In a college basketball offseason, especially when navigating the choppy waters that crash the docks before the NBA Draft, a team’s future can change in the blink of an eye.
As late as last week, Louisville was up and Kentucky was down.
Fingers crossed, Louisville fans hoped that star wing Donovan Mitchell and starting forward Jaylen Johnson would exit draft consideration and happily fortify a Cardinals roster capable of making a serious 2017-18 title run.
Meanwhile, Kentucky fans appeared resigned that, oh well, top-10 prospect Kevin Knox would announce his intention to spend his one college year somewhere other than at the Joe Craft Center.
Then just like that, the tables turned.
Not long after Johnson announced that he was hiring an agent to remain in the draft, Mitchell administered a kick to the Cardinals’ heart by announcing Friday that he, too, would be giving up his two final seasons at Louisville.
One night later, just after Always Dreaming crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs, Kentucky held its own Kentucky Derby Day celebration when Knox unexpectedly announced that he would be a Wildcat, after all.
Moral of that story: When it comes to recruiting, never count out John Calipari.
Once a possible preseason No. 1 pick for 2017-18, Louisville is now more likely to be a top-10 pick. Plenty of talent remains at Rick Pitino’s disposal for next season, but the Cards won’t have that one bona fide star like Mitchell, who averaged 15.6 points last season.
Not that Mitchell is fully developed. He was an erratic shooter, especially over the ACC’s second half, and he ended up making just 40.8 percent of his shots, including 35.4 percent from three-point range. He’s so athletic, however, that NBA teams will happily bet on his potential. DraftExpress currently has the 6-foot-3 guard No. 20 in its mock draft.
Now the Cards wait on Deng Adel, the 6-7 junior-to-be, who upped his game the last half of last season. Adel also is in the NBA evaluation, although he didn’t make the 67-name list of those invited to this week’s NBA Combine. Instead, he’s an alternate.
Kentucky is waiting on Hamidou Diallo, the redshirt freshman who put his name into the draft without picking an agent. Diallo was invited to the Combine, where he has declined the opportunity to participate in the five-on-five competition — Mitchell did the same — prompting the thinking that he is receiving positive feedback and sees no reason to risk a misstep.
I thought Diallo would return to the Cats. I’ve since changed my mind. With the growing possibility that Diallo is a first-round pick, I think he’s Calipari’s first none-and-done.
The Knox news softens that potential blow and then some. The 6-8 forward from Tampa is currently No. 9 on the Rivals Top 150 list in the class of 2017. He joins No. 13 Jarred Vanderbilt, No. 14 PJ Washington, No. 16 Nick Richards, No. 21 Quade Green, No. 31 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 78 Jemarl Baker.
Kentucky returning to Madison Square Garden in 2017
“This will be the youngest, least experienced team I’ve coached,” Calipari told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News this week.
True, but it will be among his most talented. What his freshman class might lack in surefire one-and-done talent, it makes up for in depth. And Calipari has repeatedly shown that he has a gift for meshing rookie talent into a collection worthy of Final Four runs.
And, oh yeah, Mohamed Bamba, No. 2 on the Rivals list, with Kentucky high on his list, has yet to announce his college choice.
Dick Vitale isn’t waiting on Bamba. No sooner had Knox announced his pick than ESPN’s longtime analyst and social media maven announced his preseason pick for No. 1: Kentucky.
NBC Sports’ Way-Too-Early Top 25
- 1. Michigan State
- 2. Arizona
- 3. North Carolina
- 4. Kansas
- 5. Kentucky
- 6. Duke
- 7. Miami
- 8. Florida
- 9. Louisville
- 10. Villanova
- 11. Wichita State
- 12. West Virginia
- 13. USC
- 14. Minnesota
- 15. UCLA
- 16. Cincinnati
- 17. Seton Hall
- 18. Gonzaga
- 19. Northwestern
- 20. Alabama
- 21. Notre Dame
- 22. Virginia Tech
- 23. Saint Mary’s
- 24. Baylor
- 25. Nevada
Source: College Basketball Talk