As John Calipari navigated this year’s team to an SEC Tournament Championship and a Sweet Sixteen berth in the NCAA Tournament, Big Blue Nation thought that most of this season’s players would return.
The few exceptions were Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, and Hamidou Diallo. Everyone else was likely to return.
But over the last two weeks, Cal has gone on a recruiting spree like none other we have ever seen. He took the Zion Williamson commitment to Duke personally and now he is hellbent on establishing himself as the premier recruiter in college basketball.
The upside is in that span he landed two recruits, Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery, in that timespan.
The downside is he may be pushing veterans out the door.
Let me preface the rest of this article by making the following clear: I do not think John Calipari is forcing players to leave. I think he is trying to stack the team with the most talent possible. These players understand coming into Kentucky that nothing is given to them and they will have to compete for time. They also understand that Cal will not stop recruiting. Ever.
With the addition of EJ Montgomery, Sacha Killeya-Jones opted for a transfer. SKJ saw his time dwindle throughout the season but that time was increased in the SEC Tournament. It had looked as if he had turned a corner and that he may have carved a spot out for himself. But with the addition of another 6-10 player, I think Killeya-Jones saw the writing on the wall.
Tai Wynyard has also opted to transfer. While it was a foregone conclusion ever since his in-season incident, it’s still an talented big man who would have been one of the most experienced players on the roster had he returned.
Calipari has two point guards for 2018. Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans if he does reclassify. But that’s not stopping him from trying to convince Tyrese Maxey, another 2019 point guard, to reclassify to 2018. That would be three new point guards on the team.
So where does that leave the 2017 point guard Quade Green? He could move to the two, but Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Jemarl Baker all play the two as well. I wouldn’t blame Green if he felt like he was being recruited over.
But once again, Green knew the deal coming to Lexington. That hasn’t stopped the rumors of Green contemplating a college career elsewhere.
There is also speculation that PJ Washington is intent on leaving his name in it no matter where he is projected.
We don’t have any official word on what either Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, or Hamidou Diallo are going to do, though the latter is very likely leaving.
So, what seemed like a team that would bring back multiple veterans has only Baker and Nick Richards coming back for certain. Even last year’s team had somewhat experienced returners in Wynyard, SKJ and Gabriel, not to mention Diallo had already been on campus for a semester.
The last time we saw a mass exodus like this was after the 2012 National Title. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb all left for the NBA, while Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas graduated, leaving only Kyle Wiltjer coming back as a player with experience.
Last year, we saw Kentucky lose much of its 2016-17 roster, but three of those losses were due to graduations in Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis and Mychal Mulder. The 2017-18 team could end up losing 6-8 players and none of them be graduates.
It seems to me Cal’s recruiting spree is not only a message to Coach K and all of the media doubters, he’s also covering his butt if he ends up losing more than he bargained for at the beginning of the season.
Cal isn’t a big fan of grad transfers, Julius Mays being the one exception, but the fact that Kentucky is in the mix for guys like Mike Daum, Reid Travis and Joe Cremo, shows us that he may have more holes to fill and that he doesn’t want another team of exclusively freshman.
There is still a great deal that will shake out and we can expect some more decisions in the span of the next week as the deadline for a player to enter his name into the draft is April 22nd.
I think it is safe to say that Kentucky fans would prefer to have a team with Washington, Green, Vanderbilt, and Gabriel as veteran contributors.