Kentucky basketball: Worst offseason in Wildcats history?

Kentucky head coach John Calipari put his hands on his head in frustration as the Wildcats faced off against Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena on March 1, 2023. Kentucky fell to Vandy 68-66.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari put his hands on his head in frustration as the Wildcats faced off against Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena on March 1, 2023. Kentucky fell to Vandy 68-66. /

The deadline passed for players to decide on their NBA Draft fate and it left Kentucky basketball with a shell of a roster.

Heading into the May 31 deadline to either stay in the NBA Draft or return to college, three Kentucky basketball players faced tough decisions. Oscar Tshiebwe, Chris Livingston, and Antonio Reeves all waited until the very last day to call their shots.

Tshiebwe and Livingston ultimately decided to call it quits, unfortunately ending their careers in the blue and white. Tshiebwe had as decorated a career as any big man in Kentucky basketball history. His decision to stay in the draft wasn’t easy. Despite being a menace in the college game, NBA scouts see otherwise. Big O is regarded as a late second-round pick, or being undrafted. Ultimately, he wanted to take that chance on himself instead of waiting another year and possibly damaging his professional hopes even more.

Livingston’s NBA Draft stock has a bit more upside. ESPN lists him as a late second-round pick as well, but as a freshman, the odds of him sticking on with an NBA team as he develops are more likely. Still, Livingston is very raw and could have used an extra year in Lexington to potentially become a first-round pick next season. Instead, he also chose to take a gamble, one that very well could pay off.

Antonio Reeves made the most surprising decision

When it comes down to it, most of Big Blue Nation probably had a gut feeling that Tshiebwe and Livingston weren’t going to come back. I for one, was hopeful, but never got a strong indication that either would return to Kentucky basketball.

The decision that surprised me the most was Antonio Reeves coming back to college, but entering the transfer portal. He’s a late addition but should get some very good offers after averaging over 14 points per game with the Wildcats last season. For someone who came to UK after spending three years at Illinois State, Reeves game looked all the part of a power conference player. He took care of the ball, hit some big shots, and showed a lot of promise for next season.

Instead, Reeves is weighing all of his options. While he still could return to Kentucky, he could also transfer to a school with a better fit. When it comes down to it, John Calipari is left with a roster of five freshmen and two sophomores. Reeves, who would be a fifth-year senior, may not want to finish out his final year of college basketball on a team that screams ‘rebuilding.’ If you asked me, I wouldn’t count on him returning to the Wildcats either.

Can Kentucky basketball still save the offseason?

It might be an overreaction, but the only positive takeaway I have from this offseason is the hiring of new assistant coach John Welch. Welch could help make a young Kentucky team make quick strides.

In terms of the transfer portal, the Wildcats have laid a goose egg. Nearly 2,000 players have entered the portal. None of them have picked Kentucky.

Now that we’ve reached June, the question becomes whether or not the Wildcats will be able to save this season. There are still some talented players left in the portal, but the number is dwindling and time is starting to run out. I’m also cautious to say that just one transfer would make a difference. As it stands, this is a very thin roster. It’s a talented roster, but one that lacks depth and experience.

If the Wildcats have any chance of turning the offseason around, they’ll need to get two or three veteran players to transfer into Lexington. If Reeves returns, it would be a huge sigh of relief. Anything less, and this may go down as the worst offseason in Kentucky basketball history.