To leave or not to leave: Kentucky basketball roster update


Kentucky Wildcats guard Dontaie Allen (11) shoots the ball during the UK vs. Central Michigan men’s basketball game on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 85-57. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

As the offseason pushes onward and the transfer portal continues to take over the college basketball landscape, Kentucky is once again wondering what its team will look like come the 2022-23 season.

The summer is usually filled with unknowns for head coach John Calipari. As has become customary in Lexington, Rupp Arena is usually a pitstop for star athletes who are on their way to the NBA. Big Blue Nation knows not to get too attached to the players, because it’s likely they’ll only see them play in blue and white for one season.

With the addition of the portal and its newly found free reign, college basketball rosters become even more uncertain following March Madness. Over 1,000 players have entered the portal following the conclusion of their season, meaning there are plenty of names to go around for a coach who needs to fill out their roster.

Two of those players come from the Wildcats, in Dontaie Allen and Bryce Hopkins. Allen, a fan favorite in Lexington, played three seasons under Calipari, never quite living up to the potential that was envisioned for him. The Falmouth, Kentucky, native scored just 2.3 points per game this year while averaging 6.7 minutes a night. Allen has since announced that he is transferring just a few hours west to Bowling Green to play for Western Kentucky.

As for Hopkins, his landing spot is still undecided. The 6-foot-6 forward leaves UK after just one season. He made 28 appearances for the Cats this year, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. Hopkins made a statement late in SEC play, as he provided 13 points and four rebounds in a crucial win over LSU on Feb. 23. Calipari hoped to find some playing time for the freshman, but it never materialized down the stretch.

Just one Wildcat has fully committed to the NBA Draft as of April 13. TyTy Washington Jr. has hired an agent and will be entering the draft pool. Projected as a lottery pick, Washington’s decision was not a surprising one. The freshman averaged 12.5 points and 3.9 assists on his way to a Second Team All-SEC selection, as well as an All-SEC Freshman nod. He was an instrumental part of UK’s success, being the only freshman to contribute consistent, meaningful minutes.

As for testing the waters of the draft, at least a pair of Wildcats will be doing so. Junior Keion Brooks Jr. was the first to announce, fresh off of a career year in which the Fort Wayne, Indiana. native averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Brooks’ name has not been mentioned on draft boards as the year has progressed, but the forward is maintaining his college eligibility and has the decision to opt out of the draft by June 1. If he is to remove his name from the pool, it is unclear if he will return to Kentucky or seek a move in the portal.

Joining Brooks in that venture is Jacob Toppin. The junior has now completed two seasons in Lexington, with year two showing massive improvement. Playing around 18 minutes a game, the Rhode Island transfer brought in 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per night. In addition to new highs in scoring, he also earned personal bests in blocks, assists, field-goal percentage and 3-point field-goal percentage. It’s likely that Toppin will not commit to the draft, with many believing that he will be back for a third go-round with the Wildcats.

One of the two potential X-factors in the draft, Shaedon Sharpe is rumored to head to the draft but maintain his eligibility, as of now. Travis Branham of 247Sports reported that the reclassified freshman phenom was going to test the waters, but no official announcement has been made. Sharpe infamously did not play a game for the Cats this season after joining the team in January.

Calipari assured BBN that it was all a part of the plan, and that Sharpe will spend the offseason getting ready to play for UK next year. It appears as though the London, Ontario, native may be heading in the pro direction, with draft projections coming in as high as the fifth pick in the draft.

While Sharpe’s decision is a big one, all eyes remain on unanimous National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe. The big man has announced that a decision on his future is coming “very soon, from the big guy upstairs.” While his draft stock has shot up, as he claimed almost every award there is to win in college hoops, there is hope around Lexington that Tshiebwe will return for one more run with Kentucky. His decision will severely impact how Calipari and his staff attack the transfer portal, as the make-up of the team will look completely different if he is not in the picture.

Despite the massive amount of uncertainty, Calipari does already have some pieces coming in for the 2022-23 campaign.

After a freshman season that saw him score just 2.9 points per game, Daimion Collins announced that he will be returning for his second season with UK. Joining him will be Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick, who missed the last season due to a hamstring injury. There’s hope that both players will play significant roles on the roster for next season.

A pair of incoming freshmen will look to play the role of “diaper dandies,” as McDonald’s All-Americans Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston will carry plenty of hype to next year’s team.

Aside from Tshiebwe, just two major players from this season’s team have decisions to make. Starting point guard Sahvir Wheeler was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, honoring the best PG in the nation. His 6.9 assists per game was good for third best in the country, while he added an average of 10.1 points. There has been no sign as to what decision Wheeler is going to make.

Lance Ware concluded his second season with Kentucky as a backup for Tshiebwe, seeing his minutes stay sporadic over the course of the season. If Tshiebwe is to come back to Kentucky, Ware will likely hold that backup position once again if he doesn’t make the move to the portal.

Calipari will surely attack the portal for all that it’s worth, especially given the amount of uncertainty that currently surrounds his team. A multitude of decisions will begin to play out over the next few weeks, as Kentucky once again begins its annual rebuild.