John Clay

Sixth-ranked player in Kentucky's 2017 class might go in NBA Draft's top 10

Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a standout during the NCAA Tournament, which helped improve his draft profile.
Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a standout during the NCAA Tournament, which helped improve his draft profile.

A quick review of Rivals' rankings for Kentucky basketball's class of 2017 reminds us Kevin Knox led the way at No. 10. Jarred Vanderbilt was next at No. 14. PJ Washington sat right behind at No. 15. Nick Richards ranked 17th. Quade Green was at No. 22.

At No. 34, ranked sixth among John Calipari's signees heading into last season, was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Yet when commissioner Adam Silver reads off the names chosen at the NBA Draft on Thursday night in Brooklyn, the first Kentucky player called is likely to be the 6-foot-6 point guard from Canada.

ESPN's latest "Grade A" mock draft has Gilgeous-Alexander going eighth to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That's one spot ahead of ex-Oklahoma scoring wiz Trae Young, three spots in front of ex-Alabama point guard Collin "Young Bull" Sexton and six mock spots before his old teammate, Knox.

If Gilgeous-Alexander does happen to go that high, or higher, it would continue the Calipari streak of having at least one player selected in the NBA Draft's top 10 in every year he has been the Kentucky coach.

Previously: 2010-John Wall (No. 1) and DeMarcus Cousins (5); 2011-Enes Kanter (3) and Brandon Knight (8); 2012-Anthony Davis (1) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2); 2013-Nerlens Noel (6); 2014-Julius Randle (7); 2015-Karl-Anthony Towns (1) and Willie Cauley-Stein (6); 2016-Jamal Murray (7); and 2017-De'Aaron Fox (5).

Remember, this is the same Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who began the year behind Green in UK's point guard order. He started just 24 of the Cats' 37 games, but ended up second on the team in scoring (14.1 points game), first in assists (5.1) and first in steals (1.6). Now, he could well be the first Cat drafted.

It just goes to show that while the various prep scouting rankings often offer a legitimate guideline to college basketball's incoming talent each season, it's not an exact science. Even in Kentucky's case.

In Caliapri's first Kentucky class, Eric Bledsoe was believed to be at least a two-year player who would play off the ball with John Wall as a freshman, then take over UK's point guard spot when Wall moved on to the NBA. Instead, Bledsoe played so well in 2009-10, he was taken 18th in the draft and is now a star for the Milwaukee Bucks.

When signed in 2012, Willie Cauley-Stein was a high school football wide receiver considered a hoops project. Nerlens Noel was UK's marquee recruit that class. Two years later, Cauley-Stein was taken No. 6 overall in the draft by Sacramento, where he's a key piece while Noel has bounced around the league.

Haitian center Skal Labissiere was rated the nation's No. 1 prep prospect by Rivals when he signed with Kentucky in 2015. But Labissiere lacked the body and the aggressiveness needed to make an impact his one-and-done season in Lexington. He slid to No. 28 in the draft. UK guard Jamal Murray, ranked No. 9 by Rivals, went seventh that year.

Murray and Gilgeous-Alexander are both guards, both Canadians, but the similarities stop there. Murray was/is a shooter. Gilgeous-Alexander was/is a long, lean old-school playmaker on offense whose 6-foot-11 wingspan makes him a defensive threat.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was modestly rated as a prospect. Now he sees NBA as great proving ground.

He also developed as the year progressed, scoring in double figures in each of the last 10 games. He earned SEC Tournament MVP honors by scoring 29 points in UK's championship game win over Tennessee. He ended up shooting 40.4 percent from three-point range and 81.8 percent from the foul line.

Kansas State's 61-58 upset win over Kentucky in the South Region semifinals had as much to do with K-State's ability to stifle Gilgeous-Alexander, who committed five turnovers and missed eight of 10 shots. The final result showed his importance to the team.

"Trae Young and Collin Sexton have been the headliners of this year's point guard crop," wrote ESPN's NBA Insiders this week, "but Gilgeous-Alexander has the tools and makeup to end up as the top lead guard in this draft."

And the first Kentucky player off the board, going to show you just never know.

John Calipari's draft picks at Kentucky

2010John Wall11Washington
2012Anthony Davis11New Orleans
2015Karl-Anthony Towns11Minnesota
2012Michael Kidd-Gilchrist12Charlotte
2011Enes Kanter13Utah
2010DeMarcus Cousins15Sacramento
2017De'Aaron Fox15Sacramento
2013Nerlens Noel16New Orleans-c
2015Willie Cauley-Stein16Sacramento
2014Julius Randle17LA Lakers
2016Jamal Murray17Denver
2011Brandon Knight18Detroit
2017Malik Monk111Charlotte
2015Trey Lyles112Utah
2015Devin Booker113Phoenix
2010Patrick Patterson114Houston
2017Bam Adebayo114Kentucky
2014James Young117Boston
2010Eric Bledsoe118Oklahoma City-a
2012Terrence Jones118Houston
2016Skal Labissiere128Sacramento
2010Daniel Orton129Orlando
2012Marquis Teague129Chicago
2013Archie Goodwin129Oklahoma City-d
2016Tyler Ulis234Phoenix
2012Doron Lamb242Milwaukee
2015Andrew Harrison244Phoenix-e
2011Josh Harrellson245New Orleans-b
2012Darius Miller246New Orleans
2015Dakari Johnson248Oklahoma City
2011DeAndre Liggins253Orlando

a-traded to LA Clippers

b-traded to New York

c-traded to Philadelphia

d-traded to Phoenix

e-traded to Memphis

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