The first weekend without college sports since August was a little bit sad for me. While most of this UK basketball season was a bit of a grind, the last month was one of the more special rides in the history of the program. The way this team completely reinvented itself, came together and shocked the college basketball world was something to behold. They produced four of the best postseason games this program has ever seen and they all occurred in succession, each a little bit more exciting than the last. Had Kentucky finished the job, it would probably have been the greatest run in the history of this program, and even as is, it is one that we will always remember. This 2014 Kentucky team will join the 1966 Rupp’s Runts as one of the most beloved to ever come so close and there is no doubt that this group will have a special place in all fans’ hearts.
But now after the joy of the season comes business time. The players spent most of this weekend thinking about their futures and talking about the Draft with their families. Randle, Young and Willie headed home while Poythress, the Twins and Dakari were in town, but all spent time with their families as they tried to figure out what their future holds for next season. Seven players legitimately have a chance to go to the NBA and all seven have considered it. A few days ago I updated where I thought the decisions for each of the players stood and after a few more days, it is worth an update. I expect the first couple of decisions to trickle out in the next 48 hours or so, and the last ones may go all the way to the NBA deadline of April 26. But we will know more very soon, so it is worth noting where we are before a big week for the future of the program. With that in mind, a couple of before we get going:
1. This look is based on my conversations with people close to the program, a couple of folks I know around the NBA and in two cases, people close to the players. I have gotten conflicting information in a couple of cases and have gone with the ones I think are most trustworthy.
2. It is subject to change because…well they are kids subject to change their mind.
So with that, the players:
Gone and likely to announce very soon. Randle is situated to be a top 5 pick and will compete with Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Dante Exum for one of the top spots. Randle actually has taken the information gathering process seriously and unlike a couple of the other “can’t miss” guys of recent years, I do think he considered the possibility of returning. But everyone agrees that his time is now and there is very little upside for Julius in a second year. I can’t imagine he comes back and I think we find out very soon.
All year I was under the impression that Young was certainly headed to the Draft, no questions asked. I still think he is headed to the Draft, but I am told by a couple of folks that he has strongly considered the possibility of a second year. For Young however, the dream has always been about the NBA and he will likely go in the lottery thanks to his amazing athleticism (one of my NBA people told me that his dunk in the UCONN game was maybe the most important moment of the Final Four in terms of how it was perceived by NBA team scouts). While I don’t consider him the mortal lock that I do Randle, I would still be shocked if he doesn’t enter the Draft, probably this week.
Almost certain to return. Alex looked at where he would go in the Draft and gathered the information and from what I am told, he is almost certain to return. If you remember at this time last week, I had two people in my “lock” category (Randle and Young) and I feel fairly comfortable now to put Alex there as well. I think he will be a key member of the team next year and is on pace to graduate in three years, making his return the correct decision.
The shock of this entire process to me has been Willie. All season long, I heard from everyone around the team and Willie that he would enter the Draft after the season. But now I am hearing that he is not only considering returning, I have people saying that he likely will return. That is amazing to me. But the two people telling me are people I trust and so for now, I am operating under the assumption that he is in the “Lean Return” status. Apparently Willie was torn up about his injury and not being able to finish the job with the team and legitimately loves the life he has as a college student in Lexington. He also understands that because of his injury, he can’t work out during the draft process and that will have an impact on his NBA Draft status. As one person close to the process told me, “not working out caused the certain #1 pick (Nerlens) to drop to #6, the result for Willie could be much worse.”) If he returns and plays well, he could be a guaranteed lottery guy next year in a weak draft. Plus his athleticism is something next year’s team could desperately use and would make for a huge, unexpected addition. I freely admit that I will be skeptical until the day he makes his decision, as I have assumed in in the Draft since before the year began. But at the same time, all the info is going in the direction of a return and so I can’t help but follow along.
Dakari is the opposite of Willie in terms of the fact that I believed he was certain to return all year and now I am not sure. Johnson is taking the process very seriously and is being told that he would be a late first round draft choice. Now it is just up to Dakari to decide if he wants to settle for that placement or come back and have a chance to play himself into the lottery. If I were a betting man, I would still place money on Dakari being back at UK, but I am not confident in that selection and it will be interesting to see if a return by Willie would have any effect. If they both come back, UK’s front court next year is officially crazy scary.
The most talked about of the draft prospects are also the most mysterious. As I have said over and over, people who say they know what the Twins are doing simply do not. I can tell you with some confidence that even those close to the Twins don’t know and they laugh at the stories of “they are gone” or “they are returning” that are out there right now. Their situation is like Dakari’s in that both stand to improve their games and stock by returning. But both thought of themselves as guys who would only play for one year and now they have to decide if they are ok with the second. I pay almost no credibility to the Chad Ford report today that scouts say the Twins believe they weren’t “showcased” correctly by Calipari…they were probably the two who Calipari had the least problems with all season. I just think they are torn and trying to make the best decision possible. I am asked all the time if they will return and UK definitely could use them…without them, they really only have three guards on the team next season (Ulis, Booker and Hawkins), so it will be thin without them. But any guess on their future is just a guess…to me they are a toss-up and we just cross our fingers and hope they make the best decision for UK, which I also think would be the best decision for them…one more year in Lexington.
Thats how I see it standing now. John Calipari does a media tour tomorrow in which he will get asked a lot about their futures and I would expect in the next 48 hours, we will get at least one and maybe many more decisions announced. Seven kids and all different levels of potential in terms of entering the Draft…should be an exciting week.