It was a great marriage while it lasted.
Beginning today, the breakup begins at the University of Kentucky as the school’s fantastic five underclassmen — Anthony Davis, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague — announce their future plans.
NBA Draft and each player is a potential first-round draft pick. There’s a slim chance Kidd-Gilchrist will return. There’s also a small window of opportunity that Lamb will be back for one last season in the Bluegrass, but that’s speculation, making it impossible to determine who stays and who goes. The signs point to all five players leaving the program.
Senior Darius Miller won’t be on the podium, but his eligibility status makes him an automatic entry in this year’s draft. There’s also a chance all six players will be taken in the first round, beginning with Davis, everyone’s top pick from A to Z in almost every pre-draft circle.
In what is likely his first and only season in Lexington, Davis made a bigger impact in six months than any other player in modern history. He leaves as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots and the top collegiate player in the country. His presence in the post was the difference between a good Kentucky team and a great one.
What will never be known is whether or not this current Kentucky team that won the school’s eighth national title two weeks ago would have been good enough to win two straight titles and become the first team to win back-to-back championships at the school since the 1948-49 seasons.
Regardless of who leaves and who comes back, this team will have some big holes to fill next season and will need to produce the same chemistry the previous one had. The returnees and newcomers can forget about bringing a balloon-sized ego to the first practice session at the Joe Craft Center.
Because of the current “one-and-done” rule that has crippled college basketball, the five players have no choice but to consider trading their textbooks for a paycheck. At the same time, it wouldn’t be fair to point the finger at Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has had seven first-round draft picks in his first two seasons as coach of the Wildcats and is poised to produce maybe six this time around.
Calipari is an outspoken critic of the NBA’s unwritten one-and-done rule that replaced the previous rule, which allowed players to make the jump from high school straight to the professional ranks. The age-limit rule was aimed at enhancing the college experience for young people, but instead, it has watered down the collegiate product. Some of the nation’s top talent coming out of high school are on campus long enough to say hi one day and wave goodbye the next.
Calipari’s mission on the recruiting trail is to simply bring in the best players to be part of one of one of the top programs in the nation. Those top players just happen to be good enough to play at next level right out of high school.
They certainly were good enough to win national championships in college, just as Calipari’s third team at Kentucky proved.
It can be done.
UK Basketball: Bracing for the breakup
Keith Taylor/Sports Editor/The Winchester Sun