As Kentucky basketball prepares for another boffo NBA Draft, some former Cats remain on the outside looking in. Their noses are pressed against a figurative window. Only from a distance can they see the bright lights and hear the hosannas for others players.
The NBA did not invite Dakari Johnson and Andrew and Aaron Harrison to Thursday's annual TV show/hoopalooza. No sitting in the holding area. No exchanging congratulatory hugs with UK Coach John Calipari. No eye-catching suits. No striding to the stage and shaking Commissioner Adam Silver's hand when he announces your name as an NBA Draft choice.
Those rites of basketball passage are reserved for players thought to be first-round picks.
Draftexpress.com reflected the consensus view Tuesday with its projection of Johnson and Andrew Harrison as second-round picks and Aaron Harrison going undrafted.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said Tuesday that Johnson had the best chance to surprise and be a first-rounder. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it's good to be king-size.
"Although the league has gone to this small-ball game, it's still about positional size," he said. At 6-foot-11 (as measured in stocking feet at the NBA Combine last month), Johnson "has the size to be an NBA center," Fraschilla said.
The ESPN analyst saw Johnson as a "very safe" selection late in the first round. If not that, then he would be taken no later than mid-second round.
"You're hoping to get a young big man that you can cultivate," Fraschilla said during a teleconference. "He is a project in that he's probably not going to help an NBA team immediately. But you'd like to have a young big kid like this on your roster and hope to develop him."
Johnson never became a force for Kentucky (6.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg this past season). Fraschilla cited UK's platoon system and Kentucky's reliance on freshmen. The former limited playing time and the latter limited opportunity.
"Obviously, he probably didn't get the reps, the touches in the low post (and) the exposure he would have gotten had Kentucky not had such a tremendous team," Fraschilla said.
He found the Harrison twins much more difficult to project. "It's all over the board in the second round," he said.
NBA teams find Andrew more intriguing. "I think because teams think he can be a big point guard in the league," the analyst said.
The question surrounding Aaron Harrison cuts to the core of his game: As UK's shooting guard, he made only 31.6 percent of his three-point shots, of course from the shorter college distance.
"I'd be surprised if either player goes in the first round," Fraschilla said of the twins. "Both are going to get an opportunity to make rosters next year. But things haven't really changed much since the end of the season."
Silence is golden?
Fraschilla suggested that Trey Lyles' low profile going into the draft is a good thing.
"I love Trey Lyles," he said. "The fact you're not hearing much buzz about him, you're not hearing anyone saying sources about him means teams really like him."
Translation: Teams do not want to betray their true intentions.
Saying Lyles would be taken in the range of No. 9 to No. 14, Fraschilla said, "I do know for a fact there are teams that like him. ... He's not necessarily slipping through anybody's cracks but will end up being a very good NBA player."
Louisville product Montrezl Harrell should look to former Morehead State star Kenneth Faried as a role model.
"A classic high energy/low-skill inside player," Fraschilla said of Harrell. Harrell can "go late in the first round and be an energy guy and make his mark in the league because he's a terrific rebounder and plays hard."
Like George Hill
Fraschilla called former Murray State player Cameron Payne a "small school point guard" in the mold of NBA players Damian Lillard (Weber State) and George Hill (IUPUI).
Payne will be selected in the No. 9-14 range, Fraschilla said before adding, "I'd be shocked if he slides by 14."