Transfer Ansley Almonor will not be overwhelmed by UK fan base

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Kentucky basketball fans can sometimes overwhelm a player with their attention but that should not be a problem for Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Ansley Almonor.

“If people reach out to me, I am not too big for anybody,” said the 6-7 Almonor. “I am open to any opportunity and talking to anyone. That’s just my natural personality. I am a nice guy. If you want to talk to me, I will. I am not the most outgoing person but I am not shy either.”

He admits it did surprise him a bit when he had “thousands of people” following him after he became interested in transferring to UK to play for coach Mark Pope.

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“It was tough at first but I got used to it,” he said. “I am from a small town, a small school. We didn’t get that much coverage or recognition.”

Almonor made a school record 93 3-pointers at Fairleigh Dickinson last season when he averaged 16.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game to earn first-team All-Northeast Conference honors.

“I always thought I could play at the highest level. I was not always thinking about that but I knew if the opportunity came, I would jump on it,” Almonor said. “It was a pretty easy sell with Kentucky. I asked my questions. I wanted some feedback and to get the Kentucky vibe. It worked out perfectly.”

Almonor had never been to Lexington before  his official visit. He liked the “city vibe” but was surprised that Lexington was bigger than he thought. He also liked what the opportunity to play at Kentucky could potentially do for his basketball career.

“I want to play at the highest level to get me ready to play at the next level (NBA). I want to be able to enjoy the next level,” the Kentucky transfer said. “Shooting is my best strength. I have a good midrange game and can make plays with the ball in my hand. I use different angles and footwork.

“I have worked to develop my all-around game. My dad always told me to stay in the gym and everything you deserve will come to you. Just pray and work and good things will come. My dad always pushed me and gave me advice. He is my biggest supporter. Anything I needed in basketball he made sure I had it.”

Almonor played a “little bit” of soccer growing up but was literally too big for the sport so he turned all his attention to basketball.

He didn’t really know any of his new teammates when he arrived on campus last week other than text messages they had exchanged. However, building team chemistry under Pope does not worry him.

“It will come with time. Coach has a lot to put in for us this summer, so we are going to stay together and spend a lot of time together,” Almonor said. “Coach told me he had not promised playing time to anyone. Everybody is going to fight and get what they deserve.

“We have experienced players. People don’t really know how much that means. They see stuff on TV but when it comes to little details that can push you over the top and get a win, most people do not understand all those things. You can overlook that but our experience is going to be a team strength.”

Almonor had no connections to Pope but thought he was “really cool” and learned quickly that his new coach had “great energy” all the time.

Almonor admits NIL discussions came up when he was being recruited before picking Kentucky.

“That is part of the reason people want to leave because they are not compensated the way they want to be. That’s usually a big reason to leave and transfer,” he said. “Those (NIL) discussions happen before you get to school but Coach had the right answers.”

Almonor’s parents are from Haiti and he says they are excited about him being at Kentucky.

“My dream came true. They never imagined something like this could happen for me because this is so nice,” he said. “They definitely will come down as much as they can because they understand what a great experience being at Kentucky is for me.”


Mastering the portal

Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione said recruiting and evaluating are “two different things,” especially when it comes to the transfer portal.

“The evaluation piece you have to nail it. That’s where it starts. And then the recruiting starts. But if you don’t evaluate right, it’s going to be hard for you,” Mingione said before UK played in its second straight NCAA super regional.

“I have a series of questions that I ask kids and their families to try to dig up as much information as I can get. One bad miss on an evaluation can really change. It’s a tricky piece, but we have a series of questions. I have a lot of weaknesses. (My wife) Christen has told me that one of my gifts is my intuition on people. I don’t take credit for that. I’ll give the Lord credit for that.

“But I want to just build this team, and we’ve got to continue to evaluate right out of the portal because there’s a lot of really good players.”

Mingione still wants the “foundation” of his recruiting to be high school players but recruiting also has to factor in the transfer portal as well as players who might leave for professional playing careers.

“I’m really proud of our program because the fewest players go into the portal as any team in our league. I think that says a lot about them,” Mingione said. “When you’re dealing with graduation, draft, and the portal allows you — one of the things we wanted to do was be old. And we believe if we continue to develop our high school student-athletes and then we were able to mix and match and get some guys out of the portal, that would be a good recipe and formula.”

Mingione was an assistant coach at Kentucky under John Cohen for two seasons and UK won its first SEC championship in 2006. Kentucky didn’t win the NCAA regional but it did get to host a regional.

“I always remember John talking about how we had to have edge and toughness. And we wanted to be old. At that time we did have a lot of junior college players. If you think about all the great junior college players that came through our program, those guys were all part of us trying to be old as well.

“So the fact we’ve been able to do that and develop our guys and the guys have been patient, and to mix in the portal, that’s been one of the adjustments we learned and we decided over COVID.”

Cubelic says Cats better than most think

SEC Network/ESPN college football analyst Cole Cubelic knows SEC football teams and personnel far better than most and was one of the first national media members several years ago to believe that coach Mark Stoops had Kentucky on an upward trend.

He thinks going into this season that Kentucky could be better than many think despite having a schedule ranked as the nation’s fourth toughest by College Football Report.

Cubelic was surprised last season when North Carolina State transfer quarterback Devin Leary could not handle making quick, accurate reads about what the defense was doing. He had Georgia sources tell him Brock Vandagriff had the same issues but believes new offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan’s no-huddle offense will simplify reads and help Vandagriff.

“Vandagriff got better in the spring was my understanding from various sources,” Cubelic said on the “Cube Show,” his weekly podcast. “Play-action windows have to be good with him. If the run game does what it is supposed to do that is where he will hurt opponents the most. From all I heard, he showed leadership and the awareness you want in the spring.

“He is bigger and more physical than most people in Lexington thought and adds a run dynamic they did not have last year. He has got to improve his awareness and feel in the pocket. That’s the place he needs to improve the most but he definitely will add a different element to running the football.”

Cubelic likes the depth in the UK quarterback group as well.

He believes former UK quarterback Beau Allen has a stronger arm than he did before he transferred from Kentucky. “He has a good feel of what is required of him and comes in with less ego knowing what his value is to the team,” Cubelic said.

Rutgers transfer Gavin Wimsatt, a former Kentucky high school standout like Allen, could be a “help” in the red zone with his physical running style.

True freshman Cutter Boley, a Lexington Christian graduate, has impressed Cubelic by understanding why he likely will be redshirted.

“He has a big arm. He is going to start learning now and down the road could really be someone to help this team.”

Depth will serve Cats well

Bush Hamdan has 15 years of collegiate and NFL coaching experience combined, including his most recent stint as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Boise State.

The new UK offensive coordinator previously coached in the Southeastern Conference at Florida and Missouri. He understands the value/need of depth to compete in the SEC.

“Our starters can really get out there and play with anybody,” Hamdan said. “The critical thing for us is to continue to build that depth. That is such a big part for us and the ability to stay healthy.”

Kentucky’s 2024 schedule has been ranked as the nation’s fourth most difficult schedule and Hamdan said the SEC is about one game at a time and not looking ahead.

“Kentucky is fourth in the SEC in wins over the last 10 years,” Hamdan said. “This is a program built to get in a fight one week at a time. Staying healthy is really important everywhere but it is really important for us because our starters are really good and keeping them healthy is a huge key for us.