If everyone who’s expected to leave the program following this season does so, John Calipari will probably be looking to fill at least one more spot over the next couple of months.
Brooks joined five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey and fellow wing recruits Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen in UK’s recruiting class. Three current freshmen — Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery and Jemarl Baker, who sat out last season with an injury — are absent from all major NBA Draft prospect lists and will probably be back in Lexington next season.
That’s a total of seven players — barring any unforeseen transfers — that should be counted as near-locks for the 2019-20 roster.
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Definitely leaving the team will be graduate student Reid Travis, who is in his final season of eligibility, and almost certain to follow will be projected first-round NBA picks Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington. In recent weeks, Tyler Herro has worked his way up the NBA prospect lists, and he, too, is now projected as a first-round pick in this year’s draft. Few UK players in the Calipari era have decided to come back to Lexington with that kind of draft status.
That would leave freshman point guard Ashton Hagans and sophomore center Nick Richards, who have both been mentioned as possible early entrants to the pros, though neither is currently seen as a first-round pick. Hagans shows up in the 40-50 range (mid-second round) on multiple NBA lists and Richards is not ranked on ESPN’s Top 100 list, though he turns 22 years old later this year, and it’s been rare for recent UK players to return for more than two college seasons. Still, he could very well be back for a junior year at Kentucky.
Even if Hagans and Richards both return — and Washington, Johnson and Herro all head to the draft — that would give the Cats just nine scholarship players for next season, leaving four open scholarships.
Calipari has made it clear he likes coaching a smaller rotation — and prefers to leave some open scholarships, especially in cases where mid-season additions like Hamidou Diallo become options — but it’s unlikely he would roll into next season with only nine scholarship players, one of whom, Allen, is coming off major knee surgery in January and could need a little more time to get back to 100 percent.
UK has not gone into a season with fewer than 10 scholarship players since the 2012-13 campaign, when the Cats ended up in the NIT, the only time Calipari has missed the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky.
So, look for UK to remain active in recruiting circles going into the spring.
Hurt — a 6-9 forward — has long been seen as a Kansas lean, though Duke has picked up several recent predictions on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page, and national analysts have said not to count Kentucky out in his recruitment.
McDaniels — a 6-10 forward — is a Seattle native, and many analysts are giving the slight edge to Washington, though UK is the school mentioned most often as the Huskies’ main competition.
If UK misses on both players — or, perhaps, even if they land one of them — the Cats could still be interested in another graduate transfer like Travis, or a player currently in the 2020 class that decides to reclassify to 2019 and play college basketball next season. Several major UK targets — including combo guard RJ Hampton, forward Isaiah Todd, and center N’Faly Dante — have been mentioned as reclassification candidates.
Last year, Hagans didn’t announce his reclassification until June 15, and Travis didn’t commit to Kentucky until five days after that. It could be another long spring for the Cats this time around.