The revolving door that is Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball in the John Calipari era revved up to warp speed Thursday.
At an afternoon news conference in the Joe Craft Center, Calipari requested that any UK player with remaining eligibility who planned to place his name in the 2015 NBA Draft to stand.
After a brief delay, a whopping seven new ex-Cats — junior Willie Cauley-Stein; sophomores Aaron and Andrew Harrison plus Dakari Johnson; and freshmen Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns — rose to their feet.
Since Calipari came to Lexington in 2009, the number of Kentucky players who have turned pro with remaining college eligibility now stands at 23. With Booker, Lyles and Towns, Kentucky has had 15 one-and-done players under Calipari.
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(That does not include Enes Kanter, who went none-and-done at UK).
"I'm not convincing anyone to stay and I'm not pushing anybody out the door," Calipari said. "This is their choice with their family."
The fact that Kentucky's 2014 recruiting class — Booker, Lyles, Towns and point guard Tyler Ulis — will be 75 percent gone after one season was not what was expected when the past season began. By Calipari-era standards, the class was not highly touted. It included "only" one top-10 prospect in the Rivals 150 (Towns at No. 5) and only one other top-20 player (Lyles at No. 13).
Most people expected Towns to be one-and-done, however the conventional wisdom was that the rest of UK's freshman class would likely be multi-year players.
Booker noted that Calipari began the 2014-15 season speculating that UK might have eight players in the 2015 NBA Draft.
"I didn't think I was one of the eight," Booker said.
Yet in an NBA where Golden State stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have shown the value of outside-shot makers, Booker's 41 percent three-point shooting this season put the 6-foot-6 guard onto the radars of pro scouts. The website DraftExpress.com has Booker going No. 17 in its most recent mock draft.
"They're showing how important shooting is to an NBA team," Booker said. "Like J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers) and Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks). I think NBA teams are seeing (how valuable) a shooter is."
To me, the toughest decision of the freshmen who are leaving belonged to Lyles. The 6-10 forward (8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds a game) is projected to go No. 19 in the DraftExpress.com mock draft.
Had he come back to Kentucky as a featured scorer next season, Lyles might have played his way into a top-five pick in the 2016 draft.
Lyles says he considered that. "But I just had to make the right choice for myself now," he said. "And I believe I did."
The strong play of the 6-11 Towns down the stretch caused many draft analysts to move him ahead of Jahlil Okafor of NCAA champion Duke into the No. 1 overall spot in the 2015 draft.
Towns said Thursday he has not invested a lot of thought into whether he will become the third Kentucky player in the past six drafts (John Wall 2010, Anthony Davis 2012) to go first overall.
"The one thing I worry about is what I can control," Towns said. "Work hard. Work hard every day. Get my game better every day. Be the best player I can be. That, really, is all I'm really worried about."
That is not to say the Piscataway, N.J., product has given no thought to the possibility he could end up with the woeful New York Knicks.
"I'm a home-town boy," Towns said, smiling. "That's my home-town team. I think everyone knows I was a Knicks fan growing up."
During the one-and-done era in Kentucky basketball, the Wildcats have gone to four Final Fours in six years. Hard to argue with that. Still, for Kentucky fans, the constant roster churn removes what used to be one of the best parts of following college sports — watching players grow and mature.
It also creates a lamentable dynamic in which players who stay at Kentucky instead of turning pro immediately risk being stigmatized.
From UK's 2014 recruiting class, Ulis, the fiery little point guard, is the only one who will still be on the Wildcats' roster in 2015-16.
Last fall, that was not the way things were expected to play out. When you are Kentucky, having a freshman class exceed expectations is a mixed blessing.