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Kentucky Basketball: Who stays and who goes

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It’s a tradition unlike any other.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As we sit and wait for life to get back on track, we are left to ponder what if situations. We here in Big Blue Nation are used to this kind of thing.

There is always an Exodus from the Promised Land of Kentucky Wildcats basketball. This year is tricky because there aren’t many guys showing up on the NBA Draft boards there still will be guys leaving.

The bright side is that John Calipari will have a number of guys coming back and he has the top recruiting class in the country coming in to Lexington.

My disclaimer here is that I have no inside sources here. This is pure conjecture based upon draft opportunities and room on the roster for next season.

Tyrese Maxey

Prediction: 100% gone

Maxey is the one Kentucky player that consistently shows up in first round projections. He isn’t a surefire lottery pick as he was projected at the beginning of the season due to his sometimes erratic play. There were moments in the season where Maxey looked the part of a top ten pick but his inconsistent shooting/scoring left enough doubt in the minds of scouts.

A good showing in the NCAA tournament probably would have put him over the edge in regards to the lottery but he, like all the players in the NCAA, was robbed of that opportunity and it most likely cost him money.

That being said, Maxey is a prototypical NBA player with his speed and athleticism. There’s no doubt that he will improve his shooting and he will be on NBA rosters for many years to come.

Nick Richards

Predictions: 85% gone

It was a breakout year for the big man as Nick Richards became a force in the middle for the Wildcats. While most fans and media banked on EJ Montgomery having a big season, it was Richards that emerged as the best big on the roster.

Richards has the talent and the size to compete in the NBA but there are questions surrounding his motor and his head. For two seasons he moped and underperformed at Kentucky. He was a marginal bench player by his sophomore season and it looked as if he was never going to get it.

But then — thanks to some off the court talking from his girlfriend, his coaches and his family — Richards ended the season as a first team all SEC player and one of the best big men in the country. The question is whether or not he has dug himself a hole due to his lack of production his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Richards not only has the size and athleticism for the NBA, he has the shooting range as well. His ability to consistently hit mid-range jump shots translates to the modern NBA version of a big. With work he can be a threat from deep as well.

For Richards it looks like get going while the going is good. There is enough there for a team to take a first round chance on him right now. If he sticks at UK and takes a step back his senior season, then that chance will be gone.

Ashton Hagans

Prediction: 85% gone

Ashton Hagans was supposed to be one of the stars on this Kentucky team. He started off as one but, as the season progressed, that star faded. While Maxey was the NBA guy, Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley emerged as SEC Player of the Year candidates. All Hagans could do was watch as his teammates got the majority of the praise.

Things came to a head when Hagans and Calipari got into a verbal spat on the bench during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers in Rupp Arena. That led to Hagans “taking time away” from the team. There was also the appearance of a video with Hagans holding a stack of money that also added to the distractions.

Hagans being a problem was not something that any of us saw coming. He was looked at as a leader on the team and he’d never been a problem in the past. I’m not sure what his relationship is with Calipari at this point, but I am certain both of them can look past it.

That doesn’t mean that Hagans is going to stay. I believe he had it in his head that he was going to have a big season and that he would end up as a first-round pick. Right now, he is solidly in the second round because of his iffy shooting and his poor (at times) decision-making.

It would be nice to have Hagans back, but for right now I don’t see it. I fully expect him to put his name in the draft, go through the process, and be a pro next season.

Immanuel Quickley

Prediction: 60% gone

Immanuel Quickley was the surprise of the season for the Kentucky Wildcats. He went from a guy off the bench that hit threes to the best player on the team in a matter of months.

He broke out against the Louisville Cardinals scoring 18 points and defensively shutting down Jordan Nwora. He capped off the season by being named SEC Player of the Year and earning universal praise from media outlets.

John Calipari stated that he believed Immanuel Quickley would go through the draft process and I think Cal will encourage him to get feedback. I believe that Calipari would like Quickley to come back another season to show that he can play point guard to up his NBA draft stock.

The problem with Quickley, and I am being nickpickey here, is that he lacks the explosiveness and size of an NBA shooting guard. He is a fantastic college player at that position but I am not sure if that will translate to the next level. If he could come and run point for Kentucky, which he is more than capable of doing, then that adds a skill set for NBA GMs to consider.

Another thing to consider is his faith and his family situation. Quickley is an extremely mature college kid and he has a family base that is not in need of NBA money. I think he will look at all of his options logically and will make a logical decision. If he feels he needs to come back to UK, he will. There is no pressure from outside sources telling him what to do, which is rare for a player of his caliber.

A junior Immanuel Quickley would elevate Kentucky as a favorite to win the 2021 national title.

EJ Montgomery

Prediction: 50% gone

I don’t know if any player on the team has a more difficult decision to make than EJ Montgomery.

EJ was as much of a disappointment this season as Nick Richards was a surprise. While we saw flashes of what he could be, it never clicked for him. There were comments made about his lack of conditioning during the middle of the season and that sent out warning signs that maybe EJ didn’t take his sophomore season as seriously as PJ Washington did the year before or Immanuel Quickley this season.

I think EJ came into this season thinking he was going to be PJ, but he didn’t put in the work. Now, he is in a tough spot. Come back another year and break out like Nick Richards, or come back another season and flop with his NBA future all but gone.

Or, he could go now and try to convince GMs on his potential to be good in the Association. Calipari’s statements on EJ make me think that he believes EJ needs a junior season. At the same time, Calipari will help EJ make an NBA roster if that is what he decides to do.

Johnny Juzang

Prediction: 95% returns

Next season could be a big one for Johnny Juzang. It took him a while to find his way at Kentucky this season. Some people, including myself, forgot that he reclassified and should have been playing his final season of high school basketball.

The lasting memory we have of Juzang is him stepping up with Quickley on the bench against the Florida Gators. He faced the challenge and played extremely well.

While Juzang has the ability to score, his rebounding and his defense is what got John Calipari to trust him late in the season. Juzang can return to Kentucky as a major contributor off the bench or a starter depending on how Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston work out.

All Juzang needed was confidence and that started to build as the season went on. Unless he makes a surprising decision to transfer, he’ll be back.

Keion Brooks

Prediction: 95% returning

I am very excited about a sophomore season for Keion Brooks. He can defend, he can rebound, and he can score. His lack of strength is what kept him off the floor for the Cats.

Like Juzang, he showed us what he is made of against Florida. He was a large part of that amazing come back. With the questions surrounding the frontcourt at UK, many forget that Brooks is coming back. For now the frontcourt of Brooks, Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware is pretty thin. If EJ comes back that’s looking pretty good. If Kentucky somehow lands Greg Brown in the coming days, then I’ll be ecstatic.

Anyway you look at it, the return of Brooks is important and I don’t think he is getting enough attention. Like Juzang, Unless Brooks makes a surprising decision to transfer, he’ll be back.

Dontaie Allen

Prediction: 100% returning

It’s hard to say what Allen is going to bring to the 2021 Cats because we never saw him play. And with the wealth at the guard spot with Devin Askew, Boston, Clark, and Juzang, it’s unknown how Allen will fit into that rotation.

My guess is that Allen will be battling for a spot with incoming freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher. While most people think that either Clark or Boston will start at the three spot, the backup position will be between Fletcher or Allen.

All indications are that Fletcher is talented but extremely raw offensively. Allen came into Kentucky as a scorer and a shooter. If he can showcase his abilities at practice then he can crack the rotation. But I don’t see him as a big time contributor.

I foresee a Dominique Hawkins/Derrick Willis type road for Allen.

Nate Sestina

Prediction: It’s up to the NCAA.

It’s in all likelihood that Nate Sestina played his last basketball game for Kentucky at the beginning of March. That being said, John Calipari said that if the NCAA allows seniors one more year of eligibility that Nate is all in favor for coming back to Kentucky.

Sestina wanted to come to Kentucky in order to get to a Final Four. His team looked like they were on the verge of putting it together just in time but then disaster struck.

Another year for Sestina would be huge for Kentucky’s frontcourt which is looking quite thin at the moment. Losing out on Greg Brown and/or the departure of EJ Montgomery wouldn’t sting so bad if we knew there was already a fourth big on the roster.

Saying all of this, recent reports suggest there will be no extra year of eligibility for winter sport athletes, so Sestina’s college career is likely over.