SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Mock NBA Drafts lately include freshmen Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe among the Kentucky players projected as first-round picks. It might be wise to take the word "mock" off of those projections.
During an interview session Wednesday in preparation for Kentucky's game Thursday night against Cornell in the NCAA Tournament, Orton and Bledsoe spoke of the likelihood this is their first and last college season.
When asked how likely he was to enter this year's NBA Draft, Orton said, "Hmm. You know, if I'm a lottery pick, it's something I have to think about. That's for sure."
Bledsoe was even more direct. "I mean, it's a good possibility," he said before adding that his immediate priority would be to advance Kentucky far in this NCAA Tournament.
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If Orton and Bledsoe were to leave, that would mean UK would be starting over next season without five of this season's regulars. It's widely believed that freshman John Wall, freshman DeMarcus Cousins and junior Patrick Patterson will not return to college next season.
A recent mock draft by the Los Angeles Times projected those five players among the top 13 picks. The Times had Wall being the first player taken, then Cousins at No. 8, Patterson at No. 10, Orton at No. 12 and Bledsoe at No. 13.
Orton made it sound like if he believes he'll be taken with one of the first 14 picks, the so-called lottery section of the first round, the financial implications would be almost impossible to ignore.
"More than anything, it's money," he said. "In this world, there's only one color that matters, and that's green.
"If that's an option, then that's real important. I've got to (explore) that option."
When asked if being projected as a lottery pick would make the critical difference in his decision to stay in college or turn pro, Orton said, "Probably so. More than anything, I know I can stay another year and move up the draft board."
Because he plays behind Cousins and Patterson, Orton has not played a lot. He hasn't played even 20 minutes in a game since Kentucky played Cleveland State in Cancun. He hasn't scored more than eight points in the last 22 games. In that span, he's grabbed more than five rebounds in a game once (nine at Florida).
Orton attributed his draft profile to Kentucky's success this season.
"The position the team is in," Orton said. "... I do believe I've started playing real well. But more so than anything, the position the team is in."
Cousins vouched for Orton's improved play of late.
"Daniel has improved a lot," Cousins said. "He's more aggressive. He's believing in himself a lot more than in the beginning of the season. It's starting to show."