While current University of Kentucky men’s basketball players are likely to start making announcements regarding the NBA Draft in the next few days, it could be more than two months before their final stay-or-go decisions are known.
New guidelines that go into effect this year will allow college players to enter their names in the draft, participate in the NBA Combine and work out for individual NBA teams without jeopardizing future college eligibility, as long as they withdraw their names from consideration by late May.
Instead of the previous withdrawal date of mid-April — to coincide with the start of the late signing period for incoming recruits — college players can now wait until 10 days after the NBA Combine to withdraw from the draft and return to school. That date this year will be May 25.
The idea behind the new schedule is that college players will get better feedback about their possible draft position by communicating directly with NBA personnel — and working out for NBA teams — which will then allow players to make more informed decisions about their basketball futures.
A potential adverse effect of the new rule is likely to lead borderline NBA draft picks — or players with virtually no chance of being drafted — to declare for the draft, go through the process and hope to improve their stock along the way.
“I don’t think the NCAA really thought this thing through,” DraftExpress.com analyst Jonathan Givony told the Herald-Leader recently. “They said they think it’ll cause guys to return to school. I think it’s going to have the opposite effect. I think the floodgates are going to open. Once you unleash guys and let them into workouts, and agents and training and all of that stuff, I think it’s a slippery slope.
“And I don’t see a lot of guys coming back after that.”
UK Coach John Calipari acknowledged in January that “just about every player on your team should declare for the draft” to get a sense of their stock directly from NBA personnel.
The general thinking around the program is that Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere and Tyler Ulis will all declare for the draft and stay in. All three of those players are now considered first-round picks, and Murray and Labissiere are widely regarded as possible lottery picks.
The biggest question marks over the next few weeks will be Isaiah Briscoe and Marcus Lee. Both of those players are likely to at least enter their names in the draft to see what NBA teams think of them while hoping to improve their standing through the Combine — if they get invited — and individual workouts.
Briscoe started the season as a projected first-round pick, according to DraftExpress.com, but is now listed as the No. 76 overall draft-eligible prospect for 2016. There are only 60 picks in the NBA Draft.
Givony said in a previous interview with the Herald-Leader that the new guidelines could also allow NBA teams to persuade players to keep their names in the draft with a promise that they would be a second-round pick. If Briscoe, who came to UK with the hopes of being a one-and-done player, receives feedback like that during the upcoming process, it could make for a tough decision.
Lee’s current draft stock is even lower — he’s not listed among the top 100 players on DraftExpress.com — but he’s in a tough position.
At this point, it seems unlikely he would be selected this year if he keeps his name in the draft. But Lee could also face a decrease in playing time if he returns to UK next season.
Briscoe would probably start next season in another three-guard lineup alongside incoming recruits De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, but Lee’s role is less clear.
The Wildcats’ recruiting class — which Calipari says is perhaps his best ever — includes five-star big men Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Sacha Killeya-Jones, as well as 6-foot-10 small forward Wenyen Gabriel, who is likely to see at least some time in the post. UK also is pursuing Marques Bolden, who many regard as the No. 1 center in the country.
The arrival of those players, and the expected return of Derek Willis and a possible emergence of Isaac Humphries and/or Tai Wynyard, will make playing time hard to come by in the post next season. Lee, too, could improve, but it seems unlikely that he would play more than the 21.8 minutes a game that he earned this season.
This year’s NBA Combine is scheduled for May 11 to 15 in Chicago.
The NBA Draft will be held June 23 in Brooklyn.
Current Top 100 rankings for draft-eligible college players
ESPN's Chad Ford