Finishing with a 9-16 record and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, the Kentucky basketball coaching staff will now transition to the offseason, arguably the most important of John Calipari’s time in Lexington. Coming off a historically bad season, UK now has to build next year’s roster through the high school ranks, the transfer portal and returning players, and they can’t miss.
Adding players is one thing, but after returning just one piece from the 2019-20 roster in Keion Brooks Jr. last season, it’s clear the program can’t afford another mass exodus. Instead, Calipari and the UK coaching staff must return and develop several key pieces from the 2020-21 roster.
But who might those players be? Who’s staying and who’s going?
KSR has compiled a list of the latest updates regarding draft and transfer decisions, which will be updated as more news breaks in the coming days and weeks.
Testing the waters
— Jackson officially declared for the NBA Draft on March 17, but did so without hiring an agent, leaving the door open for a potential return to Kentucky.
“Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine growing up,” Jackson said. “It has always been something that, with the right opportunity, I would pursue. I would like to thank God for giving me the strength and ability to play the game I truly love. I want to thank my family and my friends for being there for me through thick and thin. And I would also like to thank Coach Cal, the staff, and the Big Blue Nation for the privilege to play at Kentucky and for the opportunity to pursue this dream. No matter what I ultimately decide, this place will always hold a special place in my heart.
“With that being said, I will be entering the 2021 NBA Draft without an agent and testing the waters. I am looking forward to the process and seeing what my future holds. I appreciate all the support in making this decision and I want to thank everybody who has been with me since day one.”
— Kyle Tucker of The Athletic spoke with Jackson’s father, Wesley, who says his son is looking for a lottery guarantee during the draft process. If that guarantee doesn’t come, there’s a solid chance the standout freshman returns to Kentucky.
“It’s not about income,” Wesley Jackson told The Athletic. “Me and his mom have been working for years, and if I have to work another year or two, it’s no skin off my bones. And we had to let him know that, to take the pressure off him. I can wait.”
“… Cal told him, ‘If you come back, do it with a purpose. Do it because you’re committed to getting better and you want to fight your butt off, win us a bunch of games and leave no doubt that you’re a top-five guy.’ When you hear that, you have to consider it.”
— Jackson remains in Lexington, playing pick-up basketball with the likes of Lance Ware, Jacob Toppin and Dontaie Allen.
Spotted on a Lexington playground today: Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen and Zan Payne hooping with a bunch of random dudes. pic.twitter.com/of2yDs4sYi
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) March 30, 2021
— Oscar Tshiebwe also posted a few images on his Instagram page of Jackson hanging out with both him and Jacob Toppin on April 5.
— Jackson finished the year averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
Expected to test the waters
— After putting his name in the transfer portal last spring, Sarr originally said he would explore his professional options if the NCAA did not declare him eligible for the 2020-21 season.
“I don’t know (what I’ll do if I’m not declared eligible),” Sarr told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello last May. “I could go pro, play one year in the EuroLeague, somewhere to get ready for the NBA. There’s no way I sit out.”
— John Calipari said on his call-in radio show back on March 15 that Sarr came in with a one-year plan, and the expectation is that he follows through on that, likely going overseas to begin his professional basketball career.
“I would say Olivier, who had a plan even before he started playing, “Here’s what I want to do,” he will probably go that route,” said Calipari.
— Sarr averaged 10.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per contest in 2020-21.
— KSR first reported the possibility of Mintz returning for a second season at Kentucky back on Feb. 3, noting there’s a “really good chance” the school brings back the graduate transfer guard in 2021-22.
— Kyle Tucker of The Athletic also added that there is a “real possibility” Mintz returns.
— Larry Vaught of Vaught’s Views spoke to an overseas source who believes Mintz will ultimately decide to return to Kentucky.
“One person with numerous professional ties says he believes Mintz will return rather than try his luck with the NBA and probably be a G-League player,” Vaught wrote.
— When asked about the possibility of returning to Kentucky following the team’s season-ending loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, Mintz said he had “no idea” when he would make a final decision.
“No idea. We just lost. I’m just processing that now. Make sure my body is healthy, decide whenever that time comes,” Mintz said at the time. “… Whether it’s my last college game or not, you just don’t want to go out like that. I know a lot of guys are feeling terrible. I mean, even if that’s the next level or not, you know how it feels to lose like this.”
— During his call-in radio show back on March 15, Calipari said Mintz would likely explore his professional options before making a final decision.
“Davion – who just came on at the end – if he has an opportunity to be drafted, I’m all for it. I will help and do whatever I can, put their name in, see where they’re projected, see if they can some workouts with teams, don’t have an agent, and then we’re here for you. If you want to do this, we’re here. If you’re ready to chase it, we’re here to help you do that.”
— Mintz’s father, Sean, told The Athletic on April 1 that the graduate transfer’s family is “selfishly hoping (Mintz) comes back” to Kentucky next season.
“Me and the family here, we’re selfishly hoping he comes back, because we had a heck of a time there,” Sean Mintz said. “… This thing is a journey and these guys play to one day earn a living at it, and we don’t want to keep him from that, but we want him to go at the right time.”
— Mintz ended his 2020-21 campaign averaging 11.5 points per game on 39.7% from the field and 37.8% from three to go with 3.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 steals per contest.
Keion Brooks Jr.
— After rumors of a potential transfer for Brooks began circulating immediately after the season, Kyle Tucker of The Athletic spoke with the sophomore forward’s father, who called the news “BS” and “fake news.”
There's already some chatter out there about Keion Brooks exploring a transfer. Here's what his dad just texted me:
"That's BS and whomever putting it out needs to name the source. Fake news. [face palm emoji]."
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) March 11, 2021
— In a follow-up interview with Tucker on April 1, Brooks Sr. said his son will put his name in the draft without an agent, but will leave the door open for a return to Kentucky (and only Kentucky).
He’s going to put his name in the draft, see what that does and then go from there,” Keion Brooks Sr. told The Athletic. “(If he returns to college) it wouldn’t be nowhere else but Kentucky, unless he throws me a curveball.”
— Brooks averaged 10.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game last season.
Planning to return
— Coming in planning to redshirt in 2020-21 to develop his body and his game before returning to game action next season, the NCAA’s immediate transfer rule allowed Kentucky the opportunity to explore immediate eligibility for Toppin.
— Seen as a long-term project piece when he signed with the program, the expectation from the start was for Toppin to stick around as a multi-year player.
— Toppin confirmed on his Instagram page back on March 28 that he will be returning to Kentucky next season.
— Toppin averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per contest in his first year in Lexington.
— After speaking with Allen’s mother, April Allen-Thomas, The Falmouth Outlook reported on March 15 that the redshirt freshman will return to Kentucky next season.
“He is definitely returning!” Allen-Thomas, told Sam McClanahan of the Falmouth Outlook. “His plan is to come home and work harder than ever before and return to UK for his sophomore season, and I fully support his decision.”
— Allen averaged 5.4 points per contest on 40% shooting from three in 2020-21.
— The freshman forward told Jacob Polacheck of ZagsBlog.com on March 16 that a transfer is not on the table this offseason, paving way for a return to Kentucky in 2021-22.
— Jacob Polacheck (@JacobPolacheck) March 16, 2021
— Ware ultimately confirmed his return to Kentucky on March 19, posting on his Instagram story that he will be “coming back next year.”
— Ware averaged 2.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest as a freshman.
— Signing with the Kentucky basketball program in January and arriving on campus for practice in February, the expectation all along has been that Tshiebwe will turn down the possibility of entering the draft this offseason and take the floor as a Wildcat this fall.
— In an interview with BBN Tonight on April 6, Tshiebwe explained how excited he is to play at Kentucky next season:
Everyone in Kentucky imagines playing their first game inside Rupp Arena… Only some of us actually get to do it!
Here's how Oscar Tshiebwe pictures the moment ??
— BBN Tonight (@BBNTonight) April 7, 2021
— Tshiebwe was averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season before entering the transfer portal.
— As a freshman, Tshiebwe led the Mountaineers in scoring (11.2 points per game), rebounding (9.3 boards per game) and blocks (1.0) in 23.3 minutes per game en route to All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors.
— Coming in as a potential top-five draft selection, Boston has seen his draft stock take a significant hit, with both ESPN and The Athletic listing the former five-star prospect as a projected second-round pick in their latest mock drafts. The Athletic lists Boston as the No. 32 overall draft prospect, while ESPN has the 6-foot-7 guard listed at No. 34 overall.
— Calipari referenced a two-year plan with Boston to close out the regular season, comparing the highly-touted freshman’s situation to that of Immanuel Quickley and PJ Washington.
“This stuff has been hard for him. And it’s also eye-opening to know as an individual player, man, physically, this is — I’m not where I need to be physically and so, we’ve had other guys,” Calipari said. “It’s like Immanuel Quickley. Immanuel Quickley walked in my office and said, ‘Coach I know you said this would be hard.’ This is after his freshman year. ‘This is way harder than I thought and I didn’t have a good year. But I’m coming back and you watch. No one will outwork me.’ Those are the guys that should come back. That mentality. PJ Washington. That mentality. I’m not coming back to do showtime. I’m not coming back to say, ‘Hey, this is my team.’ I am coming back because I’m going to get better and I can accept that I didn’t play the way I needed to play.”
— Despite the optimism on Calipari’s end, Boston ultimately declared for the draft and signed with an agent on March 20, officially ending his time at Kentucky.
“It was an honor for me to play for the Big Blue Nation this season and to suit up for one of the best coaches in the country,” Boston said. “I want to thank Coach Cal, the staff, and my teammates for pushing me day in and day out to be the best player I could be. I’m proud of the progress I made on the court and off it this season. I’m disappointed in the results because we really wanted to win for the best fans in the country.
“I want to thank my family, friends and my brothers for life for always supporting me. That support, along with my experience at Kentucky, has given me the confidence to take this next step. Being a professional basketball player has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I’m excited for this opportunity and I know that I will have the foundation to handle anything that comes my way because of my time as a Wildcat. With that being said, I will be declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft.”
— Boston finished the year averaging 11.5 points on 35.5% shooting and 30% from three to go with 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest.
— Like Boston, Clarke’s draft stock has also taken a steep hit, falling to the second round in The Athletic’s latest update (No. 36 overall) and even the undrafted range in ESPN’s update (No. 69 overall) after coming in as a projected lottery pick.
— Despite the fall, Clarke has been expected to enter the NBA Draft as a one-and-done from the minute he arrived on campus, and the freshman guard confirmed those expectations when he officially entered the draft with an agent on March 20, ending his time at UK.
“As an adolescent, having the privilege to put on the Kentucky uniform and play in front of the BBN was always a lifelong goal of mine,” Clarke said. “Although it was hindered due to things out of my own control, the experience is something I will keep with me forever. I have grown a lot with this experience and I will never take it for granted. After discussing it with my family, I have decided to renounce my eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft. I had high expectations coming into this season and, of course, didn’t expect to be injured, which I understand is part of the game. Thank you to Coach Cal, the coaching staff and my teammates! BBN, I hope to make you all proud as a I pursue my dreams.”
— Clarke averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest in eight total games.
— Seeing the floor in just eight games as a freshman, Fletcher officially entered the transfer portal just two days after the team’s season-ending loss in the SEC Tournament, an expected move.
“Although this season did not go the way any of us wanted to, being a part of the Kentucky men’s basketball program has been a great experience,” Fletcher said. “I would like to thank all of my coaches and teammates and especially the Big Blue Nation for making my time here so special. I grew so much this season, not only on the court but as a man and I’ll be forever thankful for this opportunity. However, with careful thought and consideration, my family and I have decided it is in my best interest to explore other options and enter my name into the transfer portal.”
— The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds per contest as a freshman at Kentucky.
— Fletcher has heard from the likes of Missouri, Florida State, USC, UCLA, Washington, St. Mary’s, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Georgetown, Memphis, Tennessee, LSU, TCU, Loyola-Chicago, Saint Louis and Cincinnati since entering the portal, according to Jake Weingarten of Stockrisers.com. Weingarten also reported that Florida State is seen as a strong contender to land the former Wildcat.
Florida State is heavily involved with Kentucky transfer Cam’Ron Fletcher, a source told @Stockrisers. They join a very long list of programs that inquired in him when his name entered. The Seminoles are really high on the former Top-50 recruit.
— Jake (@jakeweingarten) April 7, 2021
— The freshman guard’s father, Brian Askew, told KSR immediately after the season his son was “locked in for next season” at Kentucky.
“Yes sir, (Devin) is locked in for next season,” Askew, told KSR. “… Dev is doing well. Sucks they lost but can’t dwell on it too long. Have to get back to work and get ready for next year.”
— Despite originally planning to return in 2021-22, Askew later announced on April 5 that he will instead put his name in the transfer portal and leave the program after just one season at UK.
“I am thankful for the opportunity I had to play basketball at the University of Kentucky,” Askew said. “I am also thankful for the coaching staff as they provided an experience that contributed to my development in this game I love. My teammates will be my friends forever and I appreciate how they pushed me day in and day out to get better.
“With that being said, it will be part of my growth in this game to explore a new opportunity and enter the transfer portal.”
“This is the part of the business I hate,” John Calipari said. “I wish I could coach every kid for four years, but I have to respect Devin’s decision and I do. I will always be here to help him. My hope – and I told him this – is that he takes the fight he learned here with him wherever he goes. He was a great teammate and improved in so many ways as the season wore on. I will be rooting for Devin as he takes this next step.”
— As a freshman, Askew finished the season averaging 6.5 points on 34.5% shooting, 27.8% from three and 80.6% from the line to go with 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 steals in 29.0 minutes per game.