Mark Story

What will the UK basketball roster look like next year? Even current Cats don’t know.

Kentucky’s John Calipari: ‘I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of my team’

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
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Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

In the one-and-done era of Kentucky Wildcats basketball, one thing has remained constant:

The moment one season ends, speculation on what the Wildcats’ roster will look like for the following year immediately fires up.

UK’s 2018-19 season came to an abrupt end Sunday as the No. 2 seed Wildcats (30-7) were upset by SEC rival and No. 5 seed Auburn 77-71 in overtime before 17,174 fans in the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City.

While Bruce Pearl’s Tigers will make their school’s first-ever appearance in a men’s hoops Final Four on Saturday against Virginia, UK and its fans are left to look forward to next season.

Post player Reid Travis, the graduate transfer from Stanford, and seldom-used walk-on guard Jonny David are the only players on the 2018-19 UK roster whose college eligibility expired with the defeat to Auburn.

Kentucky basketball guard Ashton Hagans talks to the media after his team’s 77-71 overtime loss to Auburn in the finals of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional in Kansas City. Hagans committed seven turnovers in the loss.

However, in the current period of UK basketball, the Cats’ roster is ever-churning with early departures to the pros, transfers and the annual influx of new recruits.

So what might John Calipari’s roster look like next season? Let’s speculate:

Players expected to leave

According to the Hoopshype.com NBA mock draft aggregate, three current UK underclassmen are projected to go in the first round of the 2019 draft.

Freshman swingman Keldon Johnson is the 13th-ranked player in the aggregate (an average of the most visible mock drafts); sophomore forward PJ Washington is 19th; and freshman guard Tyler Herro 25th.

If they are confident of being first-round selections, one would expect that trio to go pro.

In a solemn Kentucky locker room Sunday, Herro said he had not been thinking about his future. “I haven’t heard anything. I haven’t looked at anything. And I haven’t talked to anybody,” he said.

Beyond plans to “get back in the gym and get better,” Johnson said he had nothing to announce about his future.

Well-known Kentucky fan known as "Stone Cold Willow" shared State Street's sorrow after UK's loss to Auburn Sunday afternoon.



Players with decisions

In recent years, Kentucky players with remaining eligibility have been known to depart even without realistic hope of being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Of the other five scholarship underclassmen on the Kentucky roster, one spoke Sunday as if he was definitely planning to be in Lexington next season.

Freshman point guard Ashton Hagans said his plan for next year “is just take it day by day, talk to my parents and the coaching staff.”

Backup freshman point Immanuel Quickley said “I, obviously, don’t know what I am doing.”

Of his plans for 2019-20, sophomore center Nick Richards said, “I don’t know yet. I’ve not made up my mind right now.”

Freshman big man EJ Montgomery said “I haven’t thought about (next season) at all.”

Asked if he planed to be at Kentucky next year, redshirt freshman shooting guard Jemarl Baker said “this was a great season. I am going to work hard all summer and (being at UK) is the plan.”

Jemarl Baker
Kentucky redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker, said Sunday his plan is to play for UK next season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Players who are coming

Calipari has four high school players committed for next season, three wing forwards and a point guard.

Pendleton County star and 2019 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Dontaie Allen, a high-scoring 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing, missed all but 13 games of his senior season after suffering a torn ACL.

In spite of his injury, Allen says he does not plan to redshirt next season. Allen is the No. 55-ranked prospect for the class of 2019 in the Rivals 150.

Kentucky basketball signee Dontaie Allen was introduced to the crowd in Rupp Arena during Saturday night's game against No. 1-ranked Tennessee.

Tyrese Maxey, a 6-4, 185-pound point guard from Garland, Texas, scored 13 points and made three of six three-point shots in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Maxey is rated ninth in the Rivals 150.

Kahlil Whitney, a 6-6, 185-pound forward from Roselle, N.J., is No. 8 in the Rivals 150.

Keion Brooks, a 6-7, 195-pound forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., is No. 27 in the Rivals 150.

Allen and Maxey signed with Kentucky in November’s early signing period; Brooks and Whitney are expected to sign when the spring signing period begins April 17.

Kentucky Wildcats players PJ Washington and Reid Travis speak to the media after losing 77-71 in overtime to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019 in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Players UK hopes to add

Calipari and his staff are still pursuing two highly rated high school forwards. Jaden McDaniels, a 6-9, 185-pound product of Federal Way, Wash., is No. 6 in the Rivals 150.

Matthew Hurt, a 6-9, 200-pound Rochester, Minn., product, is rated No. 7 in the class of 2019 by Rivals.

Both are considered perimeter-oriented bigs. Kentucky is not perceived to be the favorite to land either.

This week, graduate transfer Nate Sestina, a 6-9, 245-pound post player from Bucknell, is expected to visit UK.

Last season, his first as a starter, Sestina averaged 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and hit 38 percent of his three-point tries and 81 percent of his foul shots.

Kentucky Wildcats senior forward Reid Travis spoke to the media about his emotions following the final game of his career, a 77-71 loss in overtime to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Sestina ended his season on a high note, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the Patriot League Tournament.

An Emporium, Pa., product, Sestina told the Daily Item, a newspaper in Lewisburg, Pa., that the visit to Kentucky could be crucial to his decision.

“If it goes well, clicks and I get signs from God — I’ve got to pray on it; I’ve been doing that a lot recently — it just depends on the visit,” Sestina said. “I’ll take the time I need to make the right decision.”

Whatever happens with Sestina, it’s also possible Kentucky could get involved with other graduate transfers. Or Kentucky could add high school players from the class of 2020 who reclassify.

Stay tuned.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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