The University of Kentucky basketball team officially lost two more players from this year's 35-3 Elite Eight team.
As expected, freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton have decided to remain in the NBA Draft and will hire agents. Bledsoe and Orton join fellow Wildcats freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and junior Patrick Patterson in declaring for the NBA Draft, which will be held June 24 in New York City. All five Kentucky players are expected to be first-round picks.
Bledsoe, a 6-foot-1 combo guard, averaged 11.3 points and shot 38 percent from behind the arc in his freshman year. Bledsoe finished sixth on UK's all-time freshman scoring list (419), second on the three-point field goals made list (49) and fourth on the freshman assist list (107). He set a career-high with 29 points, including 8-for-9 three-point shooting, in Kentucky's 100-71 first-round NCAA Tournament win over East Tennessee State.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford has Bledsoe going to the Miami Heat with the 18th overall pick in his first mock draft released last week. NBADraft.net, however, has Bledsoe slipping to the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 32nd overall pick in the second round.
UK Coach John Calipari told ESPN.com on Friday that Bledsoe worked out for the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls last week and will now work out for lottery teams.
Bledsoe couldn't be reached for comment but was attributed with the following quote in a UK release: "I never thought I'd be ready for the NBA after one year. I worked hard to be able to have this choice. Coach Cal pushed me to be the best I could be and I'm ready to take my game to the next level. I want to thank the fans for all their support this year. Why would anyone not want to come to Kentucky? I loved it."
Orton was stuck behind Patterson and Cousins in the rotation and averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in only 13.2 minutes per game. But scouts apparently love his 6-foot-10, 260-pound body and potential as a shot-blocker. Orton ranked second on the team and eighth in the SEC in blocks (53) despite his limited action. Orton's best all-around game might have been UK's 89-77 win at Florida when he grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots in just 17 minutes off the bench.
Orton has yet to work out for teams, but Ford has him going to the New Orleans Hornets with the No. 11 pick in his mock draft and he's also projected as a first-round pick by NBADraft.net (20th, San Antonio).
Orton's father, Larry, said that leaving UK "was a tough decision" for his son, but added that Orton basically made up his mind to stay in the draft once he felt assured that he was going to be a first-round pick.
"It's just common sense," Larry Orton said. "Everything happened really late. But after talking to people and getting the information you need, it really wasn't a tough decision. He's not a dumb kid. He knows he's going to be a first-round pick. Otherwise you don't do it."
The 2010 Wildcats draft class is expected to be the school's best ever. UK had three first-rounders (Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty) in the 1996 draft and another player (Mark Pope) selected in the second round.
The five departures leave Kentucky's roster in a state of flux. Only nine scholarship players are scheduled to be on the team in 2010-11, and Calipari said the status of one of those, swingman Darnell Dodson, is up in the air for undisclosed reasons. Swingman Darius Miller is the only returning starter, and another junior-to-be, DeAndre Liggins, was in the rotation. The Cats return virtually no frontcourt experience, with little-used senior-to-be Josh Harrellson the only letterman due back.
Calipari did sign one of the nation's highest-ranked recruiting classes, which includes three five-star players: forward Enes Kanter and guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb.
Calipari said last week that he hoped to sign one or two more players to the class.