LEXINGTON, Ky. — Now that Hamidou Diallo has pulled out of the 2017 NBA Draft and announced plans to return to Kentucky, it’s time to start thinking about what the Wildcats will look like next season.
They’ll be tall (seven players at least 6-foot-8), talented (eight former 5-star recruits) and young (eight freshmen, three sophomores). The front court will be crowded, as Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards were all consensus top-25 recruits.
The back court has questions, namely: Is there a reliable 3-point threat? None who is proven at the college level, but there are options.
Point guard Quade Green shot nearly 50 percent from 3-point range in high school, while combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit almost 40 percent and 4-star shooting guard Jemarl Baker sank 94 3-point shots as a high school senior after leading the Under Armour AAU circuit in that category last summer.
In other words, John Calipari is probably going to have fun mixing and matching this roster. So who ultimately starts for Kentucky next season? Diallo and Knox seem absolute locks, but while most have penciled in Green at point guard, sources tell SEC Country not to sleep on Gilgeous-Alexander.
If ever the 6-foot-6 freshman is on the ball, the Wildcats lineup will be huge. Most everyone on the roster except Green has a wingspan of 6-10 or longer. Good luck scoring and rebounding against that kind of size.
We’re also told that Killeya-Jones, a sophomore who didn’t play in UK’s final 19 games this season, has a real chance to start at the 5 spot over 5-star freshman 7-footer Richards — although both will almost certainly play. Killeya-Jones’ trainer says he’s a man on a mission this offseason.
Now pause to consider how fierce practices are going to be in Lexington. At every position, there will be a backup good enough to challenge the starter — and in most cases good enough to be starting for just about every other college basketball team.
All of this is great news for the Cats, as is the possibility that four of their five starters will play together (and for Calipari) this summer on USA Basketball’s under-19 team. Green, Diallo, Knox and Washington all have Team USA experience and are young enough to qualify.
That should help Kentucky fans pass the time between now and another exciting season. Team USA training camp begins June 18 in Colorado Springs, Colo.. Until then, we offer an educated guess at the Wildcats starting lineup and second unit. (Can you say platoons?)
PROJECTED 2017-18 KENTUCKY LINEUP
PG Quade Green, 6-1, 5-star freshman
SG Hamidou Diallo, 6-5, 5-star freshman
SF Kevin Knox, 6-9, 5-star freshman
PF P.J. Washington, 6-8, 5-star freshman
C Sacha Killeya-Jones, 6-10, 5-star sophomore
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6-6, 4-star freshman
SG Jemarl Baker, 6-4, 4-star freshman
SF Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-9, 5-star freshman
PF Wenyen Gabriel, 6-9, 5-star sophomore
C Nick Richards, 7-0, 5-star freshman