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Early roster projection for 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats

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Lexington’s going to have an exciting bunch next season.

Oscar Tshiebwe. Sahvir Wheeler. Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

As of April 20th, 2022, the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats are all but guaranteed to open next season with a top-five team.

That’s because reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe will be returning to Lexington for his senior year, paving the way for the Wildcats to be among the trendy national title picks next season.

Of course, one man, even one as incredible as Oscar, does not make a roster. We already know Daimion Collins and CJ Fredrick will also return, while it’s also likely that Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin join them.

The deadline to enter the NBA Draft is this Sunday, April 24th, and the NCAA deadline to withdraw from it is June 1st.

With several Wildcats testing the NBA waters, that means we probably won’t have complete roster clarity until June 1st at the earliest and likely later depending on what transfer options Kentucky pursues.

With that in mind, here is my first projection for what I believe the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats Basketball roster will look like.

Confirmed to Return

As mentioned above, Oscar will wait at least another year to begin his professional career. He was being projected as an early-to-middle second-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

If Big O can expand his offense and keep improving his mid-range jumper, he could find himself firmly projected into the first round of the 2023 draft.

And while I don’t see this happening, Oscar still has a free COVID-19 year he could use and return as a fifth-year senior in 2023-24. It’s worth mentioning since NIL will pay him more than any second-round contract will if he doesn’t raise his stock.

Even with Oscar back, Daimion Collins looked poised for a huge jump in Year 2 that should get the freakish athlete back in first-round discussion, even if he is coming off the bench next season.

CJ Fredrick is one of the best shooters in all of college hoops when healthy, but his injury history makes him very hard to rely on to log starter minutes for 30+ games, making it likely Kentucky adds at least one backcourt transfer, even if Shaedon Sharpe shocks everyone and returns for next season.

Incoming High School Recruits

With the backcourt set to at least five scholarship players, combo guard Cason Wallace is primed for a major role next season and will likely be a one-and-done. I would look for him to be the starting 2 guard when the season opens with Sahivr Wheeler running the point.

While many have thought Chris Livingston could play the 4 in college, NBA personnel actually see him as a 2 or 3 guard, according to KSR’s Jack Pilgrim. Wherever he plays, Livingston is a tremendous talent who also should be one and done.

The question will be if John Calipari can find the best way to utilize Livingston.

Definitely Leaving

Kentucky’s backcourt will be undergoing a major shakeup with Kellan Grady, Davion Mintz and TyTy Washington departing. That’s over 30 points per game that Kentucky will have to replace in just the backcourt alone.

Even if Sahvir Wheeler returns, I fully expect Kentucky to add at least one more guard this offseason, possibly two if Shaedon Sharpe leaves (more on him later).

Testing the NBA Draft

While Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin are both going through the NBA process, Toppin is expected to return next season. If that happens, it could spell the end of Keion Brooks’ time in Lexington.

It just doesn’t feel like there’s enough room for both players to remain on the roster and have the kind of role they’ll want in their likely final season of college hoops (both do have a free COVID-19 season they can still use to return for the 2023-24 season).

So, since all the buzz recently has been positive regarding Toppin returning, I’ll predict Brooks to be elsewhere come this fall, whether that’s in the pros or at another school.

Undecided

  • PG Sahvir Wheeler
  • SG Shaedon Sharpe
  • PF Lance Ware

We can pretty much pencil in Shaedon Sharpe to the ‘Testing the NBA Draft’ section, though he has yet to publicly announce he’ll test the NBA waters. The issue right now is if Sharpe will actually be eligible.

NBA rules state players must be one NBA season removed from high school graduation to be eligible. He didn’t officially graduate till December, but he had the credits needed to graduate in time to be eligible for this year’s draft.

As long as Sharpe is eligible to be in this year’s draft, expect him to not be in Lexington this fall.

With Sahvir Wheeler, he’s widely expected to be back for his senior season, though I would expect Kentucky to show interest in other potential point guard options to make sure there’s enough depth there.

As for Lance Ware, it’s been relatively quiet regarding his status, but he came to Kentucky knowing it was going to take several seasons to develop to the point he was ready to play heavy minutes at a school like Kentucky. He’s also been a great teammate and kept high spirits throughout his two years in Lexington.

So for now, I’m projecting Ware to be back and be a valuable backup in the frontcourt.

Outside Options

While there have been several transfers Kentucky has kicked the tires on, the only one that currently feels like a realistic option is Illinois State guard Antonio Reeves, who just completed a visit to Lexington. Kentucky has also received a prediction to land Reeves.

In fact, The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker believes Reeves could pop as soon as this weekend.

Reeves, who would be a senior next season, looks like a solid backcourt option that can play the 2 or the 3. And while it’s too early to know if this is a realistic option, Reeves would have a free COVID-19 year he could use and return for the 2023-24 season.

In the high school ranks, combo guard Adou Thiero will be visiting Lexington soon after scoring a scholarship offer from John Calipari. Initially, it looked like Calipari was offering Thiero as a favor to one of his former players, but with a visit scheduled to happen, it appears the Pennsylvania product could be a take, though I’m not ready to project him onto the roster.

Then there’s 5-star forward Leonard Miller who also visited Kentucky this past weekend, but he still appears likely to skip college and go pro this fall.

As for the frontcourt transfer options like Morehead State’s Johni Broome, those are likely off the table now that Oscar Tshiebwe is back.

Kentucky Basketball Roster 2022-23 Projection

  • PG Sahvir Wheeler
  • SG CJ Fredrick
  • SG Cason Wallace
  • SG Antonio Reeves
  • SF Chris Livingston
  • PF Jacob Toppin
  • PF Oscar Tshiebwe
  • PF Daimion Collins
  • PF Lance Ware
  • Unknown Player

Overall, if this is how the roster plays out, it would be a strong contender to open the season ranked No. 1 atop the polls and be the early favorite to win the 2023 NCAA Championship.

It would also potentially feature 3+ seniors in the starting lineup between Wheeler, Tshiebwe, Toppin, Fredrick and/or Reeves, making this easily one of, if not the most experienced roster John Calipari has had in Lexington.

You’ll notice I included Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves in this projection. He’s the only transfer Kentucky has hosted for a visit this offseason, and the recent buzz has been in favor of the Wildcats.

You’ll also see at the bottom where I have an unknown player listed. While I’m not confident enough to predict who that will be, I absolutely believe John Calipari won’t go into next season with just nine scholarship players, so finding a 10th feels like a given, and an 11th is also very possible (maybe a long-term developmental recruit like Thiero or even a developmental transfer like Toppin was).

What are your thoughts on this early roster prediction? Let us know in the comments section!