Kentucky’s starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores did most everything together. Now, they will go their separate ways in the NBA.
Freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb declared for the draft in a nationally televised news conference Tuesday night.
“We made it work,” Jones said. “We all wanted to be there and do it together like we’ve done everything else together.”
The group, all clad in similar blue UK golf shirts, came into the season largely untested before ascending to No. 1, winning the Southeastern Conference in dominating fashion and capping an NCAA tournament run with a 67-59 victory over Kansas in the title game for the school’s eighth championship.
“It’s been a great opportunity playing here, I’ll miss this team, the way we played together. We all love each other,” said Davis, who picked up every major player of the year award and is likely the No. 1 pick in June’s draft. “I’m just going to miss this place. We won an NCAA championship here and did a lot. We all did a lot for this school and I’m going to miss it.”
The five join seniors Darius Miller, who is also projected to be drafted, and Eloy Vargas in leaving the program.
“This is a players’ first program. I said it three years ago. During the season, it’s about our team. You saw it in this year’s team, they were about each other,” coach John Calipari said. “When the season is over, it’s about moments like this.”
The departures mean only freshman Kyle Wiltjer remains from the rotation with a new class of highly touted recruits joining Calipari next season. Calipari said he had never watched the final game of a season until this one.
Kidd-Gilchrist appeared emotional for a few moments at the podium and later said his mother, Cindy Richardson, wanted him to return to school since he was one of the youngest players in Division I after turning 18 in September. Instead, he has other plans for her.
“I want to spoil my mom. I think I’m going to spoil my mom to death. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, who plans to buy her a watch for starters. “I’m ready, I think. I’m ready for anything that comes my way now.”
Teague, the point guard, seemed to be the only player who might be a questionable firstround pick in Calipari’s effort to match his 2010 draft class that saw five players go in the first round led by the No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. Teague said he felt like he did enough to be drafted in the first round by leading a “great team that’s kind of like an NBA team” to a national championship.
“This is my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and to be doing it with these guys, we’re all just making the decision together just makes it that much more special,” Teague said. “I love every day knowing I played with these guys and that not being an option any more is tough to deal with. But we all decided we needed to move on, so this is something we’ve got to do.”
Lamb said he really had only one goal after both he and Jones were projected first-round picks last season.
“The reason I stayed was to win a national championship,” Lamb said. “Me and Terrence we talked together last year and we decided to come back this year to win a national championship and we did that. Our dreams came true.”
Wiltjer, who said earlier this year the thought of his teammates leaving was “scary,” and the rest of the bench made up just 6 percent of the total minutes played this season. But the group will quickly be getting help as Calipari closes in on his fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class.
Kentucky already signed Willie Cauley, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin in the early period. Top prospect Nerlens Noel committed to the Wildcats on national television last week by shaving the school’s initials in the back of his signature flat top hairstyle. Transfer Ryan Harrow is expected to take over as point guard, giving the Wildcats, with Wiltjer, the same projected starting mix of two sophomores and three freshmen.
The team is in the hunt for a few of the remaining top prospects who have until May 16 to make their final decisions.
All of Kentucky’s new players will be thrust into major roles because with the departures, the Wildcats will lose 93.3 percent of their points, 94.5 percent of their individual rebounds and 96.2 percent of their assists.
Meanwhile, this group is about to begin their heady new lifestyle, something Davis couldn’t help laughing about when he was reminded of his upcoming payday.
“ I actually haven’t thought about that yet. That’s right, I am going to be rich,” Davis said. “You’ve just got to manage your money well. Good thing is I like math. So I should be fine.”