Despite a Final Four loss to Wisconsin last weekend, Kentucky basketball's foundational formula — aka "succeed and proceed" — continues to hum.
The proceed part blossomed like never before Thursday as seven UK players announced that they will enter this year's NBA Draft. The seven — freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Andrew and Aaron Harrison, and junior Willie Cauley-Stein — made for a record number of UK players in an NBA Draft. Seven surpassed the six in 2012: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague.
On Monday, the architect of Kentucky basketball's recent run of four Final Four appearances in the last five years, Coach John Calipari, prepared UK fans — and future recruits — for a mass exodus. He said no fewer than five and perhaps as many as seven players would enter this year's NBA Draft.
"We didn't quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0, but it can't and it doesn't take away from what these people have accomplished," Calipari said Thursday.
Towns, Lyles, Cauley-Stein and Booker are widely projected as first-round picks in the June 25th draft. Any and all will add to UK's 15 first-round picks in Calipari's first five seasons as coach. That includes nine lottery picks.
Because of his play in the NCAA Tournament, which included a career-high 25 points against Notre Dame, Towns has been elevated to the first overall pick. If that happens, he'll follow John Wall (2010) and Davis (2012) as first overall picks from UK.
"It's one of those moments, like I said, that you never think this can happen," Towns said. "The odds are always going to be against you, astronomically. It's like winning the lottery."
DraftExpress.com analyst Jonathan Givony spoke of Towns' improvement throughout the season.
"I think that he really turned the corner midway through the SEC," Givony said. "He really showed his full potential of what he can be."
The player seen as the biggest challenger to Towns for the overall No. 1 pick is Jahlil Okafor of Duke.
Givony suggested that the changing nature of NBA basketball makes Towns the more likely overall No. 1 pick.
"I think 10, 15 years ago, there's no question that Jahlil would have been No. 1," he said. "But to me, the way the game is evolving, in terms of style of play in the NBA — with rim protection and three-point shooting and all of that, I think that gives Karl the advantage right now.
"But it still depends on what team is picking at No. 1. It could still go either way. I don't think anything is set in stone right now."
Lyles and Cauley-Stein were expected to enter this year's draft. Booker was more of an unknown, but his basketball skills, particularly as a shooter, and improving defense made it seem likely he would enter the draft.
Booker said he didn't decide to enter the draft until "pretty late" in the season. "No one projected me to be in this position," he said.
In the last few days, it became apparent that the Harrison twins would enter the draft. Each considered entering last year's draft, then decided to return to UK, in part because they wanted to improve their draft status. Neither is projected as a first-round pick.
"I don't think (NBA types) really care if it's a mistake or not," Givony said. "They have their own opinions of what they think about these guys. You never know how things will turn out. I don't think anybody was surprised. They really could have gone last year. I haven't really heard any strong commentary either way. They're not really that hot on anybody's mind right now. It's not a really big topic of discussion.
"I don't think it's a lock for either guy to get drafted. Once you start to talk about the second round, anything can happen, really. Some years, there could be 15, 20 European guys drafted in the second round. ... It's really very much a crap shoot. I think it could go either way. Workouts will be really big for them, to see if they can even resemble the players that people thought they would be coming in. I mean, I don't think there's any secret to them anymore. They've played 75 games, or whatever. So, we have a fairly good idea of what they are at this point."
As a 7-footer, Johnson brings the always-coveted attribute of height to the draft.
Givony put Johnson in the same category as every other UK player in this draft other than Towns: No dramatic change in a positive or negative direction as a result of UK's 38-1 season.
When asked if he thought any UK player helped or hurt his draft stock in the NCAA Tournament other than Towns, Givony said, "No, I really don't. They all had kind of their ups and downs, which was similar to what they did during the season."
The players turning pro — the "Magnificent Seven?" — were mindful of the special season that preceded a Thursday announcement that was all about the future.
"We all wanted a national championship, but I feel like we made a lot of history here, did a lot of great things," Booker said. "These are memories that I'll never forget."