MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Now Kentucky’s coaching staff and fans wait for the annual exodus of talent from Lexington.
After Sunday’s gut-wrenching, 75-73 loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight, the Wildcats are definitely losing seniors Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder, while star freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo — projected to be the 5th, 6th and 30th NBA draft picks, respectively, by Draft Express — are almost certainly one-and-dones.
Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, despite few projections listing him as a draft pick at all, seems likely to join them. There could be other decisions looming, too. Sophomore 7-footer Isaac Humphries struggled to find playing time late in the season — until Sunday’s stunning 12-point, 5-rebound outburst that almost made him an unlikely hero — and recently expressed both frustration and a desire to explore his options after the season.
Five-star freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones did not log a single minute in Kentucky’s final 20 games and would not shock anyone if he decided to look elsewhere. Another 5-star freshman, Hamidou Diallo, enrolled early and was eligible to play the second half of this season but sat out instead to prepare himself for the 2017-18 campaign. But he is eligible to enter this year’s NBA draft if he chooses.
SEC Country caught up with each of those underclassmen except Killeya-Jones after Sunday’s game to see what they had to say about their upcoming decisions:
Fox — “I knew it was going to hit me hard. It was a great season and I love these guys and I’m not thinking about what’s next.”
Monk — “Probably (decide) later on in the week. I haven’t talked to my mom, my brother or Coach yet. So I’ll just focus on this loss, get over this loss, then probably talk later on in the week.”
Adebayo — “I’m just talking to my family. I’m going to be with my teammates for the rest of the day and probably next couple days. We’re just going to stick together, and after that, I’ll make some decisions.”
Briscoe — “I’m not thinking about that. I don’t know, I’m not thinking about nothing. We just lost. I’m not thinking about that.”
Humphries — “I have nothing yet. Now that we’re kind of done I’m just going to assess every option that I have. I have nothing yet.”
Diallo — “I haven’t really spoken (to family or coaches) about next year, but as of right now, I’m 100 percent returning. This isn’t a great feeling, but these guys had a heckuva run. This has been a great experience for me, just learning from these guys. Just have to bring it into next year.”
The good news for Kentucky is that, in addition to having an elite building block like Diallo, coach John Calipari has once again landed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, which includes six top-50 recruits, four McDonald’s All-Americans, and could still add one or two more top-10 prospects.
SEC Country will have more on each of the underclassman decisions as they develop. A new rule implemented last season allows for players to declare for the draft, participate in the NBA Combine and be evaluated by pro teams and still return to school if they don’t hire an agent.
"This isn't a locker room that looks like guys don't care. I love my brothers." Raw emotions. pic.twitter.com/5pW7WtruUr
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) March 27, 2017