Last year Kentucky watched as four of their five Freshman declared for the draft as well as Junior Patrick Patterson. With of course all five going in the first round. Leading coach John Calipari to announce it was the greatest day in Kentucky basketball history.
Will Calipari think it is so great if he loses five underclassmen again this year though?
Going into another season littered with a top-notch Freshman class Kentucky is facing a deja vu of a problem. Terrence Jones (Freshman), Brandon Knight (Freshman), Doron Lamb (Freshman), Stacey Poole (Freshman), and DeAndre Liggins (Junior) could all be moving on.
Coming into the season the thought of heralded Freshman Terrence Jones returning seemed like a pipe dream but after great play by fellow Freshman Knight and Lamb, as well as Junior DeAndre Liggins. Another mass underclassmen exit is in the works. Freshman Stacey Poole is nowhere near headed to the NBA like his four teammates but the top 50 prospect only got off the bench this season to leave the court once the game was over so his transferring possibilities are as good as the others headed to the NBA.
Are these Wildcats ready to move on though? I have felt since mid-January that Knight was as good as gone along with Jones but not till he really got hot in the SEC tournament and NCAA tournament that most of big blue nation has begun to agree. While Jones numbers began to come to earth and he looked to flatten out, Knight’s rose and rose. Meanwhile Doron Lamb’s stats may not be eye-popping (neither were Bledsoe and Orton’s last year), he showed a great mid-range game to go along with his sharp shooting from beyond the arc. DeAndre Liggin’s stats also won’t make you go wow but his outside shooting improved as the year went on and he showed to be one of the better on ball defenders in the country.
Terrence Jones finished the season averaging 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. The versatile 6’8 forward shot 44% from the field and showed range at times (shooting 32% from three). Jones is considered a lottery pick (going 11th to Bobcats) according to Draft Express and has drawn many comparisons to Lamar Odom. Do I think Terrence Jones will be back? Not a chance
A couple of months ago I began saying I thought Brandon Knight was gone for sure. UK fans laughed at me. They called me a hater and idiot. Amongst other choice words in typical Cat fan fashion. Now though they are fearing I (not often) may have been right. Knight’s numbers and overall play on the court improved as the season went on. Despite his worst game of th season coming in UK’s Final Four loss to UConn, Knight was on fire heading into that game. He (along with Jones) was near the top in the SEC in scoring ( 17.3 points per game) and led the SEC in assists per game (4.1). His field goal percentage went up every month starting in December, ending at 42.3% from the field (37.7% from three). Knight’s biggest knock has been his turnover troubles. He averaged 3.1 turnovers a game but most scouts feel he is a NBA off-guard to begin with and not a point guard anyway. At 6’3 185 pounds he has the size to play the 2 in the league. So much so that he, like Jones is considered a lottery pick on Draft Express. In fact they have him going a head of Jones at #7 to the Pistons. Do I still think Knight is gone? See ya Brandon.
Then there is Junior DeAndre Liggins and Freshman Doron Lamb. Neither had the numbers as Jones and Knight that is clear but both were impressive at different things. Lamb took 140 three-point attempts this year, hitting 68 of them for 48.6%. Unlike Jones and Knight, Lamb is not listed by Draft Express as a first round pick in 2011 but is listed as a second round pick in 2012. That aside Lamb reminds me a lot of former sharp shooting Ohio State Freshman Daequan Cook. Cook’s numbers that season are actually less (points per game and three-point percentage) then Lamb’s. Cook was the 21st pick in the 2007 NBA draft. Do I believe Lamb’s time is done in Lexington? Not positive but I would say 65-35 he is gone.
Liggins had a solid season. Shot well for stretches from the outside (39.4%) but lacks consistency. He is at best a second round pick whether he leaves a year early or returns for his Senior year. His stock though do to his solid on ball defense this season may not get any higher and with another deep Freshman class coming in next year he may be best off “testing the waters” in this years draft then return and possibly see minutes cut. Will Liggins have a Senior day next year? I do not think so. I think he will enter his name in the draft but not hire an agent right away but will keep his name in there in the end.
Clearly Freshman Stacey Poole showed no one he was ready to make the jump to the NBA. He didn’t even show Calipari he was ready to get off the bench even though UK would play just a 6-man rotation. Poole played a recorded 1 minute in the SEC title game against Florida (his last on court action of the season) and had a season high 8 minutes versus Washington on November 23rd. All and all the four-star small forward from Jacksonville, Florida accumulated just 48 total minutes all year between just 16 random games played. With a strong class coming in, a class that includes McDonald’s All-American game MVP and five-star recruit Michael Gilchrist at Poole’s position as well as the return of Junior small forward Darius Miller, playing time may not come any easier. Will Stacey Poole have a Sophomore season at Kentucky? Odds are yes but I would say his return is 70-30 so the chance of departure is not out of the question.
So are Kentucky fans worried or even scared of the thought’s of maybe losing another five man underclassmen back-to-back years? Some what I am sure. The return of a Knight or Lamb would just make next years team that much deeper. Kentucky’s 2011 class has the #1 player at three different positions (center, small forward, point guard) along with a fourth five-star (ranked 6th) power forward.
The real question could be with the even greater 2011 class coming in, will it be three years in a row with mass underclassmen departure? Only these players on this years team can answer that by keeping the streak alive.