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Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: NBA Draft Decisions, looking at the potential 2019-20 roster

The 2018-19 Kentucky basketball season is officially over, but John Calipari is still hard at work putting the final touches on his next crop of talent in 2019-20.

Right now, we have Tyrese Maxey and Dontaie Allen signed and ready to go, while Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. are committed to the program and will make it official after National Signing Day on April 17.

Beyond those four, the Kentucky staff has a few tough decisions to make when filling out the rest of the upcoming roster, specifically when it comes to NBA Draft decisions. Until they know who stays and who goes, they don’t exactly know how many players they need to close out their 2019 recruiting class and/or who they need to focus on when it comes to the graduate transfer market.

So let’s start with the big question… What is the latest when it comes to the NBA Draft?

NBA Draft decisions

Before we go player-specific, let me just cut through the obvious. All players will meet with the coaching staff and their families before making an initial decision. Several players know what they’re going to do, at least in the short term, and that news could come out within the next week or so. Ten years into the John Calipari Era at Kentucky, you guys know the typical offseason routine.

That being said, players are now allowed to choose an agent to help them through the draft process, so that could certainly throw a wrench into things from a time perspective. In short, we won’t know some final decisions until possibly May 29, the final day to withdraw from consideration.

PJ Washington

I was told last offseason when Washington decided to return to school for a sophomore season that it would be his final year at Kentucky, really no matter what happened. He wanted to leave for the draft last year, and part of the agreement (with himself more than anything) was that he would do anything and everything it took to improve his stock before making the jump this offseason.

He cut weight, got faster and more athletic, improved his jump shot, polished his post moves, and developed a stronger basketball IQ. In the process, his numbers dramatically improved and he became a consensus All-American player.

Washington went through the process exactly right, and he will be rewarded for it in the form of a late-lottery selection this summer. Though a timetable isn’t certain yet (sooner rather than later), he will be happily signing with an agent and entering the NBA Draft for good. As he should.

That being said, Washington’s decision to return has been big for John Calipari and his thoughts on the draft process/players returning to school. He even mentioned it on his radio show on Monday, saying he will be more comfortable telling fringe first-rounders it’d be in their best interest to return to school because he saw how much it benefitted Washington. This will impact multiple Kentucky players this offseason.

Keldon Johnson

Kentucky small forward Keldon Johnson had his moments this season, but it’s no secret his total body of work certainly left a lot to be desired. He thrived against shorter, weaker opponents (Abilene Christian), but struggled against length and strength. Not a good sign for a player with immediate NBA dreams.

While he could certainly benefit from another year in school, a frustrating little word called “potential” exists and NBA scouts are obsessed with it. And as a 6-foot-6 athletic freak with smooth shooting mechanics, Johnson falls right into that category.

Johnson will likely be putting his name in the NBA Draft and letting the process play out completely. There may even be some last-minute rumors after the NBA Combine about him making a triumphant return and raising his draft stock as a sophomore, a la Kevin Knox last offseason.

While that would be phenomenal for Kentucky, I just don’t see Calipari letting a fringe lottery pick/certain first-rounder return to school, especially when the goal for him was to be a one-and-done going into the year.

Tyler Herro

The hot take from fans right now following Tyler Herro’s seven-point, 3-11 shooting performance in the Elite Eight against Auburn is that the 6-foot-6 shooting guard simply isn’t good enough to play in the NBA yet.

As much as he struggled to find his shot as Auburn’s primary target on defense, it’s just not true in the grand scheme of things. And Herro knows that, as does his family.

His stock skyrocketed late in the season, jumping from early second round status to late-first, and then all the way up to late-lottery/middle of the first.

After Sunday’s loss, Herro told reporters (specifically The Athletic) that there is “definitely a chance” he returns to school.

“Of course,” he said, nodding vigorously. “There’s a chance. Definitely a chance. I just love Kentucky. I haven’t (made) a decision. I haven’t looked at anything. I don’t even know where I stand right now. But I love the coaching staff and I love Lexington. Just going to go back, cherish this moment with my teammates — we had a great ride — and talk to my family, coaches, see what happens.”

While he genuinely loves Kentucky and would love another year in Lexington, I’m told that Herro has been contemplating a jump to the NBA for a few months now, and the plan is for him to put his name in the draft and keep it there.

Like Johnson, he’ll go through the process and give himself an opportunity to return to school. I just don’t see it happening right now.

Ashton Hagans

Like Herro, Hagans told The Athletic that he would consider returning to school, pointing out the intrigue in leading next year’s roster.

“This team, they were my brothers, and if I did make a decision to come back, I could help the other guys understand that everybody has to be for each other and everybody has to fight or you’re not going to go very far,” he said. “I’d tell them you don’t want to lose this game, in the Elite Eight.”

That being said, he also added that he had a “hell of a year” and “definitely” has a decision to make.

So where is he leaning?

The reality of the matter is that Hagans wants to go to the NBA, and he has from the second he committed to Kentucky. When he went through his stretch of elite play late from late January to February, sources tell KSR that he was absolutely sold on heading to the league after this season. All he needed was his production to back that up.

Late in the year, though, he struggled immensely and his stock dropped accordingly. Now, it’d be a shock to see him taken anywhere in the top 45 picks or so.

Hagans will go through the draft process and get feedback from scouts, but barring a major and surprising spike in stock, I genuinely believe Calipari will tell his point guard it’s in his best interest to return to Kentucky for another year. Like Washington, if things can slow down for Hagans (i.e. fewer turnovers) and his jumper becomes even remotely consistent, he’s a first round lock in 2020.

That scenario is where I’m leaning now.

Nick Richards/EJ Montgomery/Immanuel Quickley/Jemarl Baker

From there, the rest (should) be easy. Richards, Montgomery, Quickley, and Baker all need to return to school, and they know that. Richards and Montgomery may test the waters just to get feedback, but I’d be shocked if they even remotely considered an actual leap.

First and foremost, Richards is in a relationship with Kentucky volleyball star Leah Edmond, and they have been together for a while now. That’s certainly something to factor in right away.

While Richards would likely be taken in the second round on potential alone, and there’s a low chance Montgomery would too, Quickley, and Baker have absolutely zero draft stock right now. Calipari mentioned that players leaving too early could be out of basketball in just a few years, and one would think he would make that a main point of emphasis with these guys.

We could see one (likely Quickley or Baker) transfer, more likely if Hagans returns, but that’s not a guarantee. The safe bet is for all four to return to Kentucky next season.

2019-20 roster

Nate Sestina

There were whispers early at the McDonald’s All-American Game that Kentucky was going to hit the graduate transfer market hard, and just a day later, reports surfaced that Bucknell senior forward Nate Sestina would be visiting Lexington this week.

I’m told that this visit came together rather quickly, specifically on Sestina’s end, as he’s coming in with serious intentions. Sources tell KSR that Sestina watched Reid Travis’ situation closely this year and saw just how much playing for Calipari at Kentucky did for his game. The interest is significant, and if the Kentucky coaching staff is ready for him (which is a big aspect of it all), he’d likely jump at the opportunity.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward out of Emporium, Pa. averaged 15.8 points (53.6 percent shooting, 38 percent from three, 80.8 percent from the free throw), 8.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game last year for the Bison. Sestina was named Second Team All-Patriot League and was a Patriot League All-Tournament selection.

The graduate transfer scored in double figures in 27 of his 31 games last season and had 11 double-doubles overall.

In an interview with The Daily Item, Sestina said that he wants to go somewhere where he can make an impact right away. With PJ Washington and Reid Travis almost certainly leaving, that opportunity is there.

“I felt I needed to improve some things,” Sestina said. “The opportunity to play college basketball for another year, make a run to the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully win some games, was very, very appealing. I want to find a place to grow and develop, but a place where I can be me and play my game — not a place where I’ll sit the bench.”

Sestina, who is visiting from Monday through Wednesday, said himself this is a very serious visit and he very well may end up in Lexington for his final season of eligibility.

“If it goes well, clicks and I get signs from God — I’ve got to pray on it; I’ve been doing that a lot recently — it just depends on the visit,” he said. “I’ll take the time I need to make the right decision.”

I don’t expect to hear Sestina make a final decision on his visit like Travis did last offseason, though things could come together fast in favor of the Wildcats. The Kentucky staff will have to think about this hard, though, as it would certainly have an impact on other 2019 prospects.

Nonetheless, Sestina is a fantastic option and would be a great fit in Lexington. I’ll find out more on the movement of things as the visit concludes tomorrow.

Who’s next?

After Sestina makes his decision, we’ll only be waiting on Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels in the class of 2019, and then (to a lesser extent) some other potential reclassification candidates. After seriously considering a jump to 2019, it’s looking like five-star power forward Isaiah Todd will stick with 2020, where Kentucky is the heavy favorite. Five-star center N’Faly Dante is still being discussed as a possibility, though things have been a bit slow with him as of late.

I do believe Kentucky could make room for one more potential addition even if Sestina commits, though things would get pretty tight if that’s the case.

That being said, UK would be comfortable with a frontcourt consisting of a freshman Keion Brooks Jr., a sophomore EJ Montgomery, a junior Nick Richards, and a senior Nate Sestina. I was told several months ago from someone within the program that Kentucky would be moving to a faster offense that capitalized on transition opportunities and stretching the floor, with one individual telling me that the dribble drive was returning. Those four players would allow for several interesting frontcourt combinations, including a small ball approach (as Calipari experimented with this postseason).

Barring an unexpected transfer or draft departure, I believe closing out the class with Sestina is the likely scenario.


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

46 Comments for Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: NBA Draft Decisions, looking at the potential 2019-20 roster

  1. Mc12
    10:30 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Thanks for the post. I almost stopped reading at “athletic freak” but kept going.

    • ClutchCargo
      12:37 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Typical KSR hyperbole. Zion Williamson is an athletic freak. Keldon Johnson is not.

    • kuhlkat
      3:44 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      It’s a good post except for that laughable comment.
      Dude got blocked 400 times

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      6:25 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Context is everything. Compared to me and people I know Keldon is an athletic freak.

    • UKCatAttack
      7:47 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      He almost dunked on a lot of people this season. Not sure I’ve seen a guy try to make so many posters and fail so regularly.

  2. BCO
    10:30 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Adding Sestina would be great…but man we could use McDaniels.

    • SanDiegoDave
      12:14 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I’d take one Sestina over 10 McDaniels every time. Sestina, like TR, brings maturity, game experience and drive that the younger players can emulate. Sestina has proven himself at the college level. Like so many times, McDaniels hasn’t done a thing other than dominate at the high school level.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      6:26 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I agree that I would rather add experience over potential at this point.

    • IrishCat
      7:47 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Sestina is s known commodity, McDaniels has the kind of elite level talent we haven’t had in a few years, and could end up a superstar. Tough decision. Considering we’ll have some experience coming back anyway, I’d take McDaniels.

    • KYcats11
      8:31 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I’ll take McDaniels. Nothing he can’t do on the basketball court.

    • BCO
      12:46 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Ill admit Ive not watched a lot of Sestina, but comparing him to Reid seems a stretch. Both seniors, but Reid was an all PAC 12 selection and played against higher level players than Sestina has. I just cant see him having the same kinda impact as Reid did.

      And thats why McDaniels is more intriguing to me. His major thing seems to be getting his motor going and playing hard, which I have faith Cal could bring out. Hes the type of player though, if he isnt coached hard, could never reach his potential ala Randolph Morris.

  3. SanDiegoCats
    11:08 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Johnson should come back but won’t. Hagans absolutely needs to. Thought Herro would possibly come back. There are plenty of guys who have had similar seasons and returned to school. He wasn’t a one/done coming on campus. Sounds like from the post above he’s pretty much already made up his mind.

    • jarred_combs
      12:12 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Everyone that has the ability to come back short of PJ should. They all have the potential to be lottery picks, but with the way they started the season it just isn’t going to happen. Also at the end of the season our offense fell apart without PJ and Reid in. Herro and Keldon are the 2 next best prospects, but neither were able to consistently crest offense. If hagans gets stronger and more confident he has the tools, too many missed open shots and layups. For some reason nowadays it’s bad to need that extra year of maturity, but this is one year everyone needs it.

    • catsarerunnin
      7:02 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Who would draft Johnson? If anyone needs to look at the benefit of coming back another year like PJ it’s Keldon Johnson.

  4. Bruce Dickinson
    11:25 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I hope Quickley doesn’t transfer. I think he has played good and could have a breakout year next season.

  5. Melvit
    11:29 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Herro should test the waters, but I think coming back would help his long term carrier in the Pros. Hagans definitely needs to come back to help him.

  6. friendsofcoal
    11:34 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Losing Quickley would suck bad because I can see him being a great player for us next year.

  7. az1006
    11:43 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t see Quickley or Baker transferring. Quickley seemed really happy, honestly, and got plenty of minutes, so PT wouldn’t really be the issue. I think he will be a big-time contributor for us down the road. Baker, same thing. He’s already had to sit out a year due to injury, and I think he’s poised to have a breakthrough after a full offseason of training without rehab. Next year could be the perfect balance of young talent and experience.

    • SanDiegoDave
      12:08 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Quickley could possibly be a four year player, play a critical role in winning a championship, earn a degree, and go on to greater things after college. I like the dude. He seems to have a great attitude and work ethic.

  8. runningunnin.454
    12:04 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Hagans, Herro, and Johnson should all come back. None are consistently good shooters, they will have a hard time even getting shots at the next level, and NBA players will blow by them so fast they’ll catch pneumonia.
    Rewatch the Auburn game; the only NBA ready players I saw were PJ and a couple of Auburn guys.

  9. brassnux66
    12:58 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    PJ and Keldon are NBA bench players at best. In my opinion neither are future all-stars, or even staters. Ashton is delusional to think he should go anywhere but back to UK or high school. Tyler needs another year to show consistency.

    • StillBP
      7:42 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      NBA bench player is still a good job to have.

    • sharpshooter81
      8:32 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Really any player that leaves this year will be no better than a bench player in the NBA that is if they even make it. I can see PJ making it, but the word “potential” is being removed by a lot of NBA scouts these days due to horrible assessments in years past.

      Johnson and Herro are nowhere good enough to make a NBA roster and if the author of this article thinks so, they are very delusional. Those two are at best D Leaguers and for sure need to come back to get stronger, more consistent on shooting, ball handling, etc.

      Hagans is a non-discussion because he shouldn’t even think for one minute he is getting selected in rounds 1 or 2. Right now he is less than average as a PG because he can’t shoot, struggles handling the ball, poor decision making, and can’t finish at the rim.

  10. UKBigBlueForever
    1:10 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Herro is coming back. I refuse to believe he’s gone. Cal knock some sense into these players.

  11. UK Maine-iac
    1:38 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If Hagans decides to go pro a lot of people failed that kid with their advice. I’m kinda like everyone else, aside from PJ, all of them need to return to work on their game. Through the course of the year, I didn’t see anything from them that said NBA ready.

    • terwilliger
      9:08 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Or a lot of people gave him good advice, and he just chose to ignore it. I know how much good advice I ignored at 18 years of age.

  12. bigbluebreeze
    5:10 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Wish Cal would recruit Chol Marial.

  13. CatfaninCinci
    5:30 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If Hagans goes, he’s on a Marquis Teague trajectory He had better save his rookie contract money. That’ll be it for his NBA career. He at this point could carve out a modest Euro league, but he’s laughably not ready. Brice Brown was blowing by him like he was a road cone. What do you think Steph Curry will do?

  14. gasman01
    6:43 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If Herro goes pro now, he will end up like Doron Lamb. Shooting guards are a dime a dozen in the NBA.

    • UKCatAttack
      7:53 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      You’re right that SG are a dime a dozen. But I think you’re wrong about Herro being like Lamb. He’s certainly be smart to come back for another year but Lamb was mediocre on defense and had a below average work ethic. Tyler has neither of those deficiencies.

    • ibescootch
      11:43 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Yeah, I agree with UKCat on this one. Herro is similar to Doron in numbers maybe, but the eye test shows much more. He’s a Booker-type in my mind. I think with time and work, he’ll be a really good pro. He seems to have the mindset that DLamb didn’t, but Booker did.

  15. CahillsCrossingNT
    6:46 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    All of them need to return since they each have a glaring weakness or two. However, this program has become a one and done institution. I think players feel they’re failures if they aren’t out of here after one year. That’s the climate that’s been created in Lexington.

    • catsarerunnin
      7:03 am April 3, 2019 Permalink


    • UKCatAttack
      7:55 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      They could all benefit from coming back. But how would it help PJs draft stock? I think he’s reached max draft potential for himself and only risks having a major injury that makes him skip. PJ SHOULD leave and I thank him for his 2 years of service to our program.

    • UKCatAttack
      7:56 am April 3, 2019 Permalink


  16. TimLH
    7:45 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I would like to see Tyler work as a PG in the off season. He’s quick, he’s big he can over smaller guards and he is a decent passer

    • ibescootch
      11:49 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I agree, he doesn’t have many deficiencies on offense, maybe his ball-handling could be better. But his IQ, passing, shooting, and size are all above average. I think he’s make a great PG, definitely a shoot first type though, so it’d depend on who took him.

  17. UKCatAttack
    7:51 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    So what you’re saying is nothing has changed from years past. The guys that can get drafted are likely gone and the rest will either come back or transfer. Washington should leave the rest would benefit from another year under Coach Cal.

    • catsarerunnin
      8:22 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Why would things change? It’s all about having the best players. Sometimes they go fo the draft and some transfer. If a player feels like they will get more PT elsewhere that’s their choice and often in their best interest. It should always be about the best interest of the players which Cal has always done a great job at doing.

    • The Original WTF Guy
      8:47 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      “I just don’t see Calipari letting a fringe lottery pick/certain first-rounder return to school”

      Jack, it’s not Cal’s place to “let” a player return to school. Or at least it shouldn’t be. If anything, it should be Cal’s place to “let” them go to the draft.

  18. Matt10
    8:48 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If Keldon leaves now he’ll be Archie Goodwin 2.0.

  19. tgoff
    9:04 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If they don’t all come back they’re G-League at best. They won’t make an NBA roster.

  20. 1IH
    10:00 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    FacePalm Emoji inserted here!

    I’d like most of them to return, but more importantly I’d like them all to be happy. Too much sadness and crap sandwiches in this world. Go get success and good luck doing it. Kentucky Basketball will be fine if they all decide Europe and the G-League is where they are happy.

    Every-single kid that dreams of coming to Kentucky takes those same shots on the courts dreaming of the NBA. They do not dream of playing four years for the Wildcats. It’s 2019, the decade of the Mixtape.

  21. calicat5
    11:45 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Next year is going to be rough. 2nd round exit type year with 10 plus losses. The 2nd title remains incredibley elusive.

  22. JDizzle14
    1:17 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Switching to an up-tempo offense that capitalizes on transition, stretching the floor, and bringing back the dribble-drive…..YEA. YEA. how many years have we been hearing that now? Just like Tubby used to say every Oct. We havent seen Cal’s original offense and system since 2015. He runs a high-octane Tubby-ball now, and seems to want to stick with that. We wont ever see again the kinda style his teams of the first 5 yrs had ever again. Because HES changed it.