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Jamie Vaught: After much uncertainty, Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr finally makes UK debut


After several months of uncertainty of whether he would get to play at Kentucky, it sure was awfully nice to see 7-footer Olivier Sarr play as a Wildcat for the first time Wednesday night.

A senior transfer from Wake Forest where he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference third team selection, Sarr had a decent debut at Rupp Arena during UK’s 81-45 victory over Morehead State. He had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting along with three rebounds and two blocked shots in 22 minutes of action as his team turned in a balanced effort.

Olivier Sarr made his UK debut against Morehead State on Wednesday night. (UK photo)

Sarr was the only upperclassman in UK’s starting lineup, which included four freshmen.

In a recent video interview with the media, Sarr discussed his early leadership role with the team.

“I think, for Davion (Mintz) and I, it’s going to be a responsibility for the first few games,” he said. “It’s going to be on us to make sure that everybody is locked in, making sure that we huddle up every time we can and talk to the guys, guide them and lead them through the first few games.”

Sarr also pointed out injured sophomore Keion Brooks Jr., who is recovering from a calf injury, has already helped the team as a leader.

“Keion did a great job so far being on the sidelines, talking to the guys, being a leader because he knows. He’s been through it already,” explained Sarr, who grew up in France.

In a preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Wildcats are ranked No. 10 partly because of Sarr. Many observers have said Sarr, with his valuable experience on a young Kentucky squad, will make a huge difference in UK’s success this season.

The coaches and media have voted Sarr to preseason All-SEC second team. He is also on the preseason watch list for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award which goes to the nation’s best center.

And Kentucky is the highest-ranked team from the SEC, just ahead of No. 12 Tennessee. LSU, Florida and Alabama are also expected to contend for the conference title as they received almost enough votes to crack the AP Top 25.

On UK’s potential to be a great team this season, Sarr said, “We have depth. That means that we have other guys that are ready. So, it makes the five guys that are starting (in a scrimmage) realize that you have to pick it up from the jump because we have a lot of options, and if it’s not you it’s going to be somebody else. But that’s good for our team.”

Senior center Olivier Sarr was the only upperclassman in UK’s starting lineup, which included four freshmen. (UK photo)

Since Sarr, who signed with UK last May, has spent several months on campus, he has been able to tell there is a big gap between the Kentucky hoops program and his former ACC school where he once set career highs of 30 points and 17 rebounds against Notre Dame.

“I would say the biggest difference (between Wake Forest and Kentucky) is the culture here, the mindset,” said Sarr, who has the team’s top wingspan with 87.5 inches. “It’s a winning culture. Not knocking on my old school or whatever. It’s just different. Kentucky has a successful history. It’s a great program. It has high expectations, and you can feel that as soon as you step on campus and as soon as you start practices.

“As far as my teammates and their impact and challenging, I think everybody brings different stuff playing the four and the five. You’ve got guys like (6-foot-9) Lance Ware who is really aggressive, really physical. He has a high motor. Then you’ve got (6-10) Isaiah (Jackson) with length and athleticism. Then you’ve got (6-9) Jacob (Toppin), same thing. I mean, everybody brings something different and we’re all making each other better every day.”

You may have noticed Sarr’s first name – Olivier – is spelled differently from the American version. He was asked by a reporter if he was named after Laurence Olivier, an English actor.

“No, not at all,” Sarr commented. “You might have to ask my parents about that, but I don’t think so. Olivier is a common name in France and it’s the name of my godfather. He was someone who had a big impact on my parents when I wasn’t born yet, so they decided to give me his name.”

As for the NBA stars, Sarr enjoys watching former Wildcat Anthony Davis, who guided Kentucky to the 2012 NCAA national title.

“Currently, I really like Anthony Davis. I’m trying to model my game after him,” he said. “He’s a great defender. He can guard one through five and that’s something I try to incorporate in my game, but he’s also a stretch five, one of the best centers in the league and an NBA champion.

“I also watch a lot of tape of Hakeem Olajuwon for his footwork, counter moves, counter-to-counter moves and all types of stuff. He was also a great defender. All-around player. He could shoot as a big. All these guys. Tim Duncan. All these big guys.

“LaMarcus Aldridge, I think, is an underrated big in the league right now, but he’s a great mid-range scorer and that’s something I try to put in my game.”

If Sarr can play like these NBA standouts, the Wildcats will be in a very good shape this season.

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Looking for new sports books to read during the Christmas holidays? Consider the following:

–“The Dynasty” by Jeff Benedict (Avid Reader Press, $30) is an inside story about the New England Patriots, perhaps the greatest sports dynasty of the 21st century. The 579-page hardcover captures the human drama of the dynasty’s three key figures – Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – while revealing the secrets behind their success.

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–“Looking Up Once Again” by Jim O’Brien (James P. O’Brien Publishing, $28) is filled with intimate stories about the top and most interesting basketball players and coaches the author has met in a lifetime of traveling with teams in the ABA and the NBA. Written by a retired sportswriter from Pittsburgh who has authored numerous sports books, the 480-page paperback also includes many accounts about the old Kentucky Colonels. If you’d like a signed copy of the 480-page paperback, email the author at jimmyo64@gmail.com.

–“How Life Imitates Sports: A Sportswriter Recounts, Relives, and Reckons With 50 Years on the Sports Beat” by Ira Berkow (Sports Publishing, $24.99) shares the first-hand knowledge or stories by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who sat ringside, in the press box, and on the sidelines for some of the most memorable moments in our sports history.

–“Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life” by Bill Madden (Simon & Schuster, $28) is a deeply personal biography about a Hall of Famer who pitched for the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds, among others. The author covered Seaver both on and off the field and remained close to the former pitcher and his family until Seaver’s death at the age of 75 in 2020.

–“Gods At Play: An Eyewitness Account of Great Moments in American Sports” by Tom Callahan (W.W Norton & Company, $26.95) offers colorful portraits of the most celebrated names in sports, including Roberto Clemente, Joe Montana, among others.

–“The Spencer Haywood Rule: Battles, Basketball, and the Making of an American Iconoclast” by Marc J. Spears and Gary Washburn (Triumph Books, $28) is an interesting story about a basketball Hall of Famer who went from picking cotton in Mississippi to the historic 1968 Olympics to ABA MVP to the battle with the NBA that would go all the way to the Supreme Court and changed the league forever.

By the way, there are also 2020 Kentucky-related sports books that you may want to ponder. They are:

–“Changing the Game: My Career in Collegiate Sports Marketing” by Jim Host with Eric Moyen (University Press of Kentucky, $34.95).

–“Cut to the Chase!” by Alan Cutler with Dr. John Huang (Amazon, $19.99).

–“Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey” by Jamie H. Vaught (Acclaim Press, $22.95)

–“100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (revised & updated edition)” by Ryan Clark and Joe Cox (Triumph Books, $16.95)

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.


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