Yes, I know this season was supposed to be special. The Bahamas trip got everyone hyped, and now the deflation has led to anger and frustration from Kentucky basketball fans. And I realize “wait til next year” is not an adage that Big Blue Nation will ever own, but this season could lead to something special not just next year, but on down the line.
Reid Travis is gone. Keldon Johnson would probably be wise to enter the NBA Draft. PJ Washington is very unlikely to return for a junior season.
Other than that, who will the Wildcats lose this off season?
Sure, one of these guys could go on a run that could get them drafted. EJ Montgomery may slip into the first round based on potential. But realistically, most of the current roster will be back for the 2019-2020 season.
I said “most” of the team is coming back. This year, it was Quade Green, Nick Richards, and PJ Washington coming back and it was considered a veteran team. What would a team dominated by sophomores and a junior or two look like?
There’s also the chance that Kentucky could add one or both of Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt to its 2019 class. As much as Kentucky has struggled in this class, it would be another first or second-ranked recruiting class in the nation for Calipari.
And it may get to be paired with more than three returning players.
If all of this happens, this is what next year’s team roster ‘could’ look like:
PG - Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey
SG - Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker
SF - Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen
PF - Jaden McDaniels (?), Matthew Hurt (?)
C - EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards
I realize you have some questions marks there, but you get the idea. The 2019-2020 roster could be closer to the team that fans expected this year’s group to be. More experience, more depth, more potential. This will also come in a year where teams like North Carolina, Duke, and Kansas lose most of their current studs.
Even if you disagree with me about next season’s potential, and I fully admit that it is way too early to give up on this year’s group, think about the long-term implications of having a veteran roster next season.
Having 6-7 guys return to a Kentucky roster could be just the thing to start chipping away at the culture of players feeling like a failure if they are not one-and-done guys. Yes, this may be a mute point by 2022 when the NBA change the draft age.
But for now, any player that comes to Kentucky expects to be in the NBA within two years. If that does not happen, they make the mistake of declaring for the NBA Draft before they are ready or deciding to transfer when there is still lots of opportunity for them in Lexington.
If the culture at Kentucky can adapt to one where top-10 guys are brought in every year, yet returning players feel valued and contribute to winning when it counts, that could re-energize a program that feels a bit like it is on its heels at the moment.
Kentucky is no longer the destination school for all top recruits. The sooner the coaching staff (and fans) realize that, the sooner change can happen to get back to a winning culture that may look a bit different than Big Blue Nation is used to.
A year like this one could be the first step in changing that culture and bridging the gap between the uber-successful early Calipari years and the next team that puts banners No. 9 and No. 10 up in the rafters.