This evening, Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery announced that he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to UK for a sophomore season.
In an official press release, the 6-foot-10 big man said that he enjoyed his first season in Lexington, felt the team did great things, and appreciated the fans for all their support.
“Big Blue Nation, I just want to say thanks for all you’ve done for me and my family,” Montgomery said. “I enjoyed putting on a Kentucky uniform with my brothers and playing in front of the best fans in the nation. I appreciate your support for me and my teammates this season. I want to say thanks for Coach Cal, Coach KP, Coach Joel, Coach Robic and Coach Barbee for pushing me every single day to be the best I can be on and off the court. I got to compete against the best of the best every day in practice. We had a good season on the court because of our love for the grind. I’m proud of what we accomplished together.”
That being said, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to the NBA yet.
“BBN, I’m back. Year two,” he announced.
So what does today’s big decision mean for Kentucky moving forward?
Montgomery can be one heck of a player
Averaging 3.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and a block per game as a freshman, the 6-foot-10 forward didn’t make a major impact from a pure numbers standpoint, and his NBA Draft stock reflected that. After originally testing the waters, Montgomery wasn’t invited to the NBA Combine and there wasn’t a single mock draft from a major media outlet with him included.
Looking at his potential, though, it’s also obvious why teams were fascinated with Montgomery as a potential late second-rounder or undrafted free agent to bring on as a two-way player.
In very short spurts, the Fort Pierce, FL native showed the ability to be an elite rebounder, comfortably bring the ball up the floor, make solid passes, knock down mid-range jumpers, and possess a soft touch around the rim at various moments. He showed he can put it all together at the high school level, hence why he was considered a top-ten recruit in the class of 2018. With another year of college, there was always a chance he would’ve been able to put it all together at Kentucky and turn himself into a lottery pick.
Instead of pulling the trigger on his professional career and potentially getting lost in the shuffle as a G-League player, we get to see if Montgomery can live up to his star potential in Lexington for one more season.
If you ask Kentucky head coach John Calipari, he thinks the now-sophomore can make that happen.
“I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ,” he said. “He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself.”
Depth at every position
Before yesterday, the only scholarship player Kentucky had listed as over 6-foot-7 was Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina.
With EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards now back for another year, Kentucky has legitimate depth at every position and flexibility to work in several different fun and unique lineup next season.
Here is what the loose depth chart looks like as of today:
PG: Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
SG: Tyrese Maxey/Johnny Juzang/Brad Calipari
SF: Kahlil Whitney/Dontaie Allen
PF: EJ Montgomery/Keion Brooks Jr.
C: Nick Richards/Nate Sestina
Ten legitimate scholarship players, including eight 5-stars, one 4-star, and a graduate transfer who averaged nearly 16 points and nine rebounds per game last year.
If Calipari wants to utilize a traditional lineup, he can go with Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Montgomery, and Richards. Small ball lineup with elite versatility? Hagans, Maxey, Juzang, Whitney, and Brooks. Shooting lineup? Quickley, Maxey, Juzang, Brooks, and Sestina. Pure size and length? Hagans, Juzang, Whitney, Montgomery, and Richards.
As mentioned in my “Five reasons to be excited for Junior Nick Richards” post yesterday (you can find that HERE), Calipari is looking to get out and run in transition next season with a roster full of versatile players, and Montgomery fits that mold perfectly. He’s always been incredibly skilled, and if he can slow down and let the game come to him as a sophomore, he can really take that next step forward as a high-level starter in the SEC.
Kentucky can still add one more piece
Now that we have a decision from Montgomery, we can now sit back and relax the rest of the way with little-to-no pressure. Following Nate Sestina’s decision to sign with Kentucky (and when Montgomery and Richards seemed like a lock to return to school), a source within the basketball program told KSR that there is “plenty of room” to add another piece if one presented itself.
At the time of this post, the obvious piece to look at is potential Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. If he decides to withdraw from the NBA Draft, the UK coaching staff is expected to still push for a commitment from him, hoping to give the Wildcats a high-level starter from a Power-5 school for the second year in a row.
If not, 2020 prospects N’Faly Dante, Makur Maker, Cliff Omoruyi, and Isaiah Todd have all been included in reclassification rumors. If the Kentucky coaching staff feels a bit feisty and wants to make a push for one of them to make the jump to provide even more depth, they have the flexibility to.
No matter what happens with Blackshear or what the Kentucky coaching staff decides to do moving forward regarding reclassification candidates, they can do it without the worry of being, for lack of a better word, screwed in the frontcourt. There won’t be any begging and they certainly aren’t desperate.
As it stands right now, the 2019-20 roster is loaded from top to bottom with no real glaring holes. Anything else would be icing on the (already-massive and packed-with-flavor) cake.
Make no mistake about it, Kentucky now has the pieces in place to contend for a national championship next season.