Three down, five more to go.
On Tuesday morning, Kentucky saw forward PJ Washington (rightfully) declare for the NBA Draft with an agent, while point guard Ashton Hagans announced this afternoon he would be returning to school for a sophomore season.
And then on Wednesday morning, forward Keldon Johnson followed it up with a decision of his own, announcing that he would be putting his name in the NBA Draft. The freshman forward did, however, leave the door open for a potential return to Kentucky after going through the draft process.
In this week’s edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes, we will dive into Washington, Hagans, and Johnson’s announcements, along with the remaining Kentucky players left to make a decision. After that, we’ll take a quick look at the few remaining recruits and reclassification candidates and how they fit into the equation.
NBA Draft decisions
After receiving mixed reviews during the early NBA Draft evaluations last year, Washington returned to school for one more season. There, his goal was to prove that he can shoot consistently from three, improve on his offensive skills in the low post, and cut fat/add muscle, among other minor tweaks.
On Tuesday morning, Washington made it official by declaring for the NBA Draft with an agent, ending his two-year career at Kentucky as a consensus All-American and first round draft lock. Everything he hoped for in a sophomore campaign, he achieved, and he’s going to be a whole lot richer as a result.
The news nor the timing was a shock to anyone, as the players went home last week to talk things over with their families and followed it up with in-person meetings with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
As Paul Washington Sr. revealed on the Leach Report this morning, he has been talking to the parents of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson about their respective NBA decisions and giving them advice about going through the draft process. While it may seem mostly insignificant from the outside, I take this as a positive for those who want either Herro or Johnson to even have a chance at returning for a sophomore season. Washington proved returning to school can be the best decision for your professional future and improve your stock immensely, and as we already saw with Hagans, hearing the reality of the situation from someone who already went through the process can’t hurt.
While Hagans was quick to make his decision to return to school, I was told that his eagerness to come back for another year was absolutely not what it is now at times throughout the season. When he went through that stretch of dominant play in late December and early January, he genuinely felt that he was finally finding his stride and would end up being a one and done before the year concluded.
While I can’t confirm them, there are rumors that Hagans was dealing with a lingering injury to end the season that slowed him down just a bit, which could explain some of the defensive struggles and lateral quickness (or lack thereof) issues. Nonetheless, there was an obvious drop-off in production, and his draft stock dropped significantly as a result.
During this process (as revealed by Kyle Tucker on The Athletic) Calipari flat-out told him that it would be in his best interest to return to school for another season, and Hagans went through with that decision with complete confidence.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) April 9, 2019
While it would have been beneficial to test the waters, Hagans knows exactly what he needs to work on before making the jump to the NBA. When he plays like he did to end non-conference play and begin SEC play as a gifted playmaking threat on offense and a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end, he’s a first round lock with a chance to slide in at the end of the lottery. When he plays like he did to end the season as an inconsistent turnover machine, he’s a fringe second round draft prospect.
According to one source, Calipari’s conversation with Hagans was similar to his talk with Washington last year around this time. If he returns to school and plays up to his potential, he can be one of the most dominant players in the SEC and improve his stock immensely. Washington came back as an inconsistent player and turned into an SEC Player of the Year candidate. The staff believes Hagans can become that type of player next season.
Last week in the Insider Notes, I told you guys that Keldon Johnson would be putting his name in the NBA Draft, but would let the process play out completely and leave the door open for a return to school. Today, that exact scenario played out.
While it’s widely expected that the 6-foot-6 forward will eventually keep his name in the draft, he did say something pretty significant in his press release that fans should be aware of.
“My hope is to be a lottery pick,” he said. “If I am, I plan on pursuing my dreams and staying in the draft.”
USA Today has Johnson going No. 15 overall, while Bleacher Report has him coming off the board at No. 17. Sports Illustrated also has Johnson going No. 18 overall, while Tankathon has him at No. 19. ESPN’s latest list of top 100 prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft has Johnson ranked No. 20 overall.
So what does that mean? If Johnson goes through the process and comes out with a mid-to-late first round grade, does he actually return to school? Say teams think he’ll end up going No. 19 or No. 20 overall, but believe he’ll be able to become a top-ten pick next year by returning to school. The difference between the No. 20 overall ($1,800,600 in the 2018 NBA Draft) and anything inside the top ten ($2,960,800 for No. 10 last year, $4,463,700 for No. 5) is pretty substantial, specifically when you factor in the total amount over the lifetime of the contract. The No. 20 draft pick will make roughly $6.1 million over three years, while the No. 10 pick will make roughly $10.1 million dollars over that same span, with a potential fourth-year option of $4.63 million.
While the difference in first-year money isn’t a major reason to return to school, the long-term financial difference is something certainly worth considering for a player like Johnson. If he comes back to school and becomes a more consistent shooter, learns to finish over longer, stronger defenders, and builds strength (all feasible goals), his stock could see a dramatic spike.
While I think he’ll ultimately work his way into the late-lottery or just outside of it (where he’d almost certainly keep his name in the draft at that point), it’ll be very interesting to see what happens if he he doesn’t receive the feed back he’s hoping for when he talks to and works out for NBA teams. He wanted to be a one and done going into the year, but he also values Calipari’s judgement and would consider a return if his head coach felt he would be better off with another year of development. My guess is Coach Cal tells him to take the money and run.
We won’t know until the final week of May regardless.
Herro’s situation is easily the most interesting of all Wildcats with NBA Draft decisions to make. While all of the buzz during the season was that the Kentucky shooting guard was almost certainly going to put his name in the draft (one source within the program said they would be “shocked” if he returned in February), almost all of the buzz since the season ended is that we shouldn’t discount a potential return.
After the season ended in the Elite Eight, Herro said there was “absolutely” a chance he would return to school for another season.
“There’s a chance (I’ll be back),” Herro said. “Definitely a chance. … I just love Kentucky. I haven’t thought of a decision. I haven’t looked at anything.”
Herro’s dad, Chris, then told Kyle Tucker that it’s “very possible” that he returns to school for a sophomore campaign.
PJ (gone) and Ashton (staying) decided. Now we wait for the rest. “It’s very possible” Tyler Herro surprises us and comes back, his father told me.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) April 10, 2019
This morning when Keldon Johnson declared for the draft, John Calipari’s initial quote may have been an indication of Herro’s plans, at least initially.
“Like Tyler (Herro) is doing, I fully support (Johnson’s) decision to go through this process and get all the information. Whatever he decides, he will have my full support.”
While the school clarified that it was just an “inadvertent typo” and Herro said had not made an official decision, it would be silly to think we won’t hear that news sooner rather than later. With the resources players have available to them to explore their NBA futures, it’s certainly a great idea to at least look into it and get direct feedback from the teams that will be considering them whenever they do end up entering the draft. Right now, Herro’s stock is anywhere from the middle of the first round to the very end, so as I mentioned with Johnson, there could be a lot of money to be made by returning to school.
My gut still tells me both Herro and Johnson will keep their names in the NBA Draft, but I really wouldn’t be shocked if one (likely Herro) decides to run it back for a sophomore season. I firmly believe both players won’t return, but if just one does, the Cats immediately become the title favorites going into next season.
Nick Richards/EJ Montgomery/Immanuel Quickley
I was fairly confident Kentucky would return all three of Richards, Montgomery, and Quickley last week, and I still feel roughly the same about each of them. They all know they’d be better off by returning to school for another year.
For Richards and Montgomery specifically, there are obvious minutes to be had with Reid Travis and PJ Washington leaving. Kentucky added Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina (a player the staff is confident will provide solid production next season), and Keion Brooks Jr. will play minutes at the four in small ball situations, but the potential returning Wildcats would almost certainly lead the team in minutes in the frontcourt as of today. They may not have been completely satisfied with their roles last season behind two stars in Travis and Washington, but the opportunity is there to take their spots in the starting rotation next season.
While Herro returning would throw a wrench into things, sources tell KSR that Quickley is expected to return next season and should see plenty of minutes in a staggered role with both Hagans and Maxey. He’s happy where he is right now and sees his role expanding next year.
While I wouldn’t be shocked if either Richards or Montgomery puts their name in the draft just to get feedback, I believe all three will ultimately return to Kentucky next season. I don’t believe transfers are on the table for any of them.
There has been some buzz about Baker being a bit homesick and wanting to transfer somewhere closer to home in California to finish out his college career. While he certainly loves being out west and has told the media on several occasions that he gets homesick in Lexington, barring any surprising returnees, sources tell KSR that Baker is expected to return to Kentucky.
Remaining 2019 recruits
With Hurt set to announce his decision on April 19, the Kentucky coaching staff wants to get one final face-to-face meeting in with the consensus top-ten prospect before he makes it official.
Kansas and Kentucky will be in to meet with 6’9” 5??Matthew Hurt @HurtMatthew of John Marshall (MN) & @D1Minnesota this Sunday. He will announce at his HS on the following Friday. His focus now is on winning at @nikehoopsummit #kubball #BBN pic.twitter.com/5qPNdyuxyk
— Andrew Slater (@Andrew__Slater) April 11, 2019
According to recruiting insider Andrew Slater, Kentucky and Kansas will head to Minnesota to see Hurt in person on Sunday afternoon.
While it can’t hurt to check in, I do not believe Kentucky will be the choice at this time. Things have been incredibly quiet on UK’s front (and not in a good way) in terms of general optimism, while buzz continues to grow for Duke.
While it obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, Hurt is now following just about all Duke-related accounts on social media, including current and former players, coaches, and administrators. He also commented on Tre Jones’ post on Instagram where the point guard announced he was returning his sophomore year, saying “My guy.”
Matthew Hurt’s comment on Tre’s “Year 2?” photo. pic.twitter.com/MvI4tmkIbU
— Duke Update (@UpdateDuke) April 7, 2019
He told KSR at the McDonald’s All-American Game that Duke was recruiting him to play a Jayson Tatum-like role at the forward spot next year, and it’s easy to see why he loves that comparison as a major scoring threat.
While Kansas remains in the thick of things, I’d put my money on the Blue Devils being the final choice.
Another week passes by and we still haven’t heard much of anything surrounding five-star forward Jaden McDaniels.
While he still has five schools on his final list, Washington and Kentucky are the two perceived favorites, with the Huskies garnering some of the most recent buzz.
McDaniels will be participating in the Jordan Brand Classic next weekend, and KSR will be there to get the latest on his recruiting status.
I was told late last week that Ashton Hagans’ decision was significant for Kentucky’s pursuit of 2020 combo guard RJ Hampton. The 6-foot-4 prospect out of Little Elm, TX will almost certainly be reclassifying to 2019, and he has a final list of Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis, and Duke.
In a blog post on USA Today yesterday, Hampton actually said that while the narrative is that he’s a ball-dominant guard, he was actually wanting to play with another elite point guard. While this news came soon after Duke’s Tre Jones announced he would be returning to school and most felt that was the player he was talking about, sources also tell KSR that Hampton has been talking to Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey about playing together in Lexington next season.
With Hagans returning and Maxey expected to be a day-one starter, however, the backcourt just seems a bit too crowded for a pure scorer like Hampton. If Hagans shocked folks and entered the draft, the 2020 prospect could step in and share the ball with a fellow Texas native and friend in Maxey. With him back, I just don’t see any scenario where Hampton winds up at Kentucky.
The buzz right now is that Memphis is likely the team to beat going forward, with Kansas also being a solid threat. Either way, I’m convinced he will be suiting up as a college basketball player in 2019-20.
2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante will be participating in the Nike Hoops Summit this weekend, where he is expected to answer (or at least touch on) the big question on his reclassification decision (KSR’s Aaron Torres will be there to get the latest).
After originally hoping he stuck in his original class, I heard an interesting tidbit that Kentucky might make a new push for him to join their class of 2019, especially if they miss out on both Hurt and McDaniels or see an unlikely and unexpected departure out of Richards or Montgomery. As mentioned a few weeks earlier, Dante has really improved his game, specifically when it comes to his interior post moves on offense. He has always been a star shot-blocker, but his raw offense is finally starting to take shape, and it’s intriguing to the UK coaching staff.
As I told you guys after Nate Sestina committed last week, one prominent source within the program said there is “plenty of room” to work with to close out the 2019-20 roster, specifically in the frontcourt. They expect to add one more piece to close out the class.
Who that is? We’ll find out here in the next few weeks.