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John Calipari reacts to Terrence Clarke going pro

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“Like Jarred Vanderbilt, who had a similar challenge, I really believe Terrence’s best days are ahead of him.”

NCAA Basketball: Bluegrass Showcase-Richmond at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Wildcats freshman guard Terrence Clarke announced Friday he plans to submit his name for the 2021 NBA Draft and forgo his remaining eligibility.

Clarke was one of UK’s top performers in the nonconference season, but a leg injury kept him out of the entire SEC regular-season schedule.

“As an adolescent, having the privilege to put on the Kentucky uniform and play in front of the BBN was always a lifelong goal of mine,” Clarke said in a press release. “Although it was hindered due to things out of my own control, the experience is something I will keep with me forever.

“I have grown a lot with this experience and I will never take it for granted. After discussing it with my family, I have decided to renounce my eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft. I had high expectations coming into this season and, of course, didn’t expect to be injured, which I understand is part of the game.

“Thank you to Coach Cal, the coaching staff and my teammates! BBN, I hope to make you all proud as a I pursue my dreams.”

Clarke is the second player from the 2020-21 Wildcats’ roster to declare for the 2021 NBA Draft. Freshman Isaiah Jackson declared his intentions on Wednesday, leaving open the option to return to school.

Under NCAA rules, players sign with an NCAA-certified agent, submit paperwork to receive evaluations from the NBA, participate – if invited – in the NBA Draft Combine, and still return to school. Clarke intends to sign with an agent but will not return to Kentucky.

“This was not an easy decision for Terrence, who I admire for how he handled adversity, stuck with it and battled back to be there for his teammates in SEC Tournament game,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said in a press release. “Terrence has unbelievable ability and upside, and my only disappointment for him is that he didn’t have a chance to build on what he started because of the leg injury.

“Having said that, I am confident in his ability to make a major impact in that league. He has great size, can get downhill and score the ball, create for his teammates, and can play and guard multiple positions. Terrence showed me a lot this year in how he handled the hand he was dealt and became a great teammate.

“Like Jarred Vanderbilt, who had a similar challenge, I really believe Terrence’s best days are ahead of him. I will be rooting like crazy for him and I know our fans will be as well.”

Clarke was limited to eight games in the 2020-21 season because of a right leg injury. He made six starts and averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

The 6-7 guard scored in double figures in four of his first five games and was shooting 49.1% prior to the North Carolina game when he suffered his leg injury. Clarke played through the injury vs. UNC and the next game at Louisville before being sidelined for the conference season.

Despite missing more than two months of action, Clarke battled back to provide nine important minutes with three assists in the SEC Tournament game vs. Mississippi State.

Clarke’s best performance was a 22-point, three-assist game vs. Georgia Tech in early December. He was 9 of 14 from the floor with three 3-pointers. Showing an ability to attack the rim and create for his teammates, Clarke spent time at the point guard position the next three games until being sidelined.

The Boston native scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds vs. Richmond, posted 14 points with three assists vs. Notre Dame, and made his college debut with 12 points, four assists and three steals in the rout of Morehead State.

Clarke was one of the top prospects in the 2020 high school class. A consensus five-star prospect, he was ranked as high as No. 8 in the final Rivals rankings. The 2020 England Preparatory School Athletic Council AAA Player of the Year led Brewster Academy to the 2019 National Prep Championships and had his team back in the 2020 finals before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of the event.

Best of luck to Clarke as he begins his professional career.