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Kentucky Kernel

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Former West Virginia guard Kerr Kriisa primed to be a key leader on 2024-25 Kentucky roster

Kerr Kriisa after committing to Kentucky. Image sourced from Instagram @kkriisa

Kentucky men’s basketball had no choice but to completely restructure its 2024-25 roster through the transfer portal after seven players transferred out, three graduated and four declared for the NBA Draft following the departure of hall of fame head coach John Calipari

With that in mind, it’s little surprise skeptics have said that the Wildcats are likely to experience growing pains as the team was not only built entirely from scratch, but it’s also welcoming a brand new head coach in Mark Pope, formerly of BYU.

Kerr Kriisa with Arizona. Image sourced from Instagram @kkriisa

As the Wildcats step up to the plate in his inaugural season, it’s going to take a full-team effort to overcome the brutality of the SEC, but if there was one player who may be able to handle the leadership role on a Frankenstein’s monster roster, it’s former West Virginia guard Kerr Kriisa.

Pope’s story with Kriisa had begun being written long prior to the latter’s commitment to Kentucky this offseason. The head coach had been trying to recruit him for a long time, but couldn’t quite reel him into BYU, but this past offseason, with a more prestigious program in his arsenal, Pope was able to land the 6-foot, 3-inch fifth-year senior in Lexington.

“I feel like I’ve been recruiting him (Kriisa) for the last five or six years since he was a prep player,” Pope said to UKAthletics. “He is one of the most experienced guards in all of college basketball.”

Kriisa joined Kentucky after playing for the Big 12’s West Virginia last season and the Pac12’s Arizona from 2020-23. The speed and competitiveness of the two power-five schools have mentally and physically shaped him to join his third and arguably most challenging conference.

From his time with Arizona, where the Estonian played a crucial role under a national microscope with a team that has had high expectations for years, to playing for West Virginia and competing against collegiate powerhouses like Houston, Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State, Kriisa has continuously delivered a contagious spark.

In fact, Kriisa has not only played in two highly-touted conferences, but he also has previously transferred to a new school that was in the midst of a coaching change. Sound familiar?

Last off-season, after Kriisa already announced that he had transferred to West Virginia, longtime Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins resigned in the wake of a DUI charge, leaving the Estonian to re-enter the transfer portal. After exploring his options, he reaffirmed that he would stay committed after West Virginia hired Josh Eilert as its interim head coach.

Then, in his one season with the Mountaineers, Kriisa averaged 11 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 42.9% from the field through 23 games played. He didn’t play in the team’s first nine games as he was suspended for admitting to accepting impermissible benefits with Arizona.

Kerr Kriisa with Arizona facing Creighton. Image sourced from Instagram @kkriisa

The Mountaineers finished at the bottom of the Big 12 and didn’t earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but in the team’s one Big 12 Tournament game, where it lost to Cincinnati 90-85, Kriisa contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and one assist.

Prior to that, in his junior season at Arizona, Kriisa averaged his highest number of points per game while being a member of the Wildcats, delivering an average of 9.9 points a night. He also layed a helping hand with 2.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while slinging a 36.6% three-point percentage.

The year prior, as a sophomore, Kriisa averaged .2 points lower per game with 9.7, but in that season he had two 21-point outings against Washington and Utah. He also recorded four 17+ point performances that season and two games in which he had ten assists.

Now entering his newest home after improving every season up to this point, Kriisa’s game itself won’t be the only help the newly assembled Wildcats get from him as his on-court experience and off-court grit to battle through mental challenges will be key for a Kentucky team entering uncharted territory.

With a new coach, a new roster and even a new SEC, Kriisa’s experience as a journeyman and with entering programs in precarious situations will prime him to be a leader for Pope’s inaugural Kentucky team.

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