Kentucky will be starting over and reloading next season.
Although this year’s starting cast, which won the school’s eighth national championship, featured three freshman and two sophomores, not to mention a senior sixth-man, was considered young, the Wildcats will be younger next season, much younger.
The incoming freshman class, already ranked No. 1 by most recruiting analysts across the nation, and mostly bench holdovers from this year’s team, will have big shoes to fill after the team’s five starters – Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague declared for the NBA Draft at the Joe Craft Center Tuesday night. Senior Darius Miller is automatically eligible for the draft.
It wasn’t a surprise considering all five players are projected first-round draft picks, while Miller likely will be a second-round selection. It would have been more shocking if one or more of the five players decided to come back.
At one point during the locally televised press conference Tuesday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari announced Davis, Lamb and Jones’ plans to enter the draft, but paused before adding Teague and Kidd-Gilchrist to the list to complete the sentence.
“I’m trying to scare some coaches out there,” Calipari quipped.
On a serious note, Calipari praised his team’s successful 38-2 campaign and his commitment to putting the players first, even if it means losing his entire starting cast and depending on a reloaded roster to defend the national championship next year.
“During the season, it’s about our team,” Calipari said. “You saw in this year’s team, they were about each other. It’s about how we play together and we share. When the season is over, it’s about moments like this. It’s about young people getting with their families, getting information and making a decision about their future.”
Still, Calipari, who “didn’t want to get emotional” said parting ways won’t be easy and added that announcing the players’ plans was indeed a “difficult” task.
“Anybody that tells you that in one or two years that you can’t create a relationship or you’re not going to have a bond, they’re crazy,” he said.
When it came time to make their intentions public, all five players wanted to go out together as a sign of unity. They chose to take the podium as a team instead of individuals. Calipari was taken aback when they requested one press conference as opposed to individual sessions to announce their future intentions.
“This was introduced as an idea to me from this team,” Calipari said. “They came to me and said, ‘We want to do this together.’ I was surprised. I didn’t even know they wanted to do it together. We tell them all the time, be the teammate you want to play with. This team has done that, by doing what they have done today. They have taught us a lot.”
The starting five arrived as individuals, but left as a team. It was a fitting, but bittersweet ending to a special season.
Photo caption: Anthony Davis, left, speaks while Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari listens on Tuesday in Lexington. Freshmen Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb declared for the NBA draft in a nationally televised news conference Tuesday night. The Associated Press.