What a magical postseason run. The Wildcats and John Calipari pulled themselves up by their collective bootstraps and delivered one of the most memorable string of tournament games that I can recall as a fan. The team started with the shootout against Wichita State, the ‘Cats clawed their way through Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin before falling to the UConn Huskies in the National Championship game and breaking the heart of Big Blue Nation in the process.
But we have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hang our heads about. In my estimation, I think the guys just ran out of gas at the end. They looked emotionally and physically drained against UConn, and I think it all came crashing down. The team didn't have the same energy and bounce to them that they had in the previous games.
The season is now over and it has become a rite of passage in the Big Blue Nation to play the waiting game to see who stays around for another season and who goes to realize their dreams in the NBA.
A small disclaimer about this post: I have no inside information about the decisions that these young men are about to make. I am going on the eye test, stats, and draft projections. I could be completely wrong.
Stats: 15.0 ppg; 10.5 rpg; 0.8 bpg
Draft Status: #5 to the Utah Jazz
Summary: Randle was the biggest name in the Kentucky 2013 recruiting class and he lived up to it. He was a double-double machine for most of the season and had his best game against the Michigan State Spartans in the third game of the season with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Julius found it rough going in SEC play as teams keyed on him and he saw his points diminish. But to the positive, he discovered how to pass out of double teams and elevated his defensive game.
Will he stay or go? Julius is 100% gone. He is a top five pick and doesn't have much left to prove at the college level. He will have to work on his jump shot, his ball handling and his right hand, but his potential is very high, especially due to the fact that all he will have to focus on will be basketball.
Stats: 14.3 ppg; 4.3 rpg; 1.7 apg
Draft Status: #21 to the Memphis Grizzlies
Summary: Young showcased his offensive explosiveness throughout the season but didn't show a consistent long range jump shot. His three point percentage increased as the season progressed, but he never quite lived up to the "knockdown shooter" tag. His defense was suspect (please see national title game) as smaller guards torched him on a regular basis. But all of that considered, he was a match up nightmare for just about every team he faced and his ability to attack the basket is what is making NBA GM's drool as is exhibited by this nasty dunk:
Will he stay or go? Although I think Young should return to continue to work on his defense, ball handling, passing and his jump shot, I think he will declare for the draft. While he is hovering around the lower twenties at the moment, Young could jump as high as the mid-teens with good workouts. He is certainly a good bet for first round guaranteed money.
Stats: 6.8 ppg; 6.1 rpg; 2.9 bpg
Draft Status: #29 to the Oklahoma City Thunder
Summary: Willie Cauley-Stein saw his season end against the Louisville Cardinals in the Sweet 16 with a foot injury. Up until that point, WCS was having a rollercoaster ride season. He hit a high against Ole Miss with 18 points and 11 rebounds, but experienced a low at home against the Florida Gators with two points and two rebounds. Still, WCS has a unique skill set for a seven footer. He is quick on his fit, has great lift as a shot blocker, and is able to guard smaller opponents with relative ease.
Will he stay or go? I am really conflicted on this. On the one hand, he has the ability to be a good NBA player, but he doesn't play at a high enough level regularly. If he returns to Kentucky, he will be fighting for playing time with Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Karl Towns, Jr. But Willie seemed devastated at how the season ended and I'm not so sure that going pro is all that important to him at this point in time. I really think his decision is 50/50 right now.
Stats: 5.2 ppg; 3.9 rpg; 0.6 bpg
Draft Status: N/A
Summary: Dakari's growth this season was staggering. He went from a lumbering, awkward big man to a force on offense. We really got to see his progression as he took over starting duties for a struggling Willie Cauley-Stein. We saw Johnson play his best basketball in the NCAA tournament and witnessed him dominate Louisville's big men in a 15 point, six rebound performance in the Sweet 16. He needs to work on free throws and foot speed for defense, but the sky is the limit for this kid.
Will he stay or will he go? Expect Dakari Johnson to return next see and contend for the nation's top center in college basketball. He's going to be a beast.
Stats: 5.9 ppg; 4.5 rpg; 0.7 bpg
Draft Status: N/A
Summary: Alex's point and rebound totals were greatly diminished from last season, but don't let the numbers fool you, he had a solid season. Poythress was asked to become a role player instead of a starter. I think Alex found his niche with this team and became the energy man. There were many games, including in the tournament, in which the team needed a spark and Alex would answer with a monster dunk, a crucial rebound, or a ball saving hustle play. More and more he reminds me of Darius Miller. There was a point in the season in which Alex seemed to regress, but like the rest of his team, he showed up when the time was right in the tournament. We also saw his defense improve immensely during the tournament run as he was asked to shut down players such as Luke Hancock.
Will he stay or will he go? Alex will be back for his junior season at Kentucky and will add that veteran leadership that so many claim that Kentucky lacks. I see Alex actually playing a bigger role as I don't think Trey Lyles is quite the game changer that Julius Randle is, although he is very good. Alex needs to work on that mid-range jumper and the three. If he could get those skills honed, and along with his freak athleticism, he could be near impossible to defend. I feel like Alex will be a four year player. Academics are important to him and I don't think he has the personality to rush into the NBA.
Stats: 2.1 ppg; 1.4 rpg; 0.6 bpg
Draft Status: N/A
Summary: After scoring 17 points in his debut as a Wildcat, we didn't see much from him until he broke out in the Elite Eight against the Michigan Wolverines. Lee was forced into duty after Willie Cauley-Stein was injured against the Louisville Cardinals and provided the Wildcats with a spark. He became the talk of the game after scoring 10 jawdropping, athletic points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Kentucky fans wondered why we hadn't seen more of Lee during the season. While Lee can jump out of the gym, his offensive skills are limited and he is extremely raw. He doesn't have the bulk of Dakari or the lateral quickness of WCS, so he is still a work in progress.
Will he stay or go? Marcus will absolutely be back. I think he is a three or four year player that will develop into a star and a possible lottery pick. He has the right personality and the right attitude to put in the work. We should be very excited about the future of Marcus Lee as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Stats: 10.9 ppg; 3.2 rpg; 4.0 apg
Draft Status: #27 to the Miami Heat
Summary: Andrew struggled early on as it is custom for most John Calipari coached point guards. He exhibited his frustration throughout the early going and didn't look comfortable in his position. He had his best regular season game at North Carolina with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 turnovers. He followed that up two games later with an 18 point game against Louisville. He had bright spots here and there as the season went along, but continued to be turnover prone. But then the tweak happened before the SEC tournament and it was like a light went on. Andrew was playing better basketball by running the offense instead of looking to score. He seemed more comfortable and confident heading into the tournament and translated that into strong point guard play.
Will he stay or will he go? This is a difficult one to guess. At the beginning of the season he was a top 10 pick. Now he sits at the back end of the twenties and some drafts have him in the thirty range. The NCAA tournament was good for his draft stock, but not that good. I really think he needs another year in order to work on his defense, his maturity, his ball handling and his jump shot. This could go either way, but I don't think he will be satisfied with his draft status. I am going to go out on a limb and say he stays. He has the size and the talent to be a pro, but he hasn't put it all together yet.
Stats: 13.7 ppg; 3.0 rpg; 1.9 apg
Draft Status: #35 to the Utah Jazz
Summary: Aaron had a much better regular season that many give him credit. He averaged double-digits, but like James Young, he shooting was streaky and his scoring wasn't consistent enough. Whereas Young could rely on his extraordinary athletic ability, Aaron needs his jump shot to define his game more, and to be honest, it isn't where it needs to be. He could explode for 28 points, but he was held to under ten points on ten occasions this past season. But one thing that he has going for him is his fearless personality that allows him to not only take the big shot, but to make it when it counts. Aaron is a scorer, but he showed flashes at being a great defender as well. If he works hard enough, and there isn't anything in this kid's personality that says he won't, he can be one of the best shooters in college basketball.
Will he stay or will he go? He is in the early to mid-thirties in just about every mock draft that I have studied. Like his brother, I don't think he will be satisfied with his draft number and I think that he may feel like he has unfinished business at Kentucky. The fact that his draft status is less certain than his brother's leads me to believe that he will return. And I highly doubt one will go without the other.
Wrapping it all up: The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed this team and this season: yes it was frustrating at times and yes, as Cal stated, it feels like they underachieved somewhat, but they were a wonderful group of kids that were a joy to watch grow and mature.
Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis were left off of this list due to the fact that they are definitely returning. Their contributions, especially Hawkins, cannot go without notice. I think both players will be at Kentucky for four years and will be more than capable role players by their senior season.
As for the John Calipari rumors, when haven't we had to deal with them? I think the fact that Rex Chapman took it upon himself to announce the rumors when he did made it a much bigger deal than it really may be. The fact is that I think we are on borrowed time with Cal. He is giving everything he has to this program, physically and mentally, and I'm not sure how long he can hold out.
The circumstances are not there for him to leave just yet. He is getting ready to have hip surgery and he has some major studs returning and some big time recruits coming in to fill some holes. I think that next year could be just as special, if not more so as this season, if the right players return.
It's been fun, Big Blue Nation. We can guess and pontificate all we want, but in the end this decision lies with their players and their families. It's going to be a stressful two weeks.
But hey, it's going to be a walk in the park compared to the stress of the tournament, right?
*Draft info from nbadraft.net