UK future bright with young incoming stars


Center Dakari Johnson of the Kentucky Wildcats laughs while answering a question at Joe Craft Center on Thursday, April 9, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. A record 7 Kentucky Wildcats declare for the NBA draft. Photo by Michael Reaves

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It’s revamp season in Lexington.

Another batch of freshmen and others have decided to forgo the remainder of their college tenure to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. Seven players – Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Dakari Johnson – sat before a crowd of media on Thursday and, at the request of head coach John Calipari, stood up to signify their intentions of leaving.

And in a matter of seconds, Calipari had a brand new team on his hands. Lane patrollers Towns and Cauley-Stein were replaced by incoming Haitian-born recruit Skal Labissiere. Andrew and Aaron Harrison were replaced by UK commits Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews. Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are all that remain of last year’s nucleus.

It’s a sinking feeling, but one Calipari has felt before. He was spoiled after the 2013-14 season, as only forward Julius Randle and guard James Young decided to leave for the draft. When Cauley-Stein chose to stay, Poythress decided to stay. Lee and Johnson chose to stay, and the Harrisons followed suit.

But what happened after last season was an anomaly. After Calipari’s first season at UK, four of his freshmen jumped ship. After the Cats won the National Championship in 2012, he lost seven of his players to the draft, graduation and transfers.

In each of the two subsequent seasons, UK suffered a down year with a brand new, revamped roster (though the 2010-11 team overachieved once it reached the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Final Four).

That won’t be the case next season.

What those teams didn’t have was a bonafide star on their rosters. Sure, Brandon Knight and Nerlens Noel made their mark on the college level and have since made a splash in the NBA, but there wasn’t a John Wall, a Demarcus Cousins or an Anthony Davis to head the team. There will, however, be one next season.

Labissiere is the real deal. He has the size and stature of Davis, but a face-up game and a jumper that Davis wasn’t equipped with when he entered college. Matthews and Briscoe will be good additions to the backcourt with Ulis, and after the announcement today, more chips are likely to fall.

UK is the favorite to land shooting sensation Malik Newman. And with three forwards and a center leaving the Cats’ roster, UK became a much more formidable option for forward, and No. 1 overall recruit, Jaylen Brown.