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Ranking the Kentucky players most likely to stay or go pro

It’s no secret that when it comes to Kentucky basketball, there really are three seasons. There’s the regular season (duh). Recruiting season, which never really starts or ends; just kind of exists in its own universe. And then there’s draft season. Kentucky deals with the highs and lows of this particular part of the calendar more than any other school in the sport.

And this year specifically, the NBA Draft cycle is unlike any other Kentucky has never seen. This year Kentucky has a uniquely odd group of players. There are more individual players than usual who could (in theory) make the jump to the NBA, but fewer with guarantees on where they’ll land. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox it really is hard to peg where any player will go if they decide to enter the NBA Draft. Or if they’ll be selected at all.

Which is what will make this NBA Draft cycle at Kentucky especially fascinating. This is a truly different kind of year, where there are few guarantees or givens, and where each individual player has to make the decision that is uniquely best for him. A guy who might be guaranteed to go in the first round might still decide to come back to school. A guy who could go undrafted might decide to leave anyway.

Still, it’s a topic that will make for captivating theatre in Kentucky over the next few weeks and months. And after talking to people all around basketball over the last couple weeks as well as following media reports (such as the one Matt Jones dropped a few days ago) here is my ranking of the players most likely to leave Kentucky in some form or fashion between now and the start of next season.

9. Nick Richards

This one really doesn’t need much explanation: Richards just isn’t ready to be a professional basketball player. Not in the NBA. Not in the G-League. He’s not even close. For all the size he has, the skill just hasn’t caught up. And that’s not even really my opinion, but instead a fact. In all the mock drafts I’ve looked at over the last few weeks I haven’t seen his name mentioned anywhere.

Now of course that doesn’t mean that he can’t or won’t go, and the fact that he’s pretty old for an incoming sophomore doesn’t help (he’ll be 21 before the start of season). Still, if the NBA isn’t going to draft you, and transferring means sitting out for a season, what options do you really have?

Stranger things have happened. But I’d be stunned if he weren’t back in Lexington next season.

8. Sacha Killeya-Jones

For Killeya-Jones the conversation isn’t “NBA or not” but whether or not he’d consider transferring to another school. In most cases, when a kid plays just 13 minutes a night as a sophomore (even if this writer thinks it should have been more) and there is no clear cut path to more minutes, you’d think that the player would at least consider it.

Yet while Sacha Killeya-Jones’ transfer has become a hot topic among fans (and I’m sure assistant coaches at other schools trying to poach him), there is one person who doesn’t seem to have all that much interest in talking about it: That’s Sacha Killeya-Jones himself. A few weeks back Killeya-Jones did a great interview with Larry Vaught in which he explicitly said that while he understands why many think he’s gone, it’s not something that’s actually crossed his mind. That makes sense when you consider that most people had Killeya-Jones pegged as a 3-4 year college player when he committed to Kentucky back in 2015.

Put simply, a lot could change over the next few months. But with few NBA suitors and after publicly stating that he has no interest in transferring, who am I to doubt him? I suspect he’ll be back in Lexington next year.

7. P.J. Washington

It feels ironic to have Washington this low on the list, since at the time of this publication, he is the only player to actually declare for the draft. However he plans to do so without an agent, which (as my colleague Drew Franklin explained), is a move that makes sense for Washington. It allows him to get real feedback from NBA personnel on both where he could be drafted and what skills he needs to work on. From there, if he’s good enough to go pro, then Washington will have his shot. If he isn’t good enough, then he’ll come back to school better equipped for next season. Lots of others have taken NBA feedback from the Combine and turned it into a positive, like Mo Wagner (Michigan) and Aaron Holiday (UCLA) this season. There’s no reason Washington can’t do the same.

Furthermore, if you actually read the statement Washington released on Monday, it kind of feels like he’s already hedging his bets. Here is part of the statement:

“I want fans to know that I love school, I love this program, and I love Kentucky. I am not in a hurry to make any type of decision but Coach believes I should evaluate where I am right now.”

https://twitter.com/PJWashington/status/981251632464834560

Now you tell me: Does that really sound like the kind of guy who is actually going to go pro? Or someone who is simply taking the advice of the coach who has been here a million times before?

Beyond that, even if Washington declared for reasons beyond John Calipari’s suggestion, that doesn’t mean he’s actually good enough to go pro. It’s no secret that Washington doesn’t scream “NBA prospect” and most mock drafts have him going in the second round of the draft, if they have him being selected at all. Considering that Washington has explicitly stated he wants to be a first rounder, you’d think that’s a good sign for Kentucky fans who want to see him in Lexington next year.

Washington is the rare player who doesn’t seem like he’s in a rush to go to the pros, nor does he have the skills to force his decision either. It feels almost certain he’ll be back next year.

6. Quade Green

Now this is where it gets interesting to me. Green isn’t going to the NBA. We get that. But are we sure he’s definitively going to be back next year? I’m not totally sure, since over the course of Final Four weekend I heard some scuttlebutt from people I trust that Green is at least considering a transfer. I’m not saying it’s certain or even likely. My new colleague TJ Walker even spoke to Green’s high school coach today, and he said, to the best of his knowledge, that Green wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Still, I feel like there are a few signs, starting with Kentucky’s continued pursuit of a couple more guards in this recruiting class. At this point it seems almost certain that Ashton Hagans will reclassify, and if he does, Kentucky will be the favorite to land his services. The fact that Calipari reached out to Brandon Williams from my neck of the woods in LA is interesting too.

Now ultimately I know what most people would say: Well, Cal is protecting himself incase Shai Gilgeous-Alexander goes pro. But is he really? The Wildcats already have three guards locked in for the upcoming recruiting class, including one point guard, Immanuel Quickley. They also – in theory – have Green and Jemarl Baker coming back. That’s five reliable guards, and two point guards. Do they really need another? Again, I’m just crunching the numbers here and something doesn’t add up. Even if you believe Hagans is an elite talent (which most believe he is) is it worth taking him and upsetting Green? It’s a fair question, which leads to another: Would you rather have an uber-elite freshman like Hagans on your roster next year if it means losing a steadying veteran like Green?

Again, I’m not saying that Kentucky will lose Green. There is no report that Green is even considering a transfer, let alone is definitively leaving. Therefore if you made me bet, I’d still wager that Green returns to Lexington next season. But I can’t say that I feel as good about it today as I did a month ago.

5. Wenyen Gabriel

Look, we all know that Wenyen didn’t have the easiest upbringing. It’s why – as Matt Jones suggested – he may have no choice but to go pro. No one thinks he’s NBA ready. But if his personal situation is dire, no one can blame him for going pro. Me certainly included.

At the same time, if he does go pro let’s make one thing clear: It’s unlikely he gets drafted. That’s because as much improvement as Wenyen showed this year, I’m still not sure what he does well besides shoot three-pointers. He doesn’t handle the ball well, can’t create his own shot and doesn’t have much of a game around the basket. So in the end, is someone really taking a risk on a hustle and energy 6’9 player who can shoot but little else?

I don’t know. That’s also why I feel bad for Wenyen. He can only do what’s best for him. But if he can afford another year in college he should come back. If he were to work on his ball-handling and low-post game he could legit be a first round pick in time.

4. Jared Vanderbilt

To be blunt, Vanderbilt has maybe the most bizarre set of circumstances I’ve ever seen. He is an injury-prone player, and as a general rule, when you’re injury prone, you get to the pros, get whatever money you can and hope you can stay healthy. For J-Vando though, is that it’s not that simple.

Because Vanderbilt basically had one foot injury or another starting with last year’s Nike Hoops Summit straight through the middle of this season, the NBA doesn’t have a ton of tape on him. Furthermore, not only do they not have tape on him, but – because of his most recent ankle injury – he might not even be healthy enough to go through pre-draft workouts for individual teams or the Combine. If he hasn’t been healthy all year, and he isn’t even healthy enough to work out for teams during the NBA Draft process, than it could be disastrous if he stays in the draft. How disastrous? He might not get drafted. Even if he’s healthy he probably won’t go in the first round.

Add it all up, and this to me – more than anyone else – is the toughest decision of any Kentucky player. My hunch is that he ends up staying in the draft, just because the risk of returning to school and suffering another injury is way too much.

I do feel bad for poor J-Vando though. And I don’t envy the decision that he has.

3. Kevin Knox

So I’ll be honest: When Matt Jones first reported that Knox was very seriously considering coming back I thought Knox was crazy. In a way, I still do. It’s very, very, VERY rare for a perceived lottery pick to return to school. The only time that usually happens is when a kid comes out of nowhere to get on the NBA’s radar (like Texas A&M’s Robert Williams or Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford). It almost never happens for a guy who everyone knew was a one-and-done before he stepped on campus like Knox.

Only here we are, and the longer this goes the longer I’m starting to think…. can Knox really come back?

His arguments make sense. As his dad said earlier this week, the family is financially stable and Knox really does want to win a championship of his own, after his dad won a title with Florida State football in 1993. He’s also incredibly young for his age and would be one of the youngest players in this year’s draft.

And when you think about the possibility of moving up next year’s draft it really makes sense. Just for fun I looked up the numbers, and did comparison. Let’s say that Kevin Knox could have been the No. 12 pick in this year’s draft, but he came back and instead was the No. 3 pick next year. He would get more than double the salary in his first season ($4.7 million compared to $2.3). He would also get $16.7 million over the first three years of his career, rather than just $8.1 million at No. 12.

Therefore, the longer this thing drags on, the longer I actually think, my goodness, Knox could come back.

I won’t say definitively because 1) This is all speculation and I have no proof 2) I don’t want to let everyone reading down. But it certainly is starting to feel like Knox could be back next year.

2. Hamidou Diallo

Considering how much I’ve written so far, I’ll keep Diallo succinct.

I think we can all agree that Diallo isn’t ready for the pros. But someone will still draft him this year based solely on his potential and the belief that they can turn him into a high quality NBA player. He’s still only 19 (although he’ll be 20 in July) some NBA team will talk themselves into him. Hami probably isn’t a first round pick. But someone will take the plunge in the second round.

The problem then becomes this: What if he comes back next year and doesn’t improve? At that point I think he’s basically undraftable. He would be two years removed from high school and nearly 21-years-old, meaning he wouldn’t have nearly as much upside.

If I was advising Diallo, I’d tell him to go pro.

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

I know Gilgeous-Alexander’s decision to push back his official announcement caught quite a few off-guard. But while I’d love to see him come back to college, I just can’t imagine the decision to delay the announcement really changes all that much. This is a kid who is a projected lottery pick, his stock is probably as high as it will get, and – as mentioned above – Kentucky has already signed multiple guards for next year and is still recruiting Ashton Hagans.

Gilgeous-Alexander was one of the pleasant surprises not only at Kentucky this year but in all of college basketball.

Expect him to be in the NBA next year.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

27 Comments for Ranking the Kentucky players most likely to stay or go pro



  1. HashtagNoseWhistle
    6:25 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    I’m kinda sick of all the speculation posts. Just wait and see what they decide lol



    • KYFAN4LYFE
      7:06 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      EXACTLY. KSR, after BB season, is like that person you know that just HAS to talk…or Tweet…or post to FB… even if they have nothing interesting to say at all.



    • catsarerunnin
      8:27 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      Then don’t come here?



    • Han
      8:51 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      They’re posting plenty of stuff about baseball, football and non-sports stuff. There’ll probably be horse racing posts this weekend.

      Yet most of us who come here are still looking for basketball news. So they post to take advantage of our interest, like they should.



  2. Mathlete
    6:41 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    The other thing for Hami to think about is we have A TON of shooters locked down for next year and he’s more of a drive-to-the-basket type of player. Cal is clearly looking to turn Kentucky into the NCAA’s Warriors where just about anyone can hit from just about anywhere and Hami doesn’t really fit that mold. I hope the kid has great success with whatever he chooses because he genuinely seems like a great kid, he just might not fit the style we’re going to have next year.



  3. dvb0378
    7:06 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    “incredibly young for his age”?????????



    • Kernel Sanders
      7:19 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      He’s tall for his height too.



    • Ez21
      9:34 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      He’s tall for his height? Wtf that mean?



    • Look Out Fireworks
      11:05 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      I think that means if you lined up 20 people who were all 6’9”, he would be one of taller ones.



  4. plumloopy
    7:33 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    Green!? Hard to imagine he’d be drafted at all.



  5. Megan
    7:41 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    What if Vando re-injures himself? Then he’ll be in exactly the same position he is now. If that’s the downside, he’s got nothing but upside coming back. Your thinking seems to be that once you’re damaged goods, you might as well give up trying to better your stock. Remind me not to hire you as my agent.

    What if Hami doesn’t improve? Is that a serious question? I can’t decide if you’re slamming Hami or Cal or both. It’s an irrationally pessimistic view that shouldn’t factor into this analysis.

    You might as well fear the same about all these players. Unless the truth is you just don’t like Hami. Then I see where you’re coming from.



  6. catsfan27
    7:45 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    My thing is, we can’t make the argument that Knox’s family is financially stable, and then turn around and say “well, he could make double the salary by improving his stock”. Think his decision simply comes down to him A.) wanting to win a title, and B.) not being ready personally for life as an NBA player. To me, Knox seems reserved and maybe lacking in confidence in a social setting. Not quite sure he’s ready for 46 games on the road in the league.



    • Look Out Fireworks
      11:06 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      But we can make the argument that knox is young for his age.



  7. chris43
    7:57 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    First off I’ll say that I truly hope Quade doesn’t transfer. He’s a very nice player with a developing outside shot. Would I want Hagans IF it meant Quade transferring? I’d love to have both but….IF Hagans can be a Monk, Fox, Murray, MKG kinda talent…then yes bring him! Naturally I know there’s no way of knowing BUT you simply can’t pass on that kind of talent if they want to play for you. Green was always compared to Ulis as being a tough/small guard. So ask yourself…would Tyler Ulis transfer or be of the mindset he didn’t care who was coming in…he’s getting his play time!



  8. Saul T. Nuts
    8:02 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    If Quade can become an elite level shooter (and it’s entirely possible that he can), then I think he could make an NBA roster.



    • Luether
      9:36 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      If the Queen could grow balls (and it’s entirely possible that she can), then I think she could make an excellent King…



    • Look Out Fireworks
      11:09 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

      I can make an NBA roster.

      Give me a pen and a piece of paper.



  9. lbaker0050
    8:04 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    Knox is currently in route to Tampa as we speak to announce the said decision for this weekend. I have a close friend on the same flight that he’s on right now. Thanks for the memories Kev!! You’ll be missed next year!!



  10. catsfan27
    8:06 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    For guards like Quade, the hope to play in the NBA is when you look at Kyle Lowry. High basketball IQ, will guard someone, and can knock down shots as well as FTs.



    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:33 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

      Kyle Lowry is 2-3″ taller and 20lbs heavier than Green. Let’s be honest. Green is small, but lacks lateral quickness, and was a defensive liability on the floor. If Tyler Ulis can’t make it as a back up in NBA, and Phoenix may not retain him, green has a big hill to climb. Watch a NBA game, there are very few 5’9″ guards, and the ones that are there can flat out shoot and get to rim (i.e. Issah Thomas last year).
      At beginning of the year people compared green to Ulis. Calipari stepped in quick and said that comparison was not fair to green. Enough said



    • catsfan27
      9:43 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

      First, I said “hope”. Second they are both listed about 5’11”, 6’0″. Third Quade Green is 19 years old, without an NBA training program, while Kyle Lowry is 32 with an NBA training program. I would think that, over time, Quade could gain that extra 20 pounds. Lol



  11. CoachCat
    9:44 pm April 5, 2018 Permalink

    Losing Green would be a mistake



  12. UK Fan In Nashville
    7:32 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

    They are all coming back.



  13. chrisg18
    8:47 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

    Man this is such a pessimistic view of all these guys and their decisions. There are positives and negatives for all of them in coming back or going, yet Aaron seems to only focus on the negatives of not going. That’s a terrible way to look at things and at life in general. This is also why so many guys go and never make it because they feel like they “have” to go. These kids don’t have to go anywhere and can still be a pro even if they are so “old” at 21. If you aren’t getting anything guaranteed it doesn’t really matter if you leave now or play all 4 years. Your pro career will potentially still start at the same point. I really dislike the narrative this site pushes when it comes to draft decisions.



    • jagard3
      11:24 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

      I agree – why is it that Grayson Allen can be drafted after playing four years, but Hami couldn’t be drafted after playing 2?



  14. Jiminy Crickets
    9:27 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

    I’ve been saying for a month Green is seriously considering a transfer. I’ve been blasted for saying so. The people I know in the HS circuit, have said he started considering his future with UK when he lost his starting job, and knew Quickley and Herro were already on board for next year. Once word trickled out about Hagans, Green feels the writing is on the wall, and he’s torn. Set out a year, but get a chance to start for different program, or likely play limited minutes this year hoping to regain his position next year.
    If Hagans truly does reclassify and commit to us in next 2 weeks, Green will announce transfer soon after.



    • jagard3
      11:30 am April 6, 2018 Permalink

      I hope not. UK would have Hagans, Herro, Baker, and Quickley coming in. Green would be the starter on day one either at PG or SG. To keep that starter spot he just needs to outperform a couple freshmen… anyone with NBA dreams should feel confident in his ability to do that. And even if he loses the starting spot, he’ll keep a lot of minutes and plenty of opportunities to showcase himself to NBA guys. I don’t see how going to another school would make that any easier