LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball fans, it’s time for your least-favorite annual game: Who will stay and who will go? Now that the season is over, several players have difficult NBA draft decisions ahead of them, and a few might even be mulling transfers.
It’s a lot to keep track of, so we’ll do it for you right here. First, a rundown of where each player stands and our best-guess percentage chance they return. Then, as news breaks on each of those players, we’ll keep a running list of updates and recast the roster in real time.
NOT SO FAST ON DIALLO (April 13) — Despite the early CBS Sports report, Diallo’s mentor tells SEC Country he has not made a final NBA draft decision. The Kentucky freshman, his family and mentor will meet next week to talk it over and pull the trigger.
CBS SPORTS REPORT: DIALLO GONE (April 13) — Citing multiple anonymous sources, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reports that Hamidou Diallo is planning to hire an agent and enter the 2018 NBA Draft.
WENYEN GABRIEL MULLING PRO OPTIONS (April 10) — SEC Country sources indicate the former 5-star recruit and rising junior UK forward is considering whether he wants to turn pro even if he is unlikely to be picked in the NBA draft. We also caught up with Gabriel’s high school coach. This serves as a mini-update on PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, too, and offers a name to watch if the frontcourt needs to be replenished.
NICK RICHARDS IS COMING BACK (April 10) — There was no real NBA decision here, but Richards might’ve followed Sacha Killeya-Jones and transferred. One report, which SEC Country has confirmed, says Richards plans to stay at Kentucky for a sophomore season. A 7-foot former McDonald’s All-American who started every game for the Cats as a freshman can certainly be useful.
ROLL CALL (April 9) — Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have declared for the 2018 NBA Draft and announced plans to hire an agent. PJ Washington is testing the waters but won’t yet hire an agent. Tai Wynyard and Sacha Killeya-Jones have announced plans to transfer. We’re still waiting for decisions from 5-star freshmen Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt and will keep an eye on Quade Green, Wenyen Gabriel and Nick Richards.
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER TURNS PRO (April 9) — Nine months ago, SGA was the seventh-highest-rated recruit in Kentucky’s 2017 signing class. Now he’s the 22nd one-and-done in nine years under John Calipari and a projected lottery pick. Few saw it coming, but after a remarkable freshman season in Lexington, this decision was a no-brainer.
SACHA KILLEYA-JONES TO TRANSFER (April 9) — The same day UK got a commitment from a 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American (2018 5-star E.J. Montgomery), the Cats lost a 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American in rising junior SKJ.
AFTER LONG TEASE, KNOX MAKES EXPECTED MOVE (April 6) — This is exactly why Kentucky fans try not to get their hopes up when star players talk about how seriously they’re considering a second season in school. Kevin Knox (or more specifically his father) teased UK fans with the idea he was truly torn … and then turned pro on Friday like everyone expected all along.
KNOX DECISION ‘DOWN TO THE WIRE’ (April 5) — Kevin Knox Sr. said at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday that his son’s announcement would come in “24 to 36 hours.” The Kentucky star was set to fly home for the second time in a week to Tampa, Fla., for one last talk with his family on Thursday night. We asked Dad how this decision will be made public.
NO DECISION YET FOR DIALLO (April 5) — Rob Diaz, a New York detective and youth basketball coach, met Hamdiou Diallo in eighth grade and has been looking out for him ever since. The longtime mentor says they haven’t even met yet to discuss the upcoming NBA draft decision. “Everything is up in the air.”
DIALLO ‘CAN TASTE IT,’ FORMER COACH SAYS OF NBA (April 4) — Hamidou Diallo’s high school coach figures he’s most likely gone — but he has high praise for the way John Calipari stuck by his former star and how much Diallo respects Cal’s advice.
WASHINGTON DECLARES, NOT HIRING AGENT (April 3) — The first sort-of decision for Kentucky comes from freshman power forward PJ Washington: He’s entering his name in the 2018 NBA Draft but won’t hire an agent. Testing the waters, as the kids say these days. He can get feedback from the NBA — participate in the combine in May, work out for teams — and then decide whether to return to school. As a projected second-round pick, that’s still his most likely play.
CALIPARI PITCHES KNOX (April 3) — In what could be the signal of a change in John Calipari’s approach, he actually made a convincing argument to freshman star Kevin Knox and his family to return to school, even with many projections putting him in the 2018 NBA Draft lottery. Did it work? Knox’s father tells SEC Country there are some real reasons to stay at Kentucky.
“PJ Will make a decision when he’s ready.” (April 2) — PJ Washington’s father gives SEC Country the latest on his son’s status following a family meeting in New York over the weekend.
“A decision is imminent.” (April 2) — Kevin Knox’s father tells SEC Country that after a weekend family meeting back home in Tampa, Fla., his son is almost ready to reveal what’s next.
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER READY? (March 31) — Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio, citing unnamed sources, reports that the star freshman point guard will make his stay-or-go announcement on Tuesday night.
JARRED VANDERBILT UPDATE (March 29) — Vanderbilt’s father thinks his son is much more than just a great rebounder and just needs the chance to show it. NBA scouts have cooled on him after multiple injuries and major offensive struggles in his 14 games at Kentucky, so that chance to show it seems most likely to come in a sophomore season in Lexington.
PJ WASHINGTON UPDATE (March 28) — Washington’s father walks SEC Country through the family’s decision-making process, dishes on PJ’s nasty pinky injury he played with for months that requires surgery and weighs in on the his son and Kevin Knox (roommates) daydreaming of a return together. Try not to get too excited about his Fab Five reference.
KEVIN KNOX UPDATE (March 26) — Knox’s father tells SEC Country his son has not made a decision (he’s headed home to talk it over with family this weekend) and in fact, despite NBA lottery projections, there are a lot of reasons Knox might want to come back for one more year at Kentucky. Crazy, you say? Read this fairly reasoned explanation from Knox Sr.
NOTE: The below assessments/predictions were made on March 25, before any of the above updates. We didn’t give anyone zero-percent or 100-percent chance of returning, because until it’s official, there’s always at least a slim possibility decisions go the other way.
One foot out the door
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER (6-6, PG, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because when you transform yourself from seventh-highest-rated recruit in Kentucky’s freshman class into a potential NBA lottery pick in just one season, you take that money and run before anyone can find anything to nitpick about your game. ESPN ranks him 12th and Sports Illustrated 14th among draft-eligible prospects. Not even Devin Booker can compete with SGA for the title of most pleasantly surprising player of the Calipari era.
Why he’d stay: He really, really, really likes Lexington? Honestly, there’s not much of case to be made here. He was MVP of the SEC Tournament and dropped 27, 6 and 6 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, sparking debate over whether he might just be the best point guard in the 2018 draft.
Chance he returns: 5 percent
KEVIN KNOX (6-9, SF, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because among 2018 NBA Draft prospects, he’s ranked 10th by Sports Illustrated and 14th by ESPN and that means he’s a first-round lock with a very good chance to be picked in the lottery. Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo was picked 14th overall last year and signed a contract guaranteeing him $5.4 million over the next two years.
Why he’d stay: Knox averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds as a freshman, and it felt like he was just scratching the surface. His defense still needs major work, and he was just beginning to understand how to maximize his ability on offense late in the season. He’s young — not 19 until August — and you could argue not full-grown enough to play in the grown-man NBA. If he came back to school, he could become an All-American and top-five pick.
Chance he returns: 10 percent
HAMIDOU DIALLO (6-5, SG, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because that was always the plan. He came this close to entering the draft last year, after enrolling early and sitting out the second half of UK’s season. So while this year didn’t go quite like he hoped, it’s hard to see Diallo turning down the NBA again. Sure, his stock nosedived during a rocky freshman season, but scouts still see a freakishly long and athletic guard who did just enough to remain a temptation on draft day. Quietly, Diallo shot 34 percent from 3-point range this season, which is not insignificant.
Why he’d stay: Imagine if he put together a full season of performances like the second round of the NCAA Tournament: 9 of 12 shooting, 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and a couple of SportsCenter-worthy monster dunks. (A slumping Diallo scored in single digits nine times in the previous 10 games.) ESPN ranks him 36th, Sports Illustrated 38th among 2018 NBA Draft prospects. The plan always involved first-round money, and he’s just not likely to get that this year.
Chance he returns: 10 percent
Too close to call
JARRED VANDERBILT (6-9, PF, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because another injury could be catastrophic to his NBA dreams. He already has hurt his left foot three times since high school and missed all six of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury. There are few things the pros fear more than a big man with chronic problems in their lower extremities. And while he played just 14 games for the Cats, he established himself as one of the nation’s top rebounders in that short time.
Why he’d stay: Sure, someone would probably roll the dice on Vanderbilt late in the 2018 draft — ESPN ranks him the 63rd-best prospect and Sports Illustrated 65th (in a 60-player draft) — but he has almost no shot at going in the first round and would almost certainly spend a year or two in the G League. Wouldn’t playing at Kentucky be more fun? NBA teams need to see him put together a full season without injury and add some offense to an uncanny rebounding ability.
Chance he returns: 50 percent
PJ WASHINGTON (6-7, PF, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because he really hit his stride late in the season, becoming a dominant post presence, never more evident than in his final game: 18 points, 15 rebound, 3 steals and 20 free-throw attempts in the Sweet 16 against Kansas State. (Yes, we know he missed 12 of those free throws.) He’s a tweener at the next level, but the NBA kinda loves tweeners right now. ESPN ranks him 46th, Sports Illustrated 60th among 2018 draft prospects — so there’s a good chance he’ll be picked if he’s bent on becoming a one-and-done.
Why he’d stay: This writer is on record with the opinion that Washington could become the SEC Player of the Year in 2019 if he came back to school. It took him a while to figure out how to focus on his strengths and flex his considerable muscles for Kentucky, but it was all starting to click for Washington down the stretch. Now imagine him ironing out that free-throw problem and developing some outside offense. The word unstoppable comes to mind.
Chance he returns: 50 percent
Where would they go?
QUADE GREEN (6-0, PG, Fr.)
Why he’d go: We can’t imagine he would. Sure, he took a back seat to Gilgeous-Alexander this season, but the former McDonald’s All-American still averaged 25 minutes per game, hit a game winner against Vanderbilt and made the second-most threes on the team. At his size, he hasn’t done enough yet for the NBA to come calling.
Why he’d stay: Green will have a major role as a sophomore, whether it’s as the primary point guard or off the ball with 5-star freshman Immanuel Quickley running the offense — and Green seems fine with either of those options. Calipari called him the Cats’ best bucket-getter last season and he has a winning mentality that will always keep him in the rotation.
Chance he returns: 90 percent
WENYEN GABRIEL (6-9, PF, So.)
Why he’d go: Because he’s homesick (hypothetically) and wants to be closer to family in New Hampshire? Or maybe to be the focal point of a program instead of a guy who could hit 7 of 7 threes in an SEC Tournament game and still not even start for Kentucky. What we’re saying is: Gabriel doesn’t really have any NBA stock at the moment — he’s not among ESPN’s top 100 or Sports Illustrated’s top 80 draft prospects — so if he’s going somewhere (and we haven’t heard that he is), it would likely be a transfer.
Why he’d stay: Because he has become an increasingly beloved player among UK fans and would be even more so if he returned for a rare third season under Calipari, who demonstrated a growing trust in Gabriel this March. He played 25-plus minutes in all six postseason games, scored 23 in the SEC semis and had 16 and 12 in the NCAA Tournament second round. He led the team in blocks and shot 40 percent from 3-point range.
Chance he returns: 80 percent
NICK RICHARDS (7-0, C, Fr.)
Why he’d go: Because his spirit is broken. The former McDonald’s All-American, who just a few months ago was a projected first-round draft pick, totaled just 11 points over Kentucky’s final 10 games. He remained in the starting lineup, out of Calipari’s unending hope that he’d break through with a big dunk or block early in a game, but his role (and confidence) shriveled away to nothing. Perhaps the spotlight at UK is just too big and bright and he’d rather not deal with it.
Why he’d stay: Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne is an expert on pulling pro potential out of big bodies. Give him a summer and another full season to work with Richards, who still has that crazy 7-foot-5 wingspan and terrific athleticism, and see if the guy who had 25 and 15 against Fort Wayne in November doesn’t reemerge. The NBA is no longer an option for Richards (for now), but NBA Preparatory School would gladly take him back.
Chance he returns: 80 percent
SACHA KILLEYA-JONES (6-10, PF, So.)
Why he’d go: Because McDonald’s All-Americans with his size and skill set usually play more than 13.7 minutes per game as a sophomore (after being buried on the bench as a freshman). If SKJ declared himself a free agent on the transfer market — like Gabriel, there’s not much NBA interest right now — he’d have no shortage of high-level suitors. Former Cats Kyle Wiltjer, Marcus Lee and Charles Matthews (now in the Final Four with Michigan) all found larger roles elsewhere.
Why he’d stay: After playing just 96 minutes as a freshman, he logged 467 as a sophomore. That is at least progress. He had 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists against Kansas (now in the Final Four) back in November, and reminded everyone what a spark plug he can be this postseason. After eight straight games playing single-digit or zero minutes to end the regular season, SKJ had a four-game stretch in March when he totaled 18 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks in 71 minutes. He can make a strong case to start for UK next season … or go sit out a year somewhere else.
Chance he returns: 70 percent