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Keith Taylor: UK basketball roster taking a hit, but Cats will be loaded again next season


Kentucky won’t be replacing its entire basketball roster next season, but at least four of its top stars will be playing professionally next year.

Nearly two weeks following a loss to eventual NCAA Tournament champion North Carolina, the Wildcats began looking ahead toward the future without De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe and possibly Bam Adebayo.

John Calipari’s roster will be loaded again next season (Keith Taylor Photo)

Fox and Monk, projected Top 10 picks in the NBA Draft and Briscoe will each be hiring an agent, while Adebayo is leaving the floor open for a possible return, pending his performance in the NBA combine on May 10. Adebayo has until May 24 to remain or withdraw from the draft.

Currently, Monk is projected as a No. 5 pick (Orlando Magic) by Draft Express, followed by Fox at No. 6 (New York Knicks). Adebayo is a late-round pick at No. 30, a spot held by the Utah Jazz. Briscoe isn’t listed on any early draft boards by many analysts, but could be a second-round sleeper pick, depending on how well he performs in the combine and individual workouts for NBA teams interested in his skills.

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Despite a late surge down the stretch Adebayo’s draft stock took a hit, but the freshman forward could benefit from returning for one more season just as Terrance Jones did during the 2011-12 season. Jones helped lead the Wildcats to a national championship and is enjoying a steady career in the NBA.

Most of the players, nine of the Top 10 projected picks by Draft Express, are college freshmen, with several veteran college and foreign players projected as late first-round picks by the site. The projected top pick is Washington’s Markelle Fultz, followed by Lonzo Ball of UCLA.]

Counting seniors Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder and Dominique Hawkins, six of Kentucky’s top eight players will likely be missing from this year’s 32-6 squad that reached the Elite Eight for the first time in two years. Although not likely to be drafted, Willis and Hawkins could take the long road to the NBA or choose to play professionally overseas.

Restocking

Looking ahead to next year, Kentucky will have four McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. Guards Quade Greenand Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and forward Nick Richards have already signed with the Wildcats, while Jared Vanderbilt has made a verbal commitment and is expected to sign during the late signing period later this month.

Kentucky coach John Caliapri also is attempting to sign forwards Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox II, both of whom are still pondering their college plans.

Green, Vanderbilt and Gilgeous-Alexander were scheduled to play in the Nike Hoop Summit Friday night. Alexander has been selected to compete in the Derby Festival Classic set for Friday at Freedom Hall in Louisville. The yearly event is the oldest in the nation and began in 1973.

The list of top returnees from Kentucky’s current roster include Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries, Tai Wynyard and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

Schedule

Although the preseason and Southeastern Conference basketball schedules have yet to be released, the Wildcats will complete in the State Farm Champions Classic and the CBS Sports Classic next year.

Kentucky will take on Kansas in the Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago on Nov. 14. The Wildcats renewed a commitment to play in the yearly event for three more years last fall.

“We’re excited and honored to be a part of the Champions Classic for another three years,” Calipari said. “It’s become one of the premier college basketball events on the national schedule every year. You’re talking about four blue blood programs playing on a neutral, NCAA Tournament-like stage. I know our fans love traveling to those cities. It’s always a tough way for a young team like ours to face those types of teams that early, but it’s a great opportunity for us to learn and to prepare for that type of environment down the road.”

Kentucky will meet UCLA in the CBS Sports event in New Orleans more than a month later following the Champions classic on Dec. 23 at the Smoothie King Center.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter


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