The last three Kentucky Wildcats to walk off the FedExForum court after congratulating North Carolina’s players on their 75-73 victory Sunday night were Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.
It’s unlikely any of them will play college basketball again.
For the second straight year, UK’s season ended short of the Final Four.
In what has become a Kentucky tradition under John Calipari, the Wildcats’ outlook for next season will depend on the decisions of several young players in the coming weeks.
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None of UK’s three star freshmen offered concrete answers on their future plans after Sunday night’s loss in the Elite Eight, but it’s expected that — as projected first-round picks in this year’s NBA Draft — all three are done at UK.
Monk, currently the No. 5 player on DraftExpress.com’s board, said he hadn’t made a decision yet, but he’ll talk it over with his mother and older brother soon.
“We’re just trying to get over this loss right now, and we’ll talk about it later on in the week,” Monk said.
Fox — projected as the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft — cut off a question that was clearly going to be about his NBA plans.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” he said.
People can say what they want. You see this locker room. Think what you want to think. We love each other. We didn’t want our season to end. We didn’t want it to end right now. We wanted to be in the last weekend of the season. If you think we don’t care, then that’s on you. That’s not our problem.
Adebayo’s draft stock is less certain — he’s sitting at No. 30 in the DraftExpress.com mock draft for 2017, the final pick in the first round — but he’s expected to leave the program after one season. He also said Sunday he didn’t know what was next.
“It’s been a hell of a run,” Adebayo said. “I just wish we could have got to Phoenix. We came up short, but these are still my brothers and that’s not going to change.”
Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe, who is No. 85 on DraftExpress.com’s list of NBA prospects — there are only 60 total picks in the draft — didn’t say what he plans to do next, but he nearly left after last season as a one-and-done, and many around the program expect him to move on to the pros now.
Briscoe’s voice barely rose above a whisper after the loss, and he sat dejectedly with a towel over his head in UK’s postgame locker room.
Freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel had been mentioned as a possible one-and-done player coming into this season, but his production and playing time have dwindled in recent weeks. He played only four minutes against North Carolina and no more than nine minutes in any of UK’s four NCAA Tournament games.
“When we get back to Lexington, we’re going to talk to Coach (Calipari) about that,” Gabriel said, and the possibility of entering his name in the draft, going through the evaluation process and then returning to UK for a sophomore season would be “part of that discussion.”
Freshman shooting guard Hamidou Diallo is eligible for this year’s NBA Draft, but he has said several times that he plans to play for Kentucky before going to the pros.
Sophomore Isaac Humphries and freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones have been the subjects of departure speculation in recent weeks. Humphries, a star Sunday night, said he would evaluate all of his options. The Australia native was too young to enter the NBA Draft process last year.
“I have, obviously, options,” he said. “Just purely because of my age, I had zero options (last year). But I haven’t thought or discussed anything yet. Now that we’re kind of done, I’m going to assess every option I have.”
Killeya-Jones recently denied rumors that he might transfer, although he didn’t play in UK’s last 19 games.
Seniors Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis will be gone for sure.
Who else the Cats will lose remains unclear for now, but the program will add at least four McDonald’s All-Americans for next season: point guard Quade Green, forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington, and center Nick Richards, as well as four-star combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Kentucky also is in the mix for No. 2 overall recruit Mohamed Bamba — a 7-foot center — and No. 7 recruit Kevin Knox, an athletic small forward who can play on the perimeter. Both are expected to make college decisions in April.
Another season over, another revolving door of talent for Calipari’s program.
The “one-and-done” debate came up again this weekend — will it ever end? — as UK’s star freshmen prepared to face the seasoned Tar Heels. To the critics of the way Calipari recruits, to those who say his one-year players “don’t care” about team results, Fox offered some physical proof to the contrary.
“People can say what they want. You see this locker room,” UK’s star point guard said, tears in his eyes with his devastated teammates around him. “Think what you want to think. We love each other. We didn’t want our season to end. We didn’t want it to end right now. We wanted to be in the last weekend of the season.
“If you think we don’t care, then that’s on you. That’s not our problem.”