A year after Kentucky basketball made history with five first-round picks, three more UK players announced their intention of entering the 2011 NBA Draft.
Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins will enter their names in this year's draft, UK announced Wednesday. None has hired an agent, leaving open the possibility of playing for Kentucky next season.
Darius Miller provided some stability to a revolving-door program by deciding to return for his senior season in 2011-12. A former Kentucky Mr. Basketball from Mason County, he had considered entering his name in this year's draft.
"I just think he wanted to finish up," Brian Miller said of his son, who will be a senior next season. "He likes school. ... He wants to accomplish more things."
If Knight and Jones remain in the draft, Miller (10.9 points per game) would join Doron Lamb (12.3) as the leading returning scorers for Kentucky next season. Miller sparked UK's late-season surge in 2010-11 by becoming a more consistent offensive threat and contributor.
Wednesday's announcement came as no surprise. UK Coach John Calipari has made no secret of how he sells himself and Kentucky to recruits as the quickest and surest path to the NBA.
That pitch has created critics, most recently Hall of Fame Coach Bob Knight, who last weekend held up UK as an example of a program built with so-called one-and-done players. Knight later apologized for mistakenly saying none of UK's starters in the 2010 NCAA Tournament attended classes in the spring semester.
Liggins, who as a junior last season became a member of the Southeastern Conference All -Defensive Team, had been encouraged by Calipari to test his NBA stock.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to enter my name into the draft, putting me one step closer to realizing my dream," Liggins said in a news release. "Growing up in a tough environment in Chicago, it's a pleasure to have an opportunity to do something special. This is another challenge I'm looking forward to, to have my game evaluated by pro scouts and see how I rank against some of the top players in the world."
Jones, a 6-foot-8 forward from Portland, Ore., averaged 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He led the SEC in double-doubles (13) and rebounding, ranked sixth in blocks and seventh in scoring.
He was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by league coaches and SEC Newcomer of the Year by The Associated Press.
"Coach Cal and the rest of the staff pushed us all year long and helped us develop every part of our game to help prepare us for this point in our lives," Jones said in the news release. "This will be a great chance for me to measure my skills against some of the best in the country and receive additional information on where I fit into this year's draft."
Knight, a 6-3 guard from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., led the team and ranked fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.3 points. His 4.2 assists average was second in the SEC. He set the UK freshman scoring record, with 657 points, and broke another UK freshman record with 87 three-pointers.
A Freshman All-American, Knight was also named the NCAA East Regional Most Outstanding Player.
"Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine and this is the next step," Knight said. "All season long coach has been tutoring me on the fine points of being a point guard, and now I have an opportunity to put my game on display in front of NBA scouts as a result of my hard work."
The UK release included words of support from Calipari.
"They were a joy to coach this year and I would love the opportunity to continue to coach them again next season," the UK coach said in the release. "I will always support my players in weighing their options and doing what is personally best for them and their families."
According to several Web sites, Knight, Jones and would-be UK player Enes Kanter are projected as lottery picks in the 2011 draft. Neither NBADraft.net nor DraftExpress.com mentioned Lamb, Miller or Liggins in its projections for the first or second rounds of the draft.
Chad Ford of ESPN.com followed form by rating Kanter (No. 6), Knight (No. 9) and Jones (No. 12) as lottery picks. He rated Lamb at No. 54 in his list of top-100 prospects for the 2011 draft. He mentioned neither Miller nor Liggins in the list.