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Only 2 Wildcats in new ESPN mock draft

Perhaps a sign that Kentucky will have a lot of returning players next season.

NCAA Basketball: Monmouth-NJ at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

While there is still plenty of the college hoops season left, this is shaping up to be one of the more interesting NBA Draft classes in the John Calipari.

Rarely have the Kentucky Wildcats ever had as many fringe NBA prospects in January like they do right now. While Keldon Johnson looks like a clear first-round pick this year, no one else has been able to leave no doubt they’ll be a first-round pick if they come out.

PJ Washington has had enough good moments to think he’ll sneak into the end of Round 1, but it’s no lock. Then you’ve got guys like Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery, Tyler Herro and Nick Richards who could sneak into the late Round 1/early Round 2 range if the former five-star recruits play great the rest of the way.

As it stands, ESPN’s latest mock draft has Johnson going No. 9 overall to the Boston Celtics, while Washington goes No. 18 to the Celtics as well.

But this 60-pick projection does not have another Wildcat listed. If that’s how NBA scouts and personnel view the rest of the potential NBA Wildcats come season’s end, then that means we could see Hagans, Herro, Richards, Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker all back for the 2019-20 season to pair with Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Dontaie Allen and whoever else UK gets in its 2019 class.

Still, I’d expect Kentucky to lose at least one additional player to the draft, but even just losing three guys would be a big win for the Wildcats, who badly need to have 4-5 returning players for next season, especially if they don’t land any other big recruits in 2019.

Interestingly, this mock draft has Murray State point guard Ja Morant going No. 4 overall to the Chicago Bulls. If that comes to pass, he would be the highest-drafted player from the state of Kentucky in the Calipari era that wasn’t a Wildcat.

Here is a look at how the top 20 picks of this projection played out:

1. Cavaliers Zion Williamson

2. Suns R.J. Barrett

3. Hawks Nassir Little

4. Bulls Ja Morant

5. Knicks Cam Reddish

6. Wizards Romeo Langford

7. Magic Darius Garland

8. Grizzlies Jarrett Culver

9. Celtics (via SAC) Keldon Johnson

10. Hawks (via DAL) Sekou Doumbouya

11. Timberwolves Kevin Porter

12. Pistons De’Andre Hunter

13. Nets Rui Hachimura

14. Pelicans Jaxson Hayes

15. Hornets Bol Bol

16. Lakers Jontay Porter

17. Heat Nickeil Alexander-Walker

18. Celtics (via LAC) PJ Washington

19. Trail Blazers KZ Okpala

20. Spurs Luguentz Dort