It has been fifteen days since the Kentucky Wildcats beat the Kansas Jayhawks to win the 2012 NCAA National Basketball Championship, and today an important but not shocking announcement came out of Lexington in regards to their beloved basketball team. No, this final four has not been vacated (yet) as the first two of coach John Calipari’s career have been, but there will be almost an entirely new roster for the Wildcats 2012-2013 title defense campaign. Earlier this evening, as a group, Kentucky’s starting five (all underclassman) declared themselves eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft.
At a press conference set up for the announcements, Coach Calipari began by stating that “Anthony, Doron and Terrence have decided to put their names in the NBA draft, so they will do that” referring to Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones, and then seconds later added with a smile “Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) and Marquis Teague have also decided to put their names in the NBA draft”. Coach Cal said that all he was trying to do by splitting the names up was try to scare a couple coaches, and I’m sure there were probably one or two in the Southeastern Conference that saw a glimmer of hope for an instant before Calipari concluded his statement.
What does today’s announcement mean? Well for this group of Kentucky underclassman their college playing careers are over, although they will remain in school to finish off this semester academically. They will all move on to the National Basketball Association to continue playing at the sports highest level. All five are projected to be first round picks, with Anthony Davis expected to go #1 overall, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joining him in the top five. At the moment Lamb and Jones are just outside the lottery bubble and Teague is projected towards the end of the first round, but plenty can happen between now and the June 28 draft in Newark, New Jersey. All these players will be making some good money playing a game they love, so it’s hard to feel bad for them if their draft stock doesn’t end up as high as expected.
No school has ever produced five first round picks in the same draft so this Kentucky group has a good chance to add to their legend at the end of June. So what impact will their absence leave on next year’s squad? Well, with a program like UK has you don’t rebuild, you reload. Many other programs would have major problems trying to replace talent like the group that announced today, but Coach Calipari once again stepped up to that challenge. He brought in the #1 ranked recruiting class to join sharp-shooting forward Kyle Wiltjer and highly touted ACC transfer in point guard Ryan Harrow from North Carolina State, so expect more great things from Kentucky next season too. The Wildcats added 3 five-star recruits, including the #1 overall player in the 2012 recruiting class 6’10” center Nerlens Noel from Everett, Massachusetts (who made his announcement in a unique way). Coach Cal also brings in the #3 ranked small-forward of this class, Alex Poythress, the #4 shooting guard in Archie Goodwin, and a four-star big man in Willie Cauley out of Kansas. Calipari has finally proven that he can win the championship with players who may only play one or potentially two years under his system, and he is going to have to do it again as Noel is projected to be a “one and done” player in Lexington.
While it is never too early to start thinking about the next college basketball season, today is a day that really belongs to this starting five that went about their business this past season, finished 37-2 and took home the trophy in New Orleans in March and the first weekend in April. Congratulations to Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague as they take the next step in their basketball journey. They sure were fun to watch at the college level and at least one or two of them are going to be superstars at the next level. I can’t wait to see the rest of their careers unfold.