On a capriciously action-packed Wednesday afternoon in May, both Kentucky sophomore-to-be Isaiah Briscoe and rising senior Marcus Lee announced their decisions to withdraw from the NBA Draft– only for Lee to follow his statement with plans of transferring from the University of Kentucky. While fans rejoiced in Briscoe’s choice to return to Lexington, they were left to simultaneously ponder the strange fate of head coach John Calipari’s last remaining five-star recruit from the monstrous recruiting class of 2013.
When 247Sports Composite five-star recruits Julius Randle (No. 2 overall) and Dakari Johnson (No. 8) joined Andrew Harrison (No. 3), Aaron Harrison (No. 5), James Young (No. 10), and Lee (No. 14)– as well as in-state recruits Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins– in Kentucky’s top-ranked 2013 class of incoming freshmen, both Calipari and national media dubbed the collection the most coveted recruiting class of all-time. From a pure rankings standpoint, six of the nation’s best 14 players had never joined forces at one school in the history of the sport.
In a fan base that doesn’t need coaxing to generate rabid, unparalleled support each and every season, rumblings of college basketball’s first 40-0 campaign surfaced before the season’s opening tip-off. Though the Wildcats would go on to drop 11 games over the course of 2013-14, the faction of fabulous freshmen would ultimately live up to the astronomical preseason expectations with an NCAA Tournament run for the ages, resulting in Kentucky’s 12th national title game appearance and fourth national runner-up banner.
However, when Randle and Young– the Cats’ two leading scorers on the season– were the only underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft, Calipari seized an opportunity he surely did not expect to have a year prior. The remaining six sophomores, as well as juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, combined with another stellar freshman class to boast a 2014-15 roster composed of 12 legitimate high-level players. Kentucky would ultimately rattle off 38 straight victories before falling in a second consecutive Final Four at the hands of Wisconsin.
After the season’s final buzzer, max exodus ensued. Seven players declared for early entry into the NBA Draft, including three from the recruiting class of 2013. As the only former McDonald’s All-American from the class still in uniform, Lee remained with Willis and Hawkins for a third year in Lexington. The Wildcats shared a claim of the 2015-16 Southeastern Conference regular season title, as well as the SEC Tournament crown, but were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in just the second round.
Now, three years from the first time they stepped on campus as student-athletes, the paths of the freshman class of 2013 have twisted and turned in various directions. As many had predicted, only Commonwealth natives Willis and Hawkins stuck around for a senior season. Both have had substantial impacts on the program thus far, with Willis even earning a starting role partway through his junior campaign. Hawkins, who started in nine career games all as a sophomore, has contributed throughout each of his first three seasons.
Randle and Young, who were the only players to turn pro after just one season, were both selected in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. Randle was chosen No. 7 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, while Young went to the Boston Celtics at No. 17.
A second year in school for Andrew Harrison and Johnson paved the way for second round selections in the 2015 NBA Draft. Despite leading a star-studded team in scoring as a sophomore and hitting three of the most memorable perimeter shots in UK history as a freshman, Aaron Harrison went undrafted. Nevertheless, he would earn a full roster spot with the Charlotte Hornets prior to the start of the season.
With various outlets reporting Lee’s commitment to the California Golden Bears yesterday, none of the high school All-Americans who headlined the 2013 class remain in Lexington. Kentucky’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage became just the sixth player to transfer from the team under Calipari. The unique finale to Lee’s career highlighted a class of unexpected endings. In the record books, as well as the memories of the fans who watched them play, however, each player is sure to have left a personal impression that will far outlast the time they spent in uniform and leave many more answers than questions.