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Kentucky NBA Mock Draft Tracker: April 23

With the early entry deadline expiring last night, six Kentucky Wildcats have declared for the 2018 NBA Draft. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, and Hamidou Diallo all plan to sign with agents, while PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel do not, leaving the door open to return to Kentucky, a decision they must make by May 30.

Starting tomorrow, prospects can begin working out for NBA teams ahead of the Draft Combine on May 20. Combine invites will go out to 60 to 70 players at the end of the month. Before the madness begins, here’s where Kentucky’s six prospects stand in the major mock drafts.

Shai Alexander Kevin Knox Hamidou Diallo PJ Washington Jarred Vanderbilt Wenyen Gabriel
ESPN Top 100 (Updated 4/7) 12 14 35 50 64
ESPN (Updated 4/13) 12. LA Clippers 15. Washington 36. Sacramento
Sports Illustrated (Updated 4/19) 15. Washington 12. LA Clippers 41. Orlando 53. Oklahoma City
Sporting News* (Updated 4/23) 12. LA Clippers 13. LA Clippers
Gary Parrish* (Updated 4/16) 13. LA Clippers 14. Denver
NBADraft.net (Updated 4/12) 12. LA Clippers 11. Charlotte 45. Brooklyn
Bleacher Report* (Updated 4/23) 14. Denver 10. Philadelphia

* First round only


An in-depth look at UK’s 2018-19 roster, as it stands now

It’s been a hectic few weeks for the basketball world – especially in Kentucky – so no one could blame you if you’ve lost track of all of the recruitments, reclassifications and declarations for the NBA draft. Don’t worry, you’re probably not alone.

With that being said, a LOT still hangs in the balance for Kentucky’s 2018-19 season. Some of our questions could be answered by the end of the week. Others, by the May 30th NBA Draft deadline. And some we might not know until late summer. Here’s everything we know as of now, with predictions and even some *suggestions.*

Point Guards

Ashton Hagans

Status: committed
When news of Hagans’ commitment broke less than two weeks ago, it became pretty obvious he would be the go-to point guard once he arrives at UK – which isn’t surprising, considering he’s the No. 1 point guard in the 2019 class. The question, of course, then becomes: when will he arrive at UK? Although he’s still technically a 2019 recruit, all signs point to a reclassification for 2018.

His commitment announcement, which came the day after 5-star EJ Montgomery’s commitment, continued to boost BBN morale after a disappointing March and the recent announcement of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s departure. Plus, it re-ignited the tradition of John Calipari and star point guards, which is something the Cats lacked this season. Hagans is the real deal, and it’s likely we’ll get to see him in action next season as the Cats’ starting PG.

Immanuel Quickley

Status: signed
He’s another highly-touted point guard for the 2018 class – 24/7 Sports has him listed as the No. 4 point guard in the nation. Quickley is an athlete; he’s just 6-foot-3, but he boasts a 6-foot-7 wingspan. He’s shown he’s a good facilitator, dishing out eight assists and grabbing four rebounds in his 17 minutes off the bench during the McDonalds All-American game. He struggled offensively in that game, ending the night 0-2 from the field. But, we’ve seen he can get hot from the outside. He did tie for first place in the 3-point shootout. Check out Nick Roush’s video:

With a guy like Hagans coming in, you expect to see Quickley coming in off the bench, and (possibly) even being a two-year player. But, then again, that’s what most of us thought about Gilgeous-Alexander too…

Tyrese Maxey

Status: recruit
Just when Kentucky fans thought recruiting news was done, a report came out saying Coach Cal pitched reclassifying and joining the 2018 Cats to another star point guard. Tyrese Maxey is listed as the No. 2 point guard in the 2019 class, coming in right behind already-committed Hagans.

In an interview with SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker, Maxey seemed unphased by the possibility of having to compete with three other 5-star point guards.

“Coach Cal has had three 5-star guards on the roster before with Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and he gets it done,” Maxey said. “And that’s not the first time he’s had it like that. He had Tyler Ulis, the Harrison twins, Devin Booker. That’s four 5-star guards on one team. He finds a way to make stuff like that happen and work, so you gotta trust him.”

That sounds like a very “Kentucky” answer from the Texan. UK is widely considered the leader in his recruitment, but, at this point, it’s still unclear as to whether or not he will actually reclassify. If he does, we probably won’t know until mid-July.

Quade Green

Status: ?

Even after rumors of positive feedback from Calipari’s recent heart-to-heart with Green, the sophomore’s decision is still up in the air. At this point, it seems like Green is leaning toward returning for his sophomore season, but it’s hard to be sure. Unlike transfer announcements, it’s extremely rare for a player to “announce” that he’s not transferring. And, under usual circumstances, that’s fine. But, with two – possibly three – major point guards coming in next season, it’s hard to ignore the idea that Green may have been “recruited over.”

Still, it’s important to note that Green is the only returning guard who saw considerable playing time last season. We saw this year that experience does matter – especially at point guard – and repeating another all-freshman team could be another huge challenge – especially without guys like Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones coming off the bench when the freshmen inevitably revert.

From a (possibly-biased) perspective, it’d obviously be ideal for Green to continue his time as a Wildcat. His calm nature and leadership qualities could be huge for this young team. If he stays, he’ll need to capitalize on his playing time at the beginning of the season, when Quickley and possibly Hagans and Maxey are still adjusting to college ball. Plus, he might have to be comfortable moving to and staying at the 2-guard position and letting one of the younger guys play point guard.

Guards

Keldon Johnson

Status: signed
Johnson comes to Kentucky as a five-star guard and the No. 14 overall recruit. He’s a good size for a shooting guard – 6’6” and 216-pounds – and a good mid-range shooter (something Kentucky seems to love… Long-2-U, anyone?). He’s a “lights-out” scorer, he’s got good speed and he knows how to bring the energy. Fans got to see his competitive nature during the McDonalds All-American game, where he said he planned to “dominate and kill” during the game. If all goes according to plan, Johnson will likely be another one-and-done guard for Kentucky.

Tyler Herro

Status: signed
I’m not going to lie – I’m excited about this kid. He’s a four-star player whose recruitment flew mostly under the radar. He’s picked up steam recently though, especially since Zion Williamson called him the most underrated player in the class. He signed with the Cats early, so he’s given plenty of interviews and quotes with both KSR and Hey Kentucky!. He seems like a great person and an energetic leader, and all signs point to him bringing a lot to the table next season (and possibly for a few more seasons after that).

Jemarl Baker

Status: Redshirt freshman

Baker is a real wild card in next year’s class. He’s been in Lexington for a year now, so he knows the ropes of Kentucky basketball and how to navigate John Calipari & Co. But, his knee injury benched him for the entire season, so he has no more game-time experience than any of the true freshmen.

He came in as a four-star recruit who was expected to stick around for a few years. But, a loaded class could push Baker a few more seats back. At one point in the season, there were rumors he could transfer. At this point, that doesn’t seem like an option. But, if he struggles to get playing time this season – which is definitely possible – a transfer may not be out of the question. On the other hand, if he works his way into a rotation off the bench this year, he could become a go-to older guy in the coming seasons. Here’s hoping for the latter.

Brad Calipari and Jonny David

Status: Returning

Jonny David returns as the team’s lone senior this season, while Brad Calipari comes in as a junior.

Forwards

EJ Montgomery

Status: signed

While the backcourt is loaded, Montgomery is the only big-name recruit coming in, as of right now, as a 2018 forward. His commitment was huge for the Wildcats; he picked UK over Duke and North Carolina. The No. 5 power forward in the class, Montgomery is expected to dominate around the bucket. According to ESPN, he’s “asserting his will around the rim much more assertively and consistently now.” This is great news for the Cats, especially since this is an area Kentucky was desperately lacking in for the majority of last season.

Nick Richards

Status: (likely) returning

Although Nick Richards hasn’t made any sort of announcement at this time, the BBN would be shocked if he did anything but return. Sure, you could make a case for him “testing the waters” without an agent alongside the rest of the world, but he’s not currently being projected anywhere close to a lottery pick.

Although his play was, at times, frustrating last season, another year of practice and experience could drastically improve not only his play, but his draft stock. Kentucky saw flashes of his potential last season, lead mostly by his athleticism and height. But… he just really needs to work on rebounding with both hands. I’m sure Cal is all over that.

PJ Washington

Status: Declared for draft, no agent

PJ Washington, for me, is the biggest question mark for next season’s roster. He’s a bubble player right now, and he was originally expected to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season. However, he was the first UK player to announce he would be declaring for the NBA Draft (without an agent).

If he comes back, I’d fully expect to see a monster season out of Washington. Washington’s “bully tactics” and experience would be huge for next year’s team, especially if Montgomery struggles to adjust to collegiate basketball. Washington was one of the most-developed players by the end of the season, and, although he hasn’t quite reached lottery-pick caliber yet, it’s clear he could in the future. In fact, he’s listed as an easy first-round pick for the 2019 draft (No. 18, according to Jonathan Givony). That should make it an easy choice… he should return. If he doesn’t, opponents of the one-and-done system will be all over it.

Jarred Vanderbilt

Status: Declared for draft, no agent

Vanderbilt’s mysterious foot injury is once again making news, mostly due to the fact that it is prohibiting him from currently playing basketball, making his decision to declare for the draft all the more puzzling. Sure, he can have conversations and review footage with NBA coaches and scouts this way, but how much have they actually seen from him?

Based on Vanderbilt’s season and injury, it’s expected he will return. Montgomery-Washington-Vanderbilt could be a dangerous front court combination. However, if a team lets him know they would take a chance on him based on his athleticism, energy and potential, an early departure would certainly not be out of the question.

Wenyen Gabriel

Status: Declared for draft, no agent

Although his current state is similar to Washington’s and Vanderbilt’s, his decision will not affect next year’s season quite as much. Sure, it’d be great to see a rare junior getting playing time at Kentucky, but I’m not sure how much that would happen, especially if Washington and Vanderbilt both return.

Throughout the past year, we’ve seen Gabriel develop a lot. But the question is, how much does he have left in him? Could he get substantially better and play for the NBA? Or is his best bet playing in the G-League or overseas? It’d be great to see Gabriel come back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen.


That puts Kentucky at 13 scholarship players (including Brad Calipari), hitting exactly the NCAA’s limit. But, there are a lot of stars that have to align to hit that number 13. Hagans would need to reclassify; Maxey would need to reclassify and commit; Green would have to decide against transferring; Kentucky’s frontcourt would all need to return. If any of those things don’t happen, scholarships open up and last-minute recruiting efforts begin again. In other words, this roster is far from finalized.

@MaggieDavisKSR


Power Ranking the Kentucky Derby Festival Events

Tonight fireworks will roar across the Louisville sky, marking the official start to the 2018 Kentucky Derby Festival.  For the next two weeks, the city of Louisville will buzz as the bluegrass prepares for the fastest two minutes in sports.

There are many different ways you can prepare for the Derby.  If you’re experiencing the event for the first time, allow me to guide you to the best of the best.  You can click here to see a complete list of events or visit KDF.org for more information.

10. The “Great” Steamboat Race

Once a marquee event, thousands gathered at the water tower to watch the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen glide over the Ohio River.  The glory days have long faded and the Delta Queen has been retired, with the Belle of Cincinnati racing in its place.  The race’s demise crawls under Tony Vanetti’s skin, but you can’t blame people for not caring about a race that’s fixed.

9. Pegasus Parade

Unless you know somebody that’s in the parade, the horse pooper-scoopers are the highlight of the event.

8. The Great Balloon Race

Ran each year the Saturday before the Derby, this event holds a dear place in my childhood heart.  If the wind blew the balloons to my end of town, the family packed up the minivan, made a stop at Krispy Kreme and chased the balloons to their landing spot.  The end of the race is rather anticlimactic, unless a balloon lands on top of a house, as one did to my grade school classmate’s 15 years ago.

7. Hole in One Golf Contest

You can win a million dollars, but you probably will not.  Taking place over ten days at Seneca Park, the person closest to the pin on each day become finalists that earn an opportunity to win a million bucks with one shot.  That rarely ever happens, so if you miss out, don’t be mad.  Treat it as a day at the driving range.

6. The Chow Wagon/Kroger Fest-a-Ville

Chow wagons used to pop up all around the city, but now the beer gardens and food booths are all centrally located at Waterfront Park.  This could be the best thing in the city, if they got better food.  We live in 2018.  They should bring in a few nice food trucks instead of exclusively carrying deep fried State Fair food.

The nightly concerts downtown make or break the event.  Usually relegated to poppy new country stars, this year they’re changing things up with The Lone Bellow on Wednesday of Derby Week and Judah & the Lion the following day.  Find a complete lineup here.

5. Thunder Over Louisville

Thunder can be one of the best days of the year, or one of the worst days of the year.  It all really depends on the weather and whether you can find a spot that’s free from roaming bands of high schoolers.

4. The Great Bed Races

The most under-rated Derby Festival Event, businesses from around the state create a wheeled bed that resembles a parade float.  Creativity consumes the contraptions that fly down through Broadbent Arena.  Five people push as one person lies down face-first as the bed flies toward the finish line.  It may not tickle everyone’s fancy, but it’s a fantastic family event.

3. Mini Marathon

Running 13.1 miles (or 26.2 in the Marathon) does not exactly sound like a good time.  You don’t have to be a runner to have a blast at the Mini-Marathon.

Thousands line the streets to cheer on the participants.  There are few places your hand can go numb from giving high-fives; the Mini is on of those places.  If you really want to make the event great, tailgating is highly encouraged.  For more than a decade my group of rowdy South End friends have gathered at 4:00 a.m. to prepare for the runners.  Rain or shine, it’s always a good time.

2. Balloon Glow

The KDF has created six separate events that lead into the Saturday morning race.  The Glow the night before at the fairgrounds is hands-down the best of the best.  Lit up against the dark night sky, it’s astounding to stand next to the massive balloons and look up in awe.

The event is fun for every person in every age group and demographic, except for large people. Upon seeing the tiny wicker baskets the balloons hold, I learned I will never, under any circumstances, take a hot air balloon ride.

1. Dawn at the Downs

This is not an officially sanctioned Kentucky Derby Festival event, but it’s the best way to prepare for the Kentucky Derby.  In the twilight of the early morning, the sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle around Churchill Downs give you a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into a two-minute race.

You can feel fancy and enjoy brunch on Millionaires’ Row.  You can edge up to the rail for a closer look, and if you have kids, a jockey might hand them a pair of goggles.  If you know a guy (or are extra sneaky), the backside is the best place to see all of the action.  TV and radio crews broadcast along the rail, hundreds of donuts are served and trainers entertain crowds atop a viewing platform.

There are many more reasons why Dawn at the Downs is my favorite part of Derby Week.  It’s a tradition I will uphold as long as I possibly can, because I cannot pick my Derby horse until I’ve seen it run on a brisk spring morning at Churchill Downs.


Will Tyrese Maxey Reclassify? Excellent Question.

The most intriguing recruiting development over the last month has surrounded point guard Tyrese Maxey.  Considered the No. 2 point guard in the 2019 class, he could make the jump to 2018, but will he?

In the first two days of EYBL competition, Maxey has already answered that question a few times.  The responses differ, making the murky situation even more unclear.

“Right now, I really haven’t put much thought into it,” Maxey told Jeff Drummond and a host of UK beat reporters this morning after scoring 14 points and dishing out 5 assists.

“It’s a tough decision now that I know it’s more real,” Maxey told USA Today’s Jason Jordan. “I’ve been thinking hard on it.

It’s impossible to discern anything about reclassifying from those conflicting quotes, however, he did provide insight into what would go into the process.  A good student, he would only need two or three more classes to make the jump, a task he could easily accomplish.  Maxey has no specific time-table, but it probably will not happen until after the Peach Jam in mid-July.

“Right now I’m just out here trying to focus on EYBL Session 1.  Me and my parents, we’ll get together and figure out a plan later,” said Maxey.

Kentucky is the early leader for Maxey.  Coach Cal visited him twice during the live recruiting period.  Outside of Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas and Oklahoma State are recruiting him the hardest.

We do not know if Maxey will reclassify.  We do know he would not do it until later in the summer.  We do know the kid can ball.


REMINDER: John Calipari said just about every Wildcat would test the NBA Draft waters, and they did just that.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Just over three weeks ago, John Calipari said on his radio show he expects “just about” every player on the 2017-18 Kentucky basketball squad to test the NBA draft waters.

“My expectation would be that just about every one of them will put their name in the draft to figure out where that committee sees them going,” he said. “If you’re not draftable, that means you’re not going to the combine, which kind of helps you make the decision, unless you absolutely want to go one way or another.”

He followed it up by saying the NBA combine invitations will be a big indicator of draft stock, as if you fail to earn an invite, you almost certainly won’t get drafted and it may be in your best interest to return to school.

“A first rounder or early second rounder, you get invited to the combine,” Calipari said. “So that’s where you’ve got to be. If you can’t make the combine, you’re more than likely not being drafted or if you do get drafted, you’re barely getting drafted, which means a season in the G-League if the team chooses to put you in camp.”

And what happened? Just about every Wildcat will be putting their name in the draft to receive feedback from NBA teams.

And that is perfectly fine. Encouraged, even.

Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Hamidou Diallo made decisions to enter the draft and sign with an agent. All expected.

When PJ Washington put his name in the draft without an agent, fans weren’t necessarily surprised, but they found it odd he was the first to jump the gun on a decision. When Wenyen Gabriel announced he would join Washington, most of the fan base understood the sophomore’s financial situation at home and applauded his decision to leave the door open for a return.

Today, Jarred Vanderbilt followed suit by putting his name in the draft without an agent, and (some, not all of) the Big Blue Nation blew a gasket.

Here are just a few of the comments left on KSR earlier when the news was announced:

Jarred Vanderbilt declares for the NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

“Jarred- Ok NBA am I a lottery pick? NBA: who are you?”

“Great news! No offensive game, my grandmother has more skill around the rim! Less equals more folks, got rid of him and Hami aka Archie Goodwin! This is great news! Don’t need him eating up valuable minutes ala WCS.”

“This makes zero sense considering he is injured and apparently having surgery.”

“All of these guys declaring for the draft is so ridiculous that it has become comedic.”

“I can’t run but I can push and pull myself up and down the court like you wouldn’t believe. So do I get my million??”

And here is why that mindset is ridiculous.

For starters, Washington, Gabriel, and Vanderbilt are not alone as fringe guys to put their name in.

As of last night, there were 108 underclassmen who entered the draft without an agent. Today, Vanderbilt, Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Michigan’s Charles Matthews, South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, Syracuse’s Tyus Battle, and Kent State’s Jaylin Walker pushed that total to 114.

And that doesn’t include seniors and players that have already signed/plan to sign with an agent like Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Diallo. That total is reportedly over 175 players.

I’m no math major, but with only 60 total draft selections each year, there will be a whole lot of players that will have to put their professional dreams on hold and withdraw in the coming weeks. And I think a lot of them realize that going into it.

To start every year, John Calipari hosts a Pro Day for NBA scouts to come in and evaluate the talent on the Kentucky roster, and no one complains. It was a genius idea from the start, as scouts could see players before and after they played a full season of college basketball and the development they saw in that time. This is no more than an in-depth extension of that.

By putting their name in the draft without an agent, they are able to personally work out for teams, scrimmage with/against other top draft prospects, interview, pick NBA brains, etc.

For a guy like Jarred Vanderbilt, who is rumored (unconfirmed) to need surgery in the near future, it’s not just about going in and working out. If he can’t work out due to injury concerns, he can still talk with teams about the pros and cons of his game, evaluate film, and discuss what exactly he needs to work on to get to the next level. The average fan knows he’s limited offensively, but teams can give specific tips on how to take the next step up and prepare for next season in college basketball, and ultimately, the 2019 NBA Draft.

It’d be stupid not to take free advice from the guys that could be potentially writing his paychecks for the next several years in the NBA. Same goes for Washington and Gabriel, who both have several obvious kinks to work out in their respective games.

In fact, Quade Green and Nick Richards have yet to submit their names in the NBA Draft, and the deadline is Sunday night. We’ve heard transfer rumors with Green and there are reports Richards has already decided to return for his sophomore season, but I’d argue it’d be silly for them to not give it a go. Hell, Jemarl Baker, Brad Calipari, and Jonny David should give it a whirl. What does it matter? Again, it’s free advice from the professionals with no danger of losing college eligibility. That’s why the rule was put in place to begin with.

Only 60 players are invited to the NBA Combine each season, and that’s not even including a load of overseas players that are high on draft boards and don’t make their way over for the event. As Calipari said a few weeks ago, if you don’t get an invite, your chances of being drafted drop dramatically, and it’s likely neither Vanderbilt nor Gabriel receive an invite, with Washington being right on the fringe. I’d predict he is the lone Wildcat to earn a spot.

Could Washington, Vanderbilt, and/or Gabriel put on a show in front of scouts during workouts/interviews and work their way onto draft boards? It’s possible, but doubtful. Could a team make a draft guarantee throughout this process? I guess, but extremely unlikely. If any of the Wildcats to not sign with an agent go through the process and still feel the need to keep their name in the draft, it’s understandable if fans want to complain about their decisions then. But now, there is no reason to judge any player for giving it a go.

May 30 is the final day for players to withdraw from the draft, which is 40 days from now. The interview and workout process starts on Tuesday, so there will be a whole lot of time for the Wildcats to learn from the best in the business.

It’s inconvenient for fans to wait another six weeks, but it’s not about us. It’s their professional futures.

A reminder of important NBA Draft dates/deadlines

Take a deep breath. We still have a whole lot of time before we decide whether the sky is falling or not.


Diallo talks decision, fan support and how paperwork almost cost him the season

Hamidou Diallo is busy getting ready for the upcoming NBA draft but he isn’t too busy to take time out of his day to call in to Kentucky Sports Radio. Diallo made a special guest appearance on Friday’s show to tell the fans what went into the decision to leave after his only full season in Lexington and how much Big Blue Nations means to him.

“It was a well-thought decision,” Diallo explained of the move to leave. “I had to go back home to speak to my family, speak to my old high school coaches, and I just felt like this is what’s best for me and my family at this point. Last year I went through the process and I feel like I made a great decision when I decided to come back to Kentucky to get to play in front of the fans. I just felt like it was finally the time to go on and chase my dreams.”

Playing in front of the UK fans meant a lot to Diallo, more than many even realized. He acknowledged his season had its ups and downs, but the fans were always there for him through the good and the bad.

“I feel like the fans always had my back throughout the whole year, no matter what, no matter how I was playing,” he said. “I had some terrible games and I had some great games, but the fans were always there. They always supported me and never gave up on me. That’s why I feel like I have a special place for BBN in my heart and I feel like that will never go away, it will never be taken away from me.”

Diallo also told the previously untold story of how he almost didn’t get his paperwork turned in to the NBA in time to return to Kentucky last May. He admitted he submitted it two minutes too late at around 12:02 am the day of the deadline, but he was still allowed to remove his name from the draft and return to UK thanks to a little leniency and the fact he had already tweeted the news.

Hear it all in the full interview with Diallo below:


Jarred Vanderbilt declares for the NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

Jarred Vanderbilt declares for the NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

Jarred Vanderbilt just announced he will test the waters of the NBA Draft, meaning he is declaring without hiring an agent.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said in a statement from UK. “God works in mysterious ways and presented me with a number of challenges to overcome. I believe I became a better man and player because of them, but it’s also made me think about my future and what’s best for me. At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA. I knew Coach Cal and the staff would challenge me and prepare me to make that step better than anyone else.

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school. With that said, I’m entering my name in the 2018 NBA Draft and testing the waters. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I want to use this process to get an evaluation from the NBA and see where I’m at. I appreciate the support of the staff and the Big Blue Nation while I work through this.”

Due to injury, Vanderbilt played in only 14 games, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. He grabbed 10 or more rebounds in five of his last six games; in fact, he was Kentucky’s leading rebounder.

“Jarred is in a unique situation because of the time he missed on the court this season,” John Calipari said. “I truly believe we only saw a small part of Jarred’s game because he had to figure out how to play with us and we had to figure out how to play with him. What we did see was a player with an unbelievable motor who will grab every ball, get his teammates involved and fight like heck. We would certainly welcome Jarred back with open arms and I would love the opportunity to coach him for a full season, but I know he needs to go through this process and see where he’s at. He has the type of skills and talent that NBA teams love; now we have to figure out if now is the time or if he needs another season. Either way, Jarred’s best days are ahead of him and I can’t wait to see him back on the court.”

Vanderbilt is the sixth Kentucky player to declare for the draft, joining Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington, and Wenyen Gabriel. Like PJ and Wenyen, he will have until May 30, 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine, to decide whether or not to return to school.


Remaining player decisions a reckoning for Calipari’s system

It’s been nine years since John Calipari took the job at Kentucky, and for the first time, fans have a legitimate reason to question his system. Oddly enough, the concerns don’t center around one-and-dones, but rather the players who aren’t successful enough to get drafted after one year and feel the need to leave Lexington anyways. For a fanbase that bought in to Calipari’s methods even though it meant saying goodbye to its biggest and brightest stars so soon, having to watch guys leave that should stay is a very tough pill to swallow.

This reckoning lies in the balance of four players’ decisions: Quade Green, PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Let’s start with Quade, who is reportedly considering transferring after losing his starting spot to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this past season. Yesterday, Calipari met with Quade to encourage him to stay at Kentucky and assure him he’s not being pushed out, but you can see how Quade might think that. Not only did Quade get moved to the two guard midseason — not his natural spot — Calipari suddenly started going after a bunch of five-star guards who could reclassify to join an already guard-heavy roster this fall. It’s only natural that Quade would be concerned; in fact, a good segment of the fanbase has been blasting Cal for pushing him out. Fortunately, as Calipari told Quade yesterday, that doesn’t seem to be the case, but for a coach who is incredibly loyal to his players (remember how loyal he was to the Harrison Twins during the platoon year?), it required some damage control.

The decision that faces Quade is a big one: stay at Kentucky, fight for playing time, and likely end up playing the two guard if Ashton Haggans and/or Tyrese Maxey reclassifies, or transfer, sit out a year, and get a fresh start somewhere else. To a lesser extent, Sacha Killeya-Jones faced the same dilemma and decided to cut bait. Kentucky needs a veteran guard next year (we saw how much it hurt not to have one this year); Quade can fill that void, but could very well decide not to, making this a crucial crossroads for the program.

Similarly, there are rumblings that PJ Washington is leaning towards staying in the draft in lieu of a sophomore year, which would be a mistake. Right now, Washington is a second round pick — maybe first round with a monster performance at the combine — but with another year at Kentucky, he could be a first round pick, especially in what will be a weak draft. Washington and his family know that, but the dream of the NBA is hard to pass up, especially when three of your teammates are on their way. If PJ really is leaning towards staying in the draft, it only furthers my concerns that guys who don’t get drafted after one year feel like failures, which sometimes leads to poor decisions. If PJ comes back, he would be an integral piece to what could be a national championship contending roster. No one else brings to the table what he does in terms of bullying his way to the basket, and his competitive nature and toughness could be the backbone the team needs to make a run. Hopefully, Washington will take the advice he gets at the combine to heart. Knowing him and his family, I believe he will.

Wenyen Gabriel also declared for the draft, and the fact that he hasn’t signed with an agent yet was the best news we could get yesterday. Unlike PJ, Wenyen wouldn’t be drafted this year, but is prepared to explore a pro career in the G-League or overseas regardless. Like PJ, Kentucky would be much better if Wenyen was on the roster. Not only do you have a rare contributing junior, you have an experienced energy guy to come off the bench and pick up the freshmen when they inevitably revert. The question for Wenyen is, how much better could he get with one more year at Kentucky? Calipari obviously feels he can help Wenyen’s game more, but is it worth risking injury and being able to immediately help your family? Basically, can Calipari get Wenyen drafted if he stays one more year?

The mystery piece in all of this is Jarred Vanderbilt, who will likely have surgery for the foot/ankle issue that held him out at the end of the season. Because of that, Vanderbilt wouldn’t be able to participate in the combine, making his chances of getting drafted even slimmer. Because of that, he will likely be back, but we haven’t heard anything from Vanderbilt or Kentucky about it, not even whispers. Maybe he and his family don’t even feel the need to confirm he’s coming back, but given the unsettled landscape, it’s natural to worry.

In Jarred’s case, we’ll know by Sunday night, the deadline for players to declare for the draft. Assuming he doesn’t, PJ and Wenyen will have until May 30 to decide whether to stay in the draft or return to school, meaning we’ve got another month of speculating and worrying ahead. Quade’s decision could come much sooner, but if Ashton Hagans truly won’t know whether he can reclassify or not until July or August, we may not know until the Bahamas trip who will be on this team and who won’t.

John Calipari’s one-and-done system has produced some of the best basketball in Kentucky’s long and storied history; however, if the kids who should stay don’t, it shows its first signs of failure.


EJ Montgomery has signed with Kentucky

EJ Montgomery has signed with Kentucky

After committing to Kentucky ten days ago, five-star big man EJ Montgomery made it official today, signing his letter of intent at Wheeler High School in Georgia.

Montgomery shared a picture of the moment on his Instagram page:

???

A post shared by Ej Montgomery® (@_mont23) on

That Kentucky blue looks good on you, kid.

For more on Montgomery, check out Drew’s profile back when he committed on April 9:

EJ Montgomery: 10 Things To Know


Looking Ahead To UK’s Frontcourt In 2018-19

With Kevin Knox going to the NBA draft and two departures-by-transfer in Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard, Kentucky is guaranteed to be down at least three frontcourt players from a year ago. Throw in PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel, who are dipping their toes in the NBA waters, and UK could lose as many as five of its seven frontcourt players.

That leaves only two returners: Nick Richards, who started but played only 14 minutes per game; and Jarred Vanderbilt, who played in only 14 games all year and should have FRAGILE stamped across his forehead.

So how concerned should we be about frontcourt depth in 2018-19? Let’s talk about it.

If Washington and Gabriel return, depth will be more than fine. That would give John Calipari his leading rebounder in Washington and a third-year veteran in Gabriel to go alongside second-year Richards and second-year Vanderbilt. True freshman EJ Montgomery, an early-April addition from the 2018 class, would make a fifth player in the fold, assuming he will soon sign to officially join the club. Give John Calipari those five guys, and you have one of the better frontcourts in the country.

But we can’t get too excited about the best case scenario without fretting the worst. Say both Washington and Gabriel remain in the draft, that would leave only Richards, Vanderbilt and Montgomery. That’s not enough, especially if Richards doesn’t make a significant jump from his first year. There is also the concern with Vanderbilt’s durability given his injury-riddled past, and though Montgomery is highly-rated, we don’t know what he’ll be until we see him in action.

So what’s the backup plan?

Calipari definitely has one in mind and it includes Reid Travis, a former standout at Stanford. Travis has entered his name into the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, and should he return, he will seek a transfer to another school with immediate eligibility next fall. Early reports suggest Kentucky and Duke are the front-runners for his services if he does indeed return to college basketball, which, if true, means Calipari and Coach K will be battling for a player they both need.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

More on Travis: He’s a two-time All-Pac-12 player; he ranks seventh in Stanford history with 1,427 points and 10th in Stanford history with 758 rebounds; and he ranked third in the Pac-12 in both scoring (19.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg) last season. The No. 5 power forward out of the 2014 class, Travis spent four years at Stanford but was awarded an additional year of eligibility due to an injury early in his sophomore year.

As of now, Travis is not projected to get picked by any of the mock drafts, and is not ranked within the ESPN top 100 prospects. Barring a change in his stock, it seems likely he would come back for another year of college basketball and Kentucky will want him if Washington and Gabriel do not return.

For what it’s worth, my uneducated guess is I think UK will get one of the two back and still pursue Reid if he’s available.


Calipari told Quade Green he wants him back next season

Rumors are flying about a potential transfer for Quade Green, but his head coach wants him back at Kentucky for a sophomore season.

A source close to the truth told KSR that John Calipari met with Green to encourage him to stick around for a second year.

To fans on the outside looking in, it has seemed like Calipari is pushing Green away by recruiting more and more guards to join the backcourt, but that assumption is far from the case. Coach Cal wants Green to return to be the leader of the Wildcats in 2018-19, and that’s exactly what he pitched to him during their offseason meeting.

This news is much better than that silly report that was passed around yesterday.


Tracking Calipari: Cal’s schedule during April recruiting period

Tracking Calipari: Cal’s schedule during April recruiting period

Today marks the end of college basketball’s early recruiting period. Sad, I know.

But no one is more sad than John Calipari, who will now have to find new things to do to occupy his time, because the rules restrict him from visiting high school prospects for a while. (Although he’ll soon be traveling to watch them play AAU ball throughout the summer.)

It was a busy April for Calipari, though; maybe his most grueling to date. You see, since losing Zion Williamson to Duke and falling behind Coach K in recruiting in the eyes of the college basketball public, Coach Cal has been on a mission to reclaim his throne as the best in the business. He was very active over the 10-day recruiting period — which began at noon on April 5, had a short intermission of dead time April 9-12, and ends today — and it didn’t take long at all for him to produce results. He landed two commitments only days into the session, and put Kentucky in great position to land several others, at least one of whom could decide soon.

Calipari checked in with several of the top-rated players in the Class of 2019, and though there is still a lot of work to be done, it seems to have been a successful April. Lord knows how much jet fuel he burned in the process, too.

Here’s what we do know about his travels:

 

Thursday, April 5

The first day of the live recruiting period saw a double-header of visits for Calipari. One of those visits was to Covington, Ga., to see Ashton Hagans, a five-star guard in the 2019 class. You should know Hagans’ name and story by now because he committed to Calipari on the spot, and then announced his commitment publicly the following Tuesday.

Ashton Hagans
Point Guard| 6-4 | 185 lbs.
Covington, GA | Newton
AAU: Georgia Stars
ESPN No. 18 | 3 PG Top247 No. 6 | 1 PG
Rivals No. 6 | 2 PG 247 Comp.  No. 8 | 1 PG

Calipari also saw another five-star point guard on opening day when he traveled to Garland, Tx., to see Tyrese Maxey.

Tyrese Maxey
Guard | 6-3 | 185 lbs.
Garland, Tx. | South Garland
AAU: RM5 Elite
ESPN No. 14 | 3 SG Top247 No. 17 | 2 PG
Rivals No. 11 | 3 SG 247 Comp. No. 13 | 2 PG

His pitch to both prospects was the same: commit to Kentucky, reclassify to play college basketball next fall, and be a part of something special in Lexington.

Hagans did the first part, and is expected to eventually do the other two. Maxey may also join him.

Friday, April 6

Day 2 of the recruiting period sent Calipari to Rochester, Mn., where he visited Matthew Hurt, and to Fort Wayne, Ind., where he met with Keion Brooks.

Matthew Hurt
Power Forward | 6-9 | 200 lbs.
Rochester, MN | John Marshall
AAU: D1 Minnesota
ESPN No. 5 | 2 PF Top247 No. 4 | 2 PF
Rivals No. 5 | 3 PF 247 Comp. No. 4 | 2 PF

He told Hurt he will only recruit shooters in the future, which is a change in strategy from his emphasis on athletes who can drive but may not be great shooters. Hurt fits the mold.

Keion Brooks
Forward | 6-8 | 185 lbs.
Fort Wayne, IN | North Side
AAU: Spiece Indy Heat
ESPN No. 30 | 9 PF Top247 No. 16 | 5 SF
Rivals No. 36 | 13 PF 247 Comp. No. 22 | 6 SF

Brooks, though not ranked as high as many of the other prospects on UK’s board, has been a target for a long time and Cal’s trip to see him early in the spring is a sign that he is still a priority.

Saturday, April 7

While many of you were enjoying the Blue Grass Stakes Race during the first weekend of Keeneland, as was I, Calipari was pulling his third straight two-a-day on the recruiting trail.

He traveled to just outside of Memphis, Tn., to visit his first commitment in the 2019 class, DJ Jeffries, to check in on things since the hiring of Penny Hardaway.

DJ Jeffries
Forward| 6-7 | 185 lbs.
Olive Branch, MS | Olive Branch
AAU: Team Penny
ESPN No. 17 | 4 SF Top247 No. 27 | 8 SF
Rivals No. 47 | 16 PF 247 Comp.  No. 26 | 8 SF

He also paid a visit to the No. 2 player in the class, Vernon Carey, despite heavy speculation Carey prefers Duke.

Vernon Carey
Power Forward/Center | 6-10 | 245 lbs.
Fort Lauderdale, FL | University School
AAU: Nike Team Florida
ESPN No. 2 | 1 C Top247 No. 2 | 1 PF
Rivals No. 1 | 1 PF 247 Comp. No. 2 | 1 PF

Carey lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., and is the son of the former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman of the same name. He’s considered to be just as good as James Wiseman; Rivals.com even has him ranked ahead of Wiseman.

Sunday, April 8

Sunday was a big day for Calipari because it earned him a commitment for the current class. He stopped by Marietta, Ga., to see EJ Montgomery, who announced his commitment to Big Blue Nation the very next morning.

EJ Montgomery
Power Forward | 6-10 | 215 lbs.
Marietta, Ga. | Wheeler HS
AAU: Atlanta Celtics
ESPN No. 16 | 5 PF Top247 No. 6 | 2 PF
Rivals No. 11 | 2 PF 247 Comp. No. 12 | 3 PF

EJ Montgomery was also considering Duke.

It was Calipari’s last stop of the weekend before an intermission in the visits.

Monday, April 9

DEAD PERIOD

Tuesday, April 10

DEAD PERIOD

Wednesday, April 11

DEAD PERIOD

Thursday, April 12

DEAD PERIOD

Friday, April 13

When the action picked back up for a second weekend, Calipari was spotted drinking coffee and making phone calls in New York City.

If there were ever a person to actually Run On Dunkin’, it’s Cal. He loves that stuff.

I have no idea what he did with the rest of his time in the Big Apple.

Saturday, April 14

He visited a pair of New Jersey teammates, Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine, on Saturday. Unrelated: I think it’s unfair two top-10 players are on the same high school team.

Scottie Lewis
Small Forward | 6-5 | 177 lbs.
Eatontown, NJ | Ranney School
AAU: Team Rio
ESPN No. 8 | 1 SF Top247 No. 9 | 2 SF
Rivals No. 9 | 2 SG  247 Comp. No. 6 | 1 SF
Bryan Antoine
Shooting Guard | 6-5 | 175 lbs.
Eatontown, NJ | Ranney School
AAU: Team Rio
ESPN No. 7 | 1 SG Top247 No. 8 | 1 SG
Rivals No. 7 | 1 SG 247 Comp. No. 7 | 1 SG

He also met with Jalen Lecque, a New York product who is playing his high school ball in North Carolina.

Jalen Lecque
Guard | 6-4 | 175 lbs.
Bronx, NY | Christ School (NC)
AAU: Southern Stampede
ESPN No. 10 | 2 PG Top247 No. 10 | 2 CG
Rivals No. 13 | 2 PG 247 Comp. No. 12 | 2 CG

Lecque is a five-star point guard in the class and he too is hearing the same reclassify pitch as Hagans and Maxey.

Sunday, April 15

Maxey received another visit, his second in April, when Calipari returned to Texas for more.

Tyrese Maxey
Guard | 6-3 | 185 lbs.
Garland, Tx. | South Garland
AAU: RM5 Elite
ESPN No. 14 | 3 SG Top247 No. 17 | 2 PG
Rivals No. 11 | 3 SG 247 Comp. No. 13 | 2 PG

It’s clear Calipari really wants him.

Monday, April 16

Cal finally made it to Memphis to see his top target of them all, James Wiseman, on Monday. Wiseman is the No. 1 overall prospect in the class and, until the hiring of Penny Hardaway at Memphis, was heavily favoring Kentucky.

James Wiseman
Power Forward/Center | 6-11 | 210 lbs.
Memphis, TN | Memphis East
AAU: Team Penny
ESPN No. 1 | 1 PF Top247 No. 1 | 1 C
Rivals No. 2 | 2 PF 247 Comp.  No. 1 | 1 C

Wiseman is still favoring Kentucky, but it will be a fight now that his AAU coach is the head coach of the Tigers, and he is staying put in the Class of 2019.

Wiseman shared this photo from the visit:

First In-Home Visit was a Success. #BBN???

A post shared by James Wiseman (@bigticket_j13) on

Tuesday, April 17

Calipari visited a 2020 prospect on Tuesday when he saw Ethan Morton, the No. 59 overall high school sophomore, just outside of Pittsburgh. It’s likely the case that Calipari was in the area for other reasons and took a moment to check in on Morton, although his interest in the 6-4 shooting guard is legitimate.

Wednesday, April 18

Relaxing somewhere secret.


James Wiseman’s mom talks Kentucky, Penny Hardaway

This morning, James Wiseman’s mother Donzaleigh Artis did an interview with 92.9 FM in Memphis to discuss her son’s recruitment, including his in-home visit with John Calipari and Joel Justus, and his relationship with Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, whom she said the family will host tonight.

With the early recruiting period ending tonight, it only makes sense that Penny, Wiseman’s former high school and summer league coach, will drop by to make his pitch. Artis said that although Penny is “family,” that doesn’t necessarily mean James will follow him to Memphis.

“He’s family to us. That doesn’t make my decision as to where James goes to college. Penny has to do what he has to do to get James. Even though I love Penny, I don’t play basketball.”

Interestingly, Artis insisted that her family moved from Nashville to Memphis not so James could play for Hardaway at Memphis East, but instead to support her daughter, who will be a senior at the University of Memphis this fall.

“We didn’t come here for Penny. I have a daughter that goes to University of Memphis. We came here to support her because James can go play basketball anywhere. We didn’t want — it just so happened to be the situation. We lived with the situation. We enjoyed the situation.”

Memphis fans had some fun with the picture Wiseman posted of his visit with Cal and Justus, photoshopping a framed picture of Penny on the table, which Artis laughed about but confirmed was fake.

“Yeah, I saw it,” Artis said through laughter. “I can confirm that is not Penny in the picture. I have a picture of my mother on the table. That was pretty neat. I was like, ‘Wow, okay. Somebody’s got a pretty vivid imagination.'”

@Tigerblueblood

How was that visit with Kentucky?

“The in-home visit was really good,” Artis said. “We had fun with Cal and Joel [Justus] coming in to visit. It was really nice.”

Artis said Kentucky’s been interested in her son since the ninth grade, but now that he’s almost a senior, the visits are much more intense.

“They can show him those numbers now on what they can do or how they can bring him up for visits, what he needs to get to move forward.”

Other fun tidbits: Wiseman’s favorite food is chicken and that’s about it. Maybe french fries.

“James is nothing but chicken and water. He loves him some chicken and water.”

We knew this already, but he studied Mandarin at Ensworth in Nashville before transferring to Memphis East and “is a scholar first.”

“He really likes school,” Artis said.

Artis reiterated that she wants her son to stay in the 2019 class so he can enjoy being a kid, a sentiment that is especially poignant when you learn he had an older brother who drowned when he was only five years old.

“The one thing I’ve learned about life is life’s not promised,” Artis said. “I want James to be able to say, one thing I was able to do in life was be a kid. I got to laugh. I got to be silly, jump around, play. I want him to experience that because once he decides to go to college and the NBA, no more playing. We’re in a grown man’s world now. I want him to enjoy life.”

Can’t argue with that.

[92.9 FM ESPN Radio]


Wenyen Gabriel to test waters of NBA Draft

Wenyen Gabriel to test waters of NBA Draft

Wenyen Gabriel is declaring for the NBA Draft, but will not sign with an agent at this time, leaving the door open to return to Kentucky for his junior season.

“My dream has always been to play professionally,” Gabriel said. “After talking with Coach Cal and the staff, they believe it’s in my best interest to see where I stand in the eyes of the NBA. I’m confident I can play at the next level, but I want to be absolutely certain that this is the right decision for me at this time. I know that I have the opportunity to return to school and that I will have the full support of the coaching staff and the Big Blue Nation. No matter what happens, I love this university and all the opportunities it’s been able to provide me.”

“Wenyen knows how much I would like to coach him another year, but I also understand the situation he’s in and his desire to pursue his dreams,” John Calipari said. “The great part about this process is Wenyen will know firsthand where he stands with the NBA. If it’s his time and he can continue on the path that he went on this year, he becomes a valuable asset for a team because of his energy, his willingness to do anything to win and his ability to stretch the floor. If he needs to return to school, we will continue to push him to be the best version of himself as we try to chase a championship next season. It’s a win-win for him, and he has my full support.”

Last season, Wenyen averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds but came on strong in the final stretch. Over the last nine games of the season, he averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-point field goals per game, becoming UK’s go-to perimeter shooter. He set a UK and SEC Tournament record in the semifinals by going a perfect 7-7 from the outside en route to 23 points.

Wenyen is the fifth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the draft, joining Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PJ Washington, and Hamidou Diallo. Knox, Alexander, and Diallo all plan to sign with agents, while Wenyen and PJ will not, for now. Both have until May 30 to decide whether or not they will return to Kentucky.

Smart move.


Making The Case For Wenyen Gabriel To Stay Or Go

Of the NBA decisions remaining, the one I’m probably dreading the most is Wenyen Gabriel’s. On today’s show, Matt Jones said he’s hearing that, in the very near future, Wenyen will announce that he is going to the draft and signing with an agent, ending his two-year career as a Kentucky Wildcat. After getting to know Wenyen, I wouldn’t judge him for that one bit, but it would really suck to lose a valuable veteran, a rarity on the roster these days.

While we wait to hear the verdict, here’s the case for Wenyen to stay, and the case for Wenyen to go.

Stay

• Get your degree

Wenyen is apparently on track to graduate after his junior year, meaning if he stays, he can leave Kentucky with a degree in hand next summer. Yes, he can always come back and finish that degree later on, but with a career playing overseas or in the G-League likely ahead of him, wouldn’t it be nice to get that finished up now?

• Win a national championship

Who knows whether or not that will happen next year, but I like Kentucky’s chances more if they’ve got a contributing junior on the roster. With Wenyen back, Kentucky will have another piece to the national championship contender recipe: a real veteran presence. Wenyen found his way as a role player and leader this season; another group of young players would only be better with him by their side.

• Prove there’s a place for juniors in Calipari’s system

I’m not going to put this on Wenyen, but if he leaves, it only furthers the narrative that elite recruits who don’t end up as one-and-dones or two-and-throughs don’t feel as though they have a place in Calipari’s system anymore. Given the departures of Kyle Wiltjer, Charles Matthews, Marcus Lee, Isaiah Briscoe, and now Sacha Killeya-Jones, that narrative is feeling closer and closer to the truth and I don’t like it.


Go

• Capitalize on SEC Tournament performance

Wenyen’s perfect 7-7 three-point performance in the SEC Tournament semifinals is far and away the highlight of his career and, from an individual standpoint, probably won’t be topped. While his numbers dipped in the NCAA Tournament, no one will ever question whether or not Wenyen can shoot again. With that highlight reel in his pocket, now could be a great time to market himself.

• Provide for your family

This is the most obvious and understandable reason for anyone to do anything in life. Now 21, Wenyen will be one of the oldest players in his class, and with a stable of young bucks coming in — many of them shooters — he may have accepted that the minutes aren’t there and, drafted or not, it’s time for him to go make some money for his family.

If you need a reminder of Wenyen’s story, I encourage you to read my story on him from December 2016, as well as watch the segment SEC Network did on his relationship with his childhood friend Bol, which is clearly on his mind since he shared it again on Instagram this afternoon: