INDIANAPOLIS – Kentucky basketball’s 2021-22 season was supposed to be the big reset for John Calipari’s Wildcat system.
After a decade of building around freshmen, Calipari had found a list of veterans who could return the program to the Final Four. Instead, Kentucky’s season ended in shocking fashion with a first-round loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s.
The roster may have looked different, but the postseason suspense over which Wildcats will return next season is the same.
Will Shaedon Sharpe enter the NBA draft?
Super senior guards Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz played their last games as the Wildcats in the shocking loss as they had exhausted their college eligibility. First-year guard TyTy Washington is considered the only ultimate lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft on the list, but he will almost certainly be joined by other exits.
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Freshman guard Shaedon Sharpe, the former No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2022 who graduated a semester early to sign up and practice with the UK this season, is projected as a potential top 10 pick but has Said he plans to return. to the UK to play next season. Still, most NBA draft experts expect him to go.
After announcing in February that Sharpe would not play this season, Calipari acknowledged that the much-hyped prospect could still test the waters of the draft to train for teams. If he impresses enough in those environments to warrant a top-10 selection, it might be harder to go back to school.
After the San Pedro loss, Calipari acknowledged that Sharpe could have helped Kentucky this season, especially after injuries decimated the backcourt down the stretch, but ultimately he and Sharpe decided to go with the best plan for Sharpe.
“Would he have been a good player this year? Yes, he had been pretty good,” Calipari said. “He would have been pretty good, but he joined us in the middle of the season. Trying to get him to do everything we were doing was tough.”
“So it was a bit late, maybe we should have it there. We just, you know, together, we pick, let’s hope.”
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Kentucky juniors Oscar Tshiebwe, Sahvir Wheeler, Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin also face stay-or-go decisions. Of that group, only Tshiebwe is projected as an NBA draft pick this season, likely a second-round pick, but scholarship players have rarely stayed in the UK for more than three years at Lexington during Calipari’s tenure.
After the loss of San Pedro, Tshiebwe said he had not made a decision about his future.
The biggest change to stay-or-go decisions this season will be the addition of name, image and likeness opportunities allowed to college athletes for the first time. Tshiebwe, in particular, is rumored to have seven-figure endorsement opportunities on the table if he returns to Kentucky next season.
“My comment would be that the kids who made mistakes by leaving early, that’s why they’re going to stay,” Calipari testified before a Kentucky Senate hearing that considered the NIL legislation earlier this season. “Now, if someone is the No. 1 pick in the draft, what I would probably tell them is if you want to do the right thing for yourself and your family, you should probably go. If you want to do what’s right for me and my family, you should probably stay.
“…Maybe a young man who could be in the top 10 and says, ‘But I’m not ready, but I have to go.’ Now it’s, no, you don’t. No, you don’t. Make the right decision for your career. I think those who need to help, need to help make a decision, they will.”
Brooks, the only scholarship player on the list who played three seasons for Kentucky, played in his first NCAA Tournament game on Thursday.
After seeing the 2020 tournament canceled at the end of his freshman season, enduring the abysmal 9-16 2020-21 and then playing a key role in the loss to Saint Peter’s, Brooks faces a particularly interesting decision about his future.
“I love it and I enjoy being around the staff, having a good time,” Brooks said Thursday. “My tenure here has been a little weird and difficult, a little different, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Coming here, I’ve learned so much more than just being a basketball player, but Coach Cal has done a great job of transforming me into a better man.
“Having said that, I don’t regret anything I’ve been through since I’ve been here.”
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Who on Kentucky’s basketball roster could transfer?
The second year of the free transfer rule could mean players further down the Kentucky bench consider leaving as well.
Freshmen Daimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins, and sophomores Dontaie Allen and Lance Ware played small roles down the stretch. Collins, Hopkins and Allen played nothing against Saint Peter’s. Ware played two minutes.
If most of Kentucky’s main rotation players return, those Wildcats could face limited minutes again.
“We’re in a microwave society at the moment,” Calipari said recently in a tirade about how the transfer portal is causing coaches to be fired. “We need it now, now. I’m giving it 30 seconds and my sandwich is hot.
“I’ve got a couple of freshmen who are going to be fantastic players, but I can’t play them as much because the guys in front of them are better. But a year from now, they’re going to be ridiculously good. But we’re all dealing with this.” “.
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Which recruits will Kentucky basketball add next season?
Kentucky has two recruits signed in the class of 2022: top 10 prospects Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston. If Sharpe returns, that would give Kentucky three instant-impact freshman shooting guards, perhaps signaling a return to the younger Calipari rosters.
While not a new recruit, Kentucky should add former Iowa shooting guard CJ Fredrick back to the roster after missing the entire 2021-22 season following hamstring surgery. However, Fredrick, a former Catholic star from Covington who transferred to the UK last summer, also battled injuries in Iowa, so it’s unclear how much he can be relied on next season.
Wallace is a combo shooting guard who can play with or without the ball. Livingston, one of three finalists for Gatorade High School Player of the Year, is a flanker. UK has no post office signatures in his high school class.
After recently losing five-star shooting guard Skyy Clark on loan, Kentucky is not actively recruiting any uncommitted high school prospects in the class of 2022. There are only three prospects in the top 50 of 247Sports uncommitted, including Clark.
It remains possible that a highly touted player in the 2023 high school class Kentucky is recruiting could reclassify to graduate early and play college basketball, but those decisions are unlikely to come before late summer.
Calipari is likely to return to the transfer portal to supplement his roster. The frontcourt additions will be particularly necessary if Tshiebwe chooses to start his professional career.
“Thanks to the kids that have come with us and transferred and done so well, you know we’re going to get calls,” Calipari said last week. “The kids will want to transfer to Kentucky. I told everyone, you know, you’re helping Kentucky by having it this way.”
Email Jon Hale at [email protected]; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.
This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats roster faces turnover after NCAA upset