Here's my totally random guess at who stays and who comes back. The percentages have changed frequently over the last couple of days as I worked on this. But I'm putting down my guesses.
Your thoughts are appreciated.
#0 Jacob Toppin.
Gone. Jacob has made it clear he wants to go to the NBA. After a couple of years backing up Keion Brooks he showed himself to be a very good starting power forward this year. He always had great athletic ability but he’s added some scoring at all levels and has become a decent rebounder. I don’t know if he’ll hear his name on draft night but he may be able to get an NBA contract of some kind to chase the dream. Flight Risk 90%.
Why I could be wrong: No doubt he’ll put his name in the draft. The only way he’ll pull it out is if he decides there’s still work to be done on his game that he can fix in the next year. But even in this case he’ll probably start grinding overseas somewhere.
#1 CJ Fredrick.
Gone. CJ has been frequently injured, at both Iowa and Kentucky. He’s had foot surgery, hamstring surgery and has missed time at both schools with rib injuries. He may be saying "make the pain stop". He seems ready to start the next phase of his life as he was recently engaged to Blair Green, a player on the UK women’s team. Look for one or both of them to be in the spotlight in the future, possibly as college athletic officials or political leaders. Flight Risk 70%.
Why I could be wrong: I don’t know how much the players are receiving in NIL payments. It could be that CJ decides that playing at UK is as lucrative as his next job. Maybe get enough of a stake to allow him and Blair to chase their dreams.
#2 Sahvir Wheeler.
Gone. There have been hints that Savir won’t be back. Between injuries and a smaller role this year. I’m not sure on the transfer rules for a player who has already moved once, but he may enter the transfer portal as a graduate if he’s eligible. Find a last team to lead. Flight Risk 80%.
Why I could be wrong: Next year’s point guard will probably be Freshman Robert Dillingham. But as we’ve seen the last few years a backup is always needed. Maybe NIL and the chance to compete will be enough to keep him around.
#3 Adou Thiero.
Back. Adou is a fan favorite in large part because he seems to be having a great time as a Wildcat. He makes both great plays and mistakes based on this enthusiasm. His late growth spurt has left his talent trying to catch up with his body. I’m guessing he’ll be back. Flight Risk 30%.
Why I could be wrong: It looks like there will be 3 good players coming in next year to play the guard positions. Add in maybe 1 transfer and that leaves him maybe 5th in line for guard playing time. He was lightly recruited before UK entered the process but has increased his value over the last year. He may be tempted to check out the grass on other hills.
#4 Daimion Collins.
Gone. Daimion is one of the hard ones to predict. He came to Kentucky as a freakish athlete but without the muscle mass to compete in the SEC. His development has been slower than most would have liked. It was set back this year with a family loss this year. Last year we watched to see if Damian or Bryce Hopkins would develop into the next UK power forward. But Bryce left and became a star for the Providence Fryers. I look for Daimion to leave this off-season, possibly to somewhere closer to his home in Texas. Flight Risk 70%.
Why I could be wrong: Next year has a really good freshman class coming in. Top rated players are coming for 4 of the 5 positions. The exception is power forward, Damian’s position. With Jacob Toppin probably leaving that leaves Damian as having the inside track to the starter position. That may be enough to bring him back.
#12 Antonio Reeves.
Gone. Antonio showed himself to be a really good scorer this year and improved his defense as the season progressed. But he really wants to play in the NBA, that’s why he transferred to Kentucky. He’ll test his skills with the NBA and then decide. I expect him to begin grinding somewhere professionally next year. Flight risk 80%.
Why I could be wrong: I don’t know how much the players are making in NIL payments, but it’s probably as much as a ‘grinder’ can make playing anywhere other than the NBA. Maybe, but I doubt it.
#22 Cason Wallace.
Gone. Cason ended up playing point guard most of this year, a position that was pretty new to him. He did a good job and frequently showed off excellent scoring and defensive skills. The prototypical Kentucky one-and-done. Flight risk 98%.
Why I could be wrong: I don’t know … maybe the NBA goes out of business? Seriously I don't think anything short of an injury will keep him out of the draft.
#24 Chris Livingston.
Gone. I think this will be a closer call than most people think. Chris showed flashes of brilliance but was never the scorer sufficient for an NBA wing. He'll get competition for his spot next year from Justin Edwards, one of the best players in the incoming class. He has the body for the NBA, but still lacks something. He may be able to get with an NBA team on some type of contract (30%) or he may decide that somewhere other than UK would allow him faster development next year (30%). That makes the Flight risk 60%.
Why I could be wrong: He would be a leader of next year’s team and will earn as much in NIL as in a development contract. He undoubtedly has good advisors helping him through this time, maybe they'll recommend another year at UK.
#33 Ugonna Onyenso.
Back. He’s announced he’ll be back. I'm late on this guess. Flight Risk 10%.
Why I could be wrong: He could still change his mind. He’ll probably be playing behind Aaron Bradshaw. There’s still time to decide that being top dog elsewhere is better than being #2.
#34 Oscar Tshiebwe.
Gone. So long Oscar. You’ll be long remembered. But it’s his time to move to the next level. Oscar has long said he’s playing for his family and in the NBA he can better support them. And he’ll eventually make it there, even if he has another detour before that day. Calaperi is good at shooing out guys when it’s their time. Flight Risk 90%.
Why I could be wrong: He’s probably earning more in NIL than anybody in his family ever. Maybe another year to rake in good money?
#55 Lance Ware
Back. Lance has become that type of player that Cal likes. Very tough, blue collar brawler. Sometimes lacking in high-level skills but never in heart. He was a team captain during the tournament and will be a good backup going forward. Flight Risk 30%.
Why I could be wrong: Everybody would like to be a starter, something that Lance won’t be at UK. There has to be a temptation to move to a place where he can be on the floor to start every game. It may be that he'll take that chance as he moves toward the end of his career.