The 2017 basketball recruiting cycle is in its final weeks, and it appears that Kentucky’s biggest need for next season will be in the backcourt.
The Wildcats definitely will lose senior guards Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder, who are both in their final year of eligibility.
UK almost certainly will lose freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who are both considered top-10 picks in this year’s NBA Draft.
And it’s possible — perhaps likely — that sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe, who nearly left Lexington after last season, will keep his name in this year’s draft, even though he’s not currently projected among the 60 picks.
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If Briscoe goes, that would leave UK with three scholarship guards on the 2017-18 roster: freshman point guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, a midseason enrollee who’s currently practicing with the Cats and is also eligible for this year’s draft (though he has said he plans to play college basketball next season).
Kentucky is not considered a favorite for undecided, 6-foot-9 small forward recruit Kevin Knox — a good outside shooter who could solve the team’s backcourt shortage — and none of the combo forwards on next season’s projected roster (Wenyen Gabriel, Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington) have yet proven themselves as true perimeter players.
Three guards make for a thin backcourt — unless Brad Calipari is ready to make a major contribution — and UK has not shown an interest in any of the uncommitted guards in the class of 2017. No junior-college players are known to be on UK’s radar, either.
Another option — and maybe the most sensible one for what will be another young team — would be to add a graduate-transfer: a veteran player who has graduated from his current school and would be eligible to play right away.
John Calipari did this in 2012 with the addition of Julius Mays, who came to UK as a grad transfer from Wright State and ended up leading the Wildcats in assists, three-point field goals and minutes per game in his only season in Lexington.
From what I understand, there are programs that have the names of all the kids that have a chance of transferring and playing right away.
John Calipari, UK basketball coach
If Calipari sticks to the comments he made over the weekend at the NCAA Tournament site in Indianapolis, he won’t be taking this route again.
The UK coach turned a question about the perceived “under-seeding” of mid-major programs into a condemnation of the graduate-transfer rule that, Calipari says, hurts those types of teams the most.
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“What’s happened right now, the fifth-year transfer has changed and made it tough for some of those schools that are building,” he said. “It hasn’t affected Gonzaga. It hadn’t affected Wichita. It hadn’t affected some of the other schools.
“But the reality of it is that’s the issue, and I wish we could deal with it. It’s just guys are losing their best players their fifth year. Guys are losing jobs because kids are leaving and going to a major school.”
This isn’t the first time Calipari has railed against grad transfers.
The UK coach also did it last year after Drexel fired its head coach, Bruiser Flint, who happens to be one of Calipari’s former assistant coaches and remains a close friend.
A year before Flint was fired, he lost his best player, Damion Lee, to Louisville as a graduate transfer. The Dragons finished 6-25 after losing Lee, and Flint was out of a job.
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Calipari told Philadelphia sports writer Dick Jerardi last March that Drexel would’ve made the NCAA Tournament with Lee — thus saving Flint’s job — and blasted the very idea of graduate transfers, while also acknowledging that UK had taken Mays a few years earlier: “Even then, I was like, ‘It disgusts me that we’re doing this.’ The kid was going to go somewhere, so why don’t we take him?”
As the Herald-Leader’s John Clay pointed out at the time, Calipari’s take on grad transfers didn’t exactly jibe with his “players first” mantra, but the UK coach doubled-down on the disdain over the weekend.
“I just can’t imagine we can’t come up with a solution that you have to sit out,” Calipari said Saturday. “If you transfer, you sit out. It’s just what it is. I mean, whether you graduated or not, you sit out. From what I understand, there are programs that have the names of all the kids that have a chance of transferring and playing right away. ‘Who can we grab out of that?’ Come on.”
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If Calipari stands by that — and UK loses Briscoe, Fox and Monk to the pros — things could get interesting this offseason. With no 2017 or junior college guards on the radar, the only other option for an addition would be getting a 2018 recruit to reclassify. Short of that, the Cats’ backcourt next season would have little room for error.
Calipari’s final words on the grad-transfer issue Saturday were these:
“The problem is those kids play for a coach whose job may be on the line. So you take those kids and now all of a sudden that guy loses his job. I don’t think it says the right thing to the kids. I know it’s not right for coaching.
“But we’ll be mad about one and done. Really?”