With its basketball roster overstuffed, the University of Kentucky announced Tuesday that A.J. Stewart, Donald Williams and Jared Carter will not return to the team next season.
None of the departures was a surprise given the much-ballyhooed recruiting class expanded UK's roster well beyond the NCAA's 13-scholarship limit. Even with the trio's departure, Kentucky remains two over the limit, assuming Jodie Meeks withdraws from the NBA Draft and returns for his senior season.
Adding to the fluid situation was walk-on Landon Slone's decision to, however reluctantly, look to transfer.
Slone, an All-State player for Paintsville, walked on for UK last season and became a fan favorite. Former coach Billy Gillispie brought him to UK with the understanding that a scholarship might be available for the second year, Slone said on Tuesday.
"When we got to the NIT, Coach Gillispie started talking to me" about a scholarship, Slone said.
Then UK fired Gillispie. It probably didn't help Slone's feelings of insecurity when new coach John Calipari told reporters a few weeks ago that he would not have as many walk-ons as Gillispie.
"I asked several times to speak to Coach Cal to see what would be in my best interests," Slone said before adding, "I think it's getting pretty obvious."
The meeting with Calipari never took place.
"I ended up meeting with one of the assistants," Slone said. "He told me, if I had options to go elsewhere, which he heard I did, that probably would be in my best interest."
Calipari posted a message on his Twitter page Tuesday night apologizing to Slone. The coach said he was unaware of the player's wishes to meet with him.
"Heard he waited to speak to me in my office but I didn't know. Really sorry," Calipari tweeted. "We are still trying to get organized!!"
Slone said he has spoken to Morehead State officials several times and hoped to make a decision within a week or two.
In his one season for UK, Slone epitomized the Kentucky native who reveres the Wildcats and felt it was a privilege to wear the uniform.
"It was a dream to play here," he said. "When you finally get there, you want to work as hard as you can and get to where you need to be.
"And then it's kind of shot down."
Slone acknowledged his disappointment.
"It bothers me, it really does," he said. "... I don't think anybody could probably love Kentucky basketball as much as I do or watch it as much as I did and understand it as much as I do. That makes it a little easier because I understand what's going on."
Slone said he understood the changes that come with a new coach, which include the recruitment of the nation's No. 1 class of newcomers.
Slone voiced regret that he will not be part of next season. "One of the harder parts," he said of the decision to transfer. "My ultimate goal was to play in the NCAA Tournament."
Now, Slone will either try to achieve that goal at another Division I school beginning as a transfer next season or attend a junior college and return to Division I a year from now.
Either way, his personal disappointment remains secondary to Kentucky basketball.
"As long as Kentucky's winning, I'll cheer for them wherever I go," he said.
Of the three scholarship players leaving UK, Stewart played the most. He averaged 5.7 minutes in 29 games last season. He averaged 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds in his UK career.
"I appreciate Coach Calipari and the staff being truthful with me," Stewart said in a UK news release. "I want to further my career both academically and athletically at a school where more playing time is available. I know that coach will do anything possible to find a great situation for me."
His high school coach, Rex Morgan, said Stewart wanted to stay. But Stewart faced a 10-game suspension tied to missed classes, which complicated the chance to stay. Stewart will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Morgan called coaching friend Bob Huggins to see if Stewart might be welcomed. But West Virginia did not have any available scholarships. Coming out of Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Fla., Stewart narrowed his choices to Huggins-coached Kansas State, Clemson, Illinois and UK.
Williams, a freshman from Maryland, did not play at all during his one season at UK, which generated speculation about a redshirt season. Slone said he thought Williams was considering a fresh start in junior college.
"My time at Kentucky was a great experience," Williams said in the news release. "I developed great friendships with my teammates; the environment was great; the fans showed us a lot of love; my teachers were great. It was just a good experience for me and a wonderful opportunity to improve myself, being around different guys from different areas. Even though I had to sit out this year, I would have liked to have played and helped, but with coach leaving, sometimes it just happens that way."
Carter, a fourth-year player last season, missed almost all of the 2006-07 season because of shoulder surgeries. UK apparently chose not to apply on his behalf for a medical redshirt season in 2009-10.
Carter, who played high school basketball for Scott County, finished his UK career averaging 1.0 points and 1.1 rebounds in 42 games.
"I've enjoyed my experience at UK and will remember all the people and players I've met along the way, especially Mr. (Bill) Keightley," Carter said in UK's news release. "I'm looking forward to moving on with my life and am excited to see what professional opportunities await me."