Before John Calipari took the job, UK was one of the few elite college basketball programs that had never had a freshman leave early for the NBA.
In the nearly nine years since, Kentucky has had at least two one-and-done players in every class — starting with the trio of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 draft — and a total of 20 freshmen-to-the-NBA picks over eight drafts under Calipari.
Freshmen Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo are all projected in the first round of ESPN’s latest mock draft for this year, posted last week. After that, Calipari’s Cats could be in uncharted territory.
As of now, none of UK’s three signees for next season — Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro — are projected by ESPN as one-and-done draft picks. None of those three players are listed among the top 10 recruits in the 2018 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
“The 2019 draft is going to be a really weird one, because a lot of analysts are saying the 2018 high school class is maybe the weakest one that they’ve seen in the last decade,” ESPN lead draft analyst Jonathan Givony told the Herald-Leader.
“After R.J. and Reddish, and then to a lesser extent, Zion, you’re really struggling to say that any of these dudes are surefire one-and-done type guys.”
Givony is, of course, talking about Duke commitments R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson, the top three recruits in the 2018 class and the top three NBA prospects for the 2019 draft, in this early stage of the process.
ESPN’s most recent public mock draft for 2019 was posted in late September, but Givony keeps an updated list throughout the year, and he shared details of the current makeup of that mock draft with the Herald-Leader last week.
Quickley, Johnson and Herro were not on it. Neither was five-star power forward E.J. Montgomery, who has emerged in recent days as possibly UK’s top remaining priority for the 2018 class.
Anfernee Simons, another five-star recruit in the 2018 class, is also a possible UK recruiting target, but his age and status as a post-graduate player make him eligible for this year’s draft, and Givony currently has him projected as the No. 23 overall pick in 2018.
No. 1-ranked junior James Wiseman, often mentioned as a possible UK reclassification target — though he has shot down rumors of a move from 2019 to 2018 — won’t turn 18 years old until March of next year. Even if he did reclassify to 2018, he couldn’t enter the NBA Draft until 2020, under current eligibility rules.
Back in the fall, Givony did have Quickley — a 6-foot-3 point guard — listed as the No. 6 draft prospect for next year. He’s since evaluated him further at settings such as the USA Basketball training camp in October and the Hoophall Classic earlier this month, and he’s removed him from his internal 2019 mock draft.
“I just don’t think that there’s enough there right now to say that he’s for sure a one-and-done lottery pick,” Givony said.
Quickley, Johnson, Herro and whoever else UK signs for next season will obviously have ample opportunity to work their way into the one-and-done discussion in settings like the McDonald’s All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit, and, of course, a few dozen college basketball games as freshmen.
But, for the time being, it’s looking like Calipari might actually enter a season with zero freshmen projected as one-and-done picks.
That would certainly be a welcome change for a large — or, at least, vocal — segment of the UK fan base that has for years clamored for Calipari to sign more players who stick around longer than a season.
A class full of multi-year players would obviously add some more continuity to a program that sees so much turnover every offseason.
Givony’s projection of three Wildcats to this year’s draft means eight scholarship players from the current team would return for another season.
The currently unpublished ESPN mock draft for 2019 that Givony shared with the Herald-Leader has just one Cat as a first-rounder: Jarred Vanderbilt, who would be a sophomore next season. It also includes PJ Washington and Nick Richards in the top half of the second round.
“And that’s it,” Givony said, referring to UK players.
Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard as seniors? Quade Green as a junior? Quickley, Johnson and Herro as sophomores? To all the UK fans who claim to be suffering from one-and-done fatigue, that would be quite the sight.
UK players who signed with Calipari out of high school (2009-2016)
Time at UK
Player (draft pick)
John Wall (1st), Anthony Davis (1st), Karl-Anthony Towns (1st), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2nd), Enes Kanter (3rd), DeMarcus Cousins (5th), De’Aaron Fox (5th), Nerlens Noel (6th), Julius Randle (7th), Jamal Murray (7th), Brandon Knight (8th), Malik Monk (11th), Trey Lyles (12th), Devin Booker (13th), Bam Adebayo (14th), James Young (17th), Eric Bledsoe (18th), Skal Labissiere (28th), Marquis Teague (29th), Archie Goodwin (29th)
Terrence Jones (18th), Tyler Ulis (34th), Doron Lamb (42nd), Andrew Harrison (44th), Dakari Johnson (48th), Aaron Harrison (undrafted), Isaiah Briscoe (undrafted), Isaac Humphries (undrafted)
Willie Cauley-Stein (6th)
Alex Poythress, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis (all undrafted)
Still at UK
Tai Wynyard, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
Stacey Poole, Kyle Wiltjer, Marcus Lee, Charles Matthews
Note: This list does not include Daniel Orton (one-and-done) and Jon Hood (stayed five years, due to injury). Both players were recruited by and signed with Billy Gillispie before Calipari was hired as UK’s head coach.