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Kentucky Basketball: Who stays and who goes 2018 Edition

Let’s play the roster retention guessing game.

Kansas State v Kentucky Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I’m still not over the Kentucky Wildcats losing to the Kansas State Wildcats in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think I’ll be over it for a while.

UK was in prime position to beat a K-State team that had three players fouled out, including their leading scorer, and their best player didn’t play in the second half. Yet Kentucky could not close the deal down the stretch.

While I’m thinking about who stays and who goes, I can’t help but think that not one player on the current roster is NBA ready. Sure, a few guys have the size, the speed, and the athleticism for the Association, but they lack consistency and, in some cases, basketball IQ.

Regardless we should expect three or more players to exit Kentucky to either get drafted, play overseas, or even transfer.

Kevin Knox

Knox was the highest rated draft prospect at the beginning of the season and still remains the highest rated draft prospect. At 6’9, he has a shooter’s touch and the ability that NBA scouts drool over as a Kevin Durant type of player.

The knock on Knox is his inconsistency and his at times unwillingness to attack the basket. Even when his opponent was smaller, he tended to hang out around the perimeter. His defense was suspect for most of the season but he would, every now and then, defend and rebound well.

While I expect Knox to go, I don’t think he is a sure thing right now. He will be drafted on his upside and potential but he will spend some time in the G-League for the first few years of his career.

Percentage Chance Gone: 90%

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

There’s usually one guy on Kentucky’s roster that emerges as an NBA draft prospect that your didn’t see coming. This year SGA was that guy. He elevated his game as the season progressed and ended up being Kentucky’s most reliable player.

At 6’6 and with a nearly 7’ wingspan, Shai has the NBA point guard body. His decision making has improved as has his jumpshot. The big question with Shai is does he have the elite athleticism to have a sustained career in the NBA. The Kentucky player that I like to compare him to is Brandon Knight. Knight has been a journeyman even though he was a top 10 lottery pick.

Shai has worked himself into lottery consideration even though he wasn’t even a blip on the radar when the season began. He’s a first round lock and the most intriguing guard in the draft. But like Knox I expect that he will spend some time in the G-League this season.

Percentage Chance Gone: 95%

Hamidou Diallo

After sitting out the latter half of 2017 and testing the draft waters at the NBA combine, Diallo had a decision to make: either stick in the draft and hope that some NBA team takes a chance on his athleticism with a first round pick our come back to Kentucky to work on his skills while positioning himself as a 2018 lottery pick.

Hami came back but he will most certainly not be a lottery pick and there are real questions as to whether or not he will even be worthy of a first round pick after struggling through most of the season.

While his athleticism has never been questioned, Diallo was a non-factor throughout SEC play and, outside of one stellar performance against Buffalo, the NCAA Tournament.

It would be in Diallo’s best interest to come back to Kentucky in order to work on his shot and his overall basketball skill set but he may consider himself a failure if that’s the course he chooses to take.

I still think Diallo can be really good and I still think he can work himself into a lottery pick. Right now he’s not a pro; he’s not even a good college player. But with his athleticism he can change that. This isn’t an Isaiah Briscoe situation where Hami is what he is; he can get better.

Right now Hami has a hard decision to make. Does he chance falling into the second round or does he come back in order to continue to put work in and reposition himself for next season. His athleticism isn’t going anywhere so the only place for him to go in college is up.

Percentage Chance Gone: 60%

Jarred Vanderbilt

This is the player with the most questions surrounding him. His physique and his skill-set is tailor made for the NBA. But his offense is underdeveloped and he’s injury prone. It’s going to take a giant leap of faith for an NBA team to take him at all.

The risk that Vanderbilt faces if he returns is injuring his foot again and forever wrecking his chances at the NBA. If he can heal in time for the combine and get the feedback that at least one team is interested in drafting him in the first or second round, then I think he’s gone.

Vanderbilt’s career at Kentucky could be a giant “what if” because we never got the full sample size. I do think the constant questions about his health and whether or not he would play took a toll on everyone: Jarred, his teammates, and the coaching staff.

Percentage Chance Gone: 50%

PJ Washington

Washington was Kentucky’s most consistent big man but his lack of overall consistency is what will keep him at Kentucky.

He showed flashes of dominance throughout the season but he was prone to getting himself in foul trouble and he struggled mightily from the free throw line. If Washington comes back, and I believe he will, he very well could be the best power forward in the SEC next season.

Percentage Chance Gone: 30%

Wenyen Gabriel

The sophomore version of Wenyen Gabriel was leaps and bounds better than the freshman version but the 6’9 wing still struggled at times.

The best version of Wenyen was when he was hitting threes and rebounding. His worst version was when he was fouling and turning the ball over. You never knew which one you were going to get.

The only scenario in which I see Gabriel going is if he opts to play overseas in order to put his family in a better financial situation. But I don’t think that happens. Gabriel likes it at Kentucky and he has a chance to be even better next season.

He worked hard in the offseason last year to improve his body and his game. I fully expect him to do the same this offseason.

Percentage Chance Gone: 20%

Nick Richards

Richards had the most disappointing season out of all the Wildcats, Hamidou Diallo included.

He came in as a five star seven footer that had the chance to fill the rim protector void that has been plaguing Kentucky for the past two seasons before his arrival. But Richards was far more of a project than anyone, including his coaches, could have anticipated.

Although he started every game this season, his minutes dwindled and he was a liability on the court both offensively and defensively. He couldn’t even secure a rebound by season’s end. As much as Shai progressed, Richards regressed just as much.

Richards has size and athleticism so there is still hope for him. But it’s going to be on his shoulders if he wants to improve. As of now Kentucky has no big man commitments for next season so a new and improved Nick Richards is of the utmost importance.

Percentage Chance Gone: 10%

Sacha Killeya-Jones

After SKJ took a leave of absence for the death of his grandfather only to return to an even more reduced role than he had before the death in his family, rumors were flying of a transfer. It was year two for the McDonald’s All American and things just weren’t clicking.

The the SEC Tournament happened and he turned into a contributor. He rebounded, defended, blocked shots, and gave Kentucky at least the threat of a scoring big man.

But like the rest of his teammates, he took a step back at the worst possible time in the Sweet Sixteen.

I’m not sure what SKJ does right now. I think things maybe changed for him once he saw that there is a spot for him on this team. But if John Calipari can secure another big man to come in (EJ Montgomery) then I think SKJ will seek to go elsewhere.

The fact is there is more upside with Richards. Washington has established himself as the best big man on the team. If Vanderbilt decides to return and Cal does land Montgomery, then I think we see Killeya-Jones declare his intent to transfer.

But the chances of all of that falling into place aren’t great. But the chances are there.

Percentage Chance Gone: 30%

Quade Green

When Quade Green committed to John Calipari he was the heir apparent at the point guard position. But he hurt his back during SEC play and Calipari was forced to play Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the starter. SGA elevated his play, took Quade’s minutes, and never looked back.

Quade is a very capable point guard and shooter but I think, every once in a while, he can get a little shot happy. He has the most confidence on the team and sometimes I think that hurts him.

Kentucky has an influx of guards coming in with Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, and Immanuel Quickley. Johnson is a for sure starter while Quickley and Herro definitely will battle for starting positions.

I don’t see Green leaving for the NBA and I doubt he transfers unless he thinks his minutes diminish even more.

Kentucky could use a sophomore point guard so a second year Green would be a huge bonus for his team.

Percentage Chance Gone: 20%


I do one of these posts after the end of every season and this one was the most difficult to do. There are so many questions and so many guys underperformed that it is hard to determine their fates one way or the other.

The one thing I can say for certain, with the class coming in and if the right mix of guys come back, the 2018/2019 season could be special.