As has become customary during the John Calipari era at Kentucky, the Wildcat basketball agenda for the offseason is for many of the underclassmen to decide whether they want to test the NBA waters and enter their name in the draft or continue being a student–athlete.
Except for one of Calipari’s first four seasons (2012) this decision is usually relegated to three or maybe four players. This particular year there may be as many as seven players who test the NBA waters. And yes, I said seven.
That number may seem utterly ridiculous to many in Big Blue Nation with the way several of the Wildcats performed this year. But just keep in mind the NBA is all about “potential,” nothing more, nothing less. I’ll remind everyone that Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins were both drafted by the NBA brain trust and neither was ever listed as part of a consistent starting five while wearing UK blue and white. Also, don’t forget that quarter-ton of athleticism named Josh Harrellson who has been on an NBA roster more months than the previous two players men- tioned since leaving UK.
So, as we finally leave behind the winter that never seemed to want to end, we are left to wait out the early days of spring for the following players to make that decision:
• Freshman Julius Randle — Mark it down, he’s gone. All NBA mock drafts have him high in the lottery.
• Freshman James Young — Although his basketball decision-making skills and perimeter shooting have been very inconsistent, along with a serious passing problem, most NBA general managers have him going no worse than 20th in the first round. While he would raise his stock tremendously if he came back and make more money in the long run, I seriously doubt he’ll stay.
• Freshman Dakari Johnson — I don’t think Johnson will leave when the final decision is made, but word out of the Joe Craft Center is there may not be as many minutes in his immediate future after a more polished offensive threat in 6’ 11” Karl Towns arrives on campus next fall.
• Freshmen Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison — I bracket these twin brothers together for obvious reasons. Having set in front of Mama and Papa Harrison this past season for all UK home games, I get the feeling they want to keep the family together at least one more basketball season. Plus, the brothers need the extra year for obvious developmental reasons. While Aaron’s stock did rise in the eyes of the NBA folks down the stretch, I think the final decision will be to wear the blue and white one more year.
• Sophomore Willie Cauley Stein — The freakishly built 7’ 0” athlete will also choose to go to the NBA, but for reasons different than Randle. Cauley-Stein is still very much the unpolished product, but he could very well take a step back in the development process if he stays. Why? Because you can’t get better if you’re on the bench more than you are on the floor while sharing minutes with talented players like Dakari Johnson and Karl Towns Jr.
• Sophomore Alex Poythress — This player remains the most mysterious puzzle piece of the Calipari era. When Poythress left high school some 20 months ago, many hoops experts across America said that had the mandatory one-year college rule not been intact he would have gone straight to the NBA. This year he has been relegated to a very normal sixthman role and has never found a truly comfortable position in the UK offense. Poythress definitely should come back, but he may take the same road DeAndre Liggins took when he assumed minutes wouldn’t be there at his position.
If the above predictions come to fruition, you’re looking at this possible rotation of as many as 10 players next season:
• Starting guards — Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison
• Starting Wing Forward — Derek Willis or Devin Booker
• Starting Power Forward — Alex Poythress or Trey Miles
• Starting Center — Dakari Johnson
• Key guard reserves — Dominique Hawkins and Tyler Ulius
• Key wing reserves — Devin Booker or Derek Willis
• Back- up Forward — Trey Miles or Marcus Lee
• Back-up Center — Karl Towns
At first look, it appears next year’s team will have a little more seasoned and experienced roster than this year. Still, a few questions to be answered for point production, especially if the twins and Poythress bolt for the NBA.
Columnist Ira D. Combs lives in Jeff in Perry County, where he and his brother Harold operate Tri-State Sports Media Inc.