LEXINGTON, Ky. — Evan Daniels knows he is about to raise your eyebrows. Kentucky basketball has produced a staggering 21 one-and-dones in eight seasons under coach John Calipari. There have been at least two per year. But that might be about to change.
“How about this statement: They don’t have a one-and-done on this roster yet,” says Daniels, Scout.com’s director of basketball recruiting.
How can that be? The Wildcats have the No. 1-ranked recruiting class (again), including five 5-star prospects and six top-50 recruits from the class of 2017. In Daniels’ own rankings, Kentucky landed the No. 10, 13, 14, 16, 24 and 45 high school players in America.
And yet, Daniels is right: Draft Express doesn’t have a single incoming Wildcats freshman projected to be picked in the 2018 NBA Draft. So, considering the top seven scorers from last season are leaving, should UK fans be tempering their expectations? Las Vegas, which already installed the Cats as a favorite to win it all next season, has not.
“Just because you aren’t a lock to go to the NBA doesn’t mean you’re not a good player,” Daniels said. “They’re all going to be immediate contributors, and when you throw them in with a guy like Wenyen (Gabriel) and some other veteran players, you’re going to be a good team. They’re going to be young, which they always are, but they’re still going to be talented.”
Also, Daniels loves Kentucky’s chances to land 5-star big man Mohamed Bamba, who is a likely one-and-done, projected by Draft Express to go No. 4 overall in 2018.
Until then, let’s focus on the talent Kentucky already has in the fold. Shooting guard Hamidou Diallo enrolled in January and sat out the second half of the season, so he’ll be the leader of that young group. Four others were invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game last week in Chicago. Daniels watched that quartet practice and play against the best of the best, and here were his observations.
PG Quade Green
“Quade had a really good week. He did turn the ball over a few too many times in the game, but he really showed his creativity and how good he is when he has really good players around him. He showed his passing ability, created shot opportunities for people, and he played with a level of competitiveness that you don’t always see at an all-star event.
“He’s going to be different than some of the past UK point guards, but I think in some good ways. He could be there more than one year, he’s a set-up man, and he’s a guy who doesn’t back down from anybody. When he’s surrounded by really good players, he raises his level of play — and he’s going to be surrounded by really good players at Kentucky.”
PF P.J. Washington
“He is one of the best rebounders in the class. He did a great job of showing his versatility on offense. He’s got good hands, got good touch, he can score from mid-range, can score with his back to the basket, and he’s improving his long-range jump shot.”
PF Jarred Vanderbilt
“I think Vanderbilt and Washington are the two best-rebounding forwards in the country. Vanderbilt showed that in Chicago. It was good to see because he’s been hurt for so long. He came out and was active, used his athleticism. He’s a versatile guy. He can pass. He actually even made jump shots at McDonald’s. I don’t know if that was fool’s gold, because that’s always been his weakness.”
C Nick Richards
“He’s a rim protector. He’s tough, physical, and he showed that. Offensively, there’s still a little way to go, but defensively I think he’s going to be able to protect the rim. Then he’ll catch oops and finish off plays close to the rim.”
Sounds pretty good, right? Now imagine if Kentucky adds Bamba to that class, and if Bamba is the only freshman who leaves for the NBA after next season. Remember what happened the last time the Cats signed a huge class of 5-star recruits and most of them came back for their sophomore season?
(Kentucky nearly went undefeated.)