Well, he made 46 percent of his free throws during his freshman season.

That's who Calipari just added to his roster.

Travis is a young man who earned this moment. He won't squander it.

And the team Travis now leads could follow him to Minneapolis, his hometown, for the Final Four.

That might sound like a fairy tale. But everything about this intriguing Kentucky team is real.