Apr 7, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; The Kentucky Wildcats huddle before the championship game of the Final Four against the Connecticut Huskies in the 2014 NCAA Mens Division I Championship tournament at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Basketball: Who Stays, Who Goes

As Kentucky fans, we embrace the “one and done” rule. We enjoy the thrill of watching  #1 recruiting class come together each year and become a team with a quick turn around time. We enjoy watching our highly touted freshmen enter the NBA draft and begin a career in the NBA. It’s the part in the middle that seems to frustrate all of us- deciding who stays and who goes once the season ends.

While I was the saddest when the class from my freshman year left (MKG, Davis, etc.), this class is probably a close second. As much as we would love (and the rest of college basketball would hate) all of these players will not be staying around the bluegrass much longer.

The obvious one’s that are leaving are the seniors: Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson- these two have spent a collective nine years at Kentucky and just wrapped up their self proclaimed “farewell tour”.

Feb 12, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Jarrod Polson (3) is blocked by Auburn Tigers guard Malcolm Canada (21) during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Also returning: the juniors: Sam Malone, Brian Long, and Tod Lanter. These guys are all walk-ons and will be around for their senior season.

Apr 7, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Connecticut Huskies forward Phillip Nolan (bottom) draws a charge against Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress in the second half during the championship game of the Final Four in the 2014 NCAA Mens Division I Championship tournament at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The sophomores: Alex and Willie. This is where I am torn. I can find reasons for both of these guys to go and I can find reasons for them to stay. I’ll start with Poythress. Poythress benefitted immensely from returning for his sophomore season- he improved in essentially every aspect of his game. Unfortunately, he did not earn a starting spot over the freshmen, so he didn’t always get the playing time he hoped for and sometimes flew under the radar. Poythress played exceptional in the tournament, but was overshadowed by some of his (younger) teammates at times. Will that be enough to catch a scout’s attention and lock up a 1st round pick? Or will he be back (again) to finish business? Right now I’m saying 60/40 that Alex stays at Kentucky. Pre-Indianapolis I would have said WCS is gone, after the injury I’m not as sure. Early in the season Cauley-Stein was playing like a beast- and everyone noticed. As the season went on, he kind of tapered off, but it didn’t help that Dakari Johnson (and later Marcus Lee) improved so much either. Eventually Cauley-Stein lost his starting position and in my opinion that hurt his stock. One of the main reasons he stayed was to get rid of the “bad taste” in his mouth so-to-speak after the first round NIT loss last season. Willie wanted to play in the tournament, unfortunately he only got to play two and a half games before an injury sidelined him the rest of the way. His team went to the tournament, but he told the media he no longer felt like part of the team when he was on the bench. Had he been around for the title game that could have been a different ball game- I’m sure he has thought this too. Last year’s draft was a pretty weak draft, Nerlens started over Willie (both freshmen) all season and though he was injured, he was still a top-20 lock. Things are different for Willie, he was a sophomore, who lost his starting spot to a freshman. He was not a top-20 lock pre-injury and this draft class is shaping up to be a very strong one. Willie also didn’t accomplish his goal of taking his team to a national championship and after that game he said things like “I don’t want to take the jersey off” and “why leave until they make you”. Granted, we learned from Archie Goodwin not to take post-game emotional comments too seriously, but it’s something to consider. I think WCS is 70/30 staying.

Mar 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) dunks against the Louisville Cardinals in the first half in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The freshman. This is where deciding gets hard. I think that E.J. Floreal, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee, and Derek Willis all stay for obvious reasons. I think that Julius Randle and James Young are both gone. While both have things they can improve on (Young more so than Randle), the NBA drafts on potential and both have played well all season. Julius has been predicted as top-5 since last year and I don’t see that changing. ESPN reported earlier tonight that he had declared, but he took to twitter to say he had not made a decision yet, although I still think it is likely he goes.

I say near 100% for Julius and 90% for James.

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The twins I’m debating heavily. They would be top picks, but both would DOMINATE after another season. They way they speak to the media about loving to play together makes me think that they aren’t ready to leave each other just yet either. They were just starting to thrive under Cal’s system, but where one goes, the other will follow- I say 65/35 they stay. Dakari is my wildcard. I really have no idea what he will do. Like anyone, another year would do him good- especially if he could improve his shooting and get some sick dunks, but he would be a top pick as well. 50/50 for Johnson staying.

Apr 7, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Kentucky Wildcats center Dakari Johnson (44) shoots the ball against Connecticut Huskies center Amida Brimah (35) in the second half during the championship game of the Final Four in the 2014 NCAA Mens Division I Championship tournament at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Along with replacing players, which Cal is recruiting this weekend; UK also has to replace Coach O. There are also rumors that he may take Strickland to USF with him, if true there will be coaching recruiting to be done along with players. Ulis, Towns, Lyles and Booker would make great additions with any of these players. Give this year’s tournament experience with these guys and that will be something to see. This team was fun to watch come together and always exciting to watch, even though they struggled for a little bit, they made a great run. I wish the best to all of them no matter what they decide to do after this season. They last day to declare for the NBA draft is April 15 so they have less than a week from now to make their decisions. This is a big and quick decision with a lot of emotion as they will only be one week and two days removed from their national championship loss. I expect a 2012-style announcement where they hold a press conference and announce together but who really knows? From there the staff will have to assess what positions they need to fill and look into transfers and more recruits. Regardless of where these guys go, they gave us one heck of a ride.

Tags: Alex Poythress Andrew Harrison Brian Long Dakari Johnson Derek Willis Devin Booker Dominique Hawkins EJ Floreal James Young Jarrod Polson John Calipari Jon Hood Julius Randle Karl Towns Marcus Lee NBA Draft One And Done Orlando Antigua Rod Strickland Sam Malone Tod Lanter Trey Lyles Tyler Ulis Willie Cauley-Stein

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