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Choose your own Kentucky basketball adventure: Pick draft entrants to return, recruits to reclassify

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — What a weird offseason for Kentucky basketball. With NBA draft decisions dragging on for another month, a rash of potential reclassifications in recruiting and John Calipari on some kind of talent-hoarding bender, the Wildcats’ 2018-19 roster remains very much in flux.

Five players from the 2017-18 team definitely are gone: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo to the NBA draft, and Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard to new schools. Three Cats are expected to return: Nick Richards, Quade Green and Jemarl Baker. Four top-40 recruits have signed for next season: No. 9 E.J. Montgomery, No. 11 Keldon Johnson, No. 20 Immanuel Quickley and No. 34 Tyler Herro.

That’s what we know. And then there’s this: three early NBA entrants could decide to return to Kentucky and three 5-star guards with high interest in, or commitments to, the Wildcats are considering a move from the 2019 class to 2018. What happens next season in Lexington will be shaped a great deal by those six upcoming decisions.

While we wait, why not have a little fun imagining the various possibilities? Here, now: your video game-like chance to create a roster from the available options. Try to imagine all of these pieces fitting together from a style and chemistry perspective, weigh experience vs. young talent, and choose your own adventure wisely.

NBA draft decisions (pick one)

Unlike Gilgeous-Alexander, Knox and Diallo, the trio of PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel — all former 5-star recruits — did not hire agents. They have until May 30 to pull out of the draft after working out for NBA teams and/or attending the scouting combine.

Obviously, Calipari and Kentucky fans would love to have all three back, which one scout told SEC Country is what they all should do, but for the purposes of this exercise you’ll be forced to pick just one (and in the next poll, you get to pick two) to come back.

Each of them is a power forward with varying degrees of success so far in a Kentucky uniform. The 6-foot-7 Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds as a starter last season and finished with a monster game: 18 points and 15 rebounds — although he also missed a dozen free throws in that Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State.

The 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in just 17 minutes per game during a truncated freshman season. He averaged a stunning 18.5 rebounds per 40 minutes but missed 23 of 34 games with foot and ankle injuries. Those, and past, injury concerns are hurting his draft stock, but they also cast some doubt on his ability to stay healthy for a full season if he returns to Kentucky.

And the 6-foot-9 Gabriel has been a significant contributor for two seasons, averaging 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range off the bench as a sophomore. His 7 made 3-point-shots in the SEC Tournament semifinals, plus 16 points and 12 boards in the NCAA Tournament second round, are proof he can help the Wildcats win when it matters.

Which of these three would you rather have return?

PJ Washington
Jarred Vanderbilt
Wenyen Gabriel

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NBA draft decisions (pick two)

One source close to the program recently told SEC Country he believes that while Washington, Vanderbilt and Gabriel all want to begin their pro careers, two of them ultimately will realize they should return to school. ESPN ranks Washington as the No. 51 draft-eligible prospect with Vanderbilt No. 65 and Gabriel not in the top 100.

Each of their families has expressed that it would be much easier to make the leap from college if they had first-round assurances — “If they’re talking about second round, I don’t see it,” Washington’s father said — that seems unlikely for all of them, especially Vanderbilt and Gabriel.

Which two of these would you rather have return?

PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt
PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel
Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel

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Recruiting reclassifications

It seems like all of the top guards in the Class of 2019 have at least some interest in moving up to 2018. And playing for Kentucky. Jalen Lecque, Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey, ranked the No. 9, 10 and 13 overall prospects in 2019 by the 247Sports composite, all fit that bill.

Hagans is already committed to the Cats and is widely expected to make the move and enroll this fall, but his AAU coach tells SEC Country an official decision/announcement isn’t coming until June. Maxey is considered a heavy Kentucky lean, and he teased that he and Hagans already call themselves The Duo and plan to pull the trigger on whether to reclassify as early as this week.

Lecque received his offer from the Wildcats during the second weekend of the spring AAU circuit, where he looked super athletic and aggressive on defense. But he, too, is pondering a reclassification and surely there would be no room for him at Kentucky if both Hagans and Maxey make the move. Right?

Consider also: Kentucky already has signed 5-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, 5-star wing Keldon Johnson and 4-star shooting guard Tyler Herro for next season — and returns former 5-star point guard Quade Green for his sophomore season and 4-star shooting guard Jemarl Baker, who will be a redshirt freshman.

If two 2019 guards, much less three, ultimately enroll this summer, it could test Green’s recent decision not to transfer out of a crowded back court.

Which 2019 guard(s) do you want to add for 2018?

Ashton Hagans
Tyrese Maxey
Jalen Lecque
Hagans and Maxey
Hagans and Lecque
Maxey and Lecque
Hagans, Maxey and Lecque
None

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Kentucky basketball recruiting: Could fast-rising Kira Lewis get next 2019 offer from John Calipari?

Kentucky-recruiting-Kira Lewis-2019-guard-Kansas-Alabama-Auburn-UK recruiting-Kentucky recruiting-John Calipari-De'Aaron Fox-John Wall

INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky coaches have compared him to De’Aaron Fox. He’s lit up the Nike AAU circuit this spring. New scholarship offers arrive daily. So how is Kira Lewis just barely considered a top-100 recruit by most of the major services?

Simply put, it was an industry-wide oversight, and it will be corrected very shortly.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to evaluate him prior to this spring,” said 247Sports scouting director Evan Daniels, whose site currently ranks Lewis the 96th-best prospect in the Class of 2019. “Now that I have, it’s safe to say he’s due a big bump.”

The 6-foot-3 Lewis ranks sixth in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League in points per game (21.8) and fourth in steals per game (2.6) to go with 3.4 assists per game and 40 percent 3-point shooting through two weekends against some of the best players in America. Kansas just offered him a scholarship, well behind most of the SEC.

Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have already thrown their hats into the ring for the Hazel Green, Ala., native — as have Baylor, Clemson, Connecticut, Indiana, among many others — and now Kentucky is calling.

Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne dialed Lewis after a breakout first weekend in the EYBL last month and “was telling me about how he liked my game, my speed, which kind of reminded him of De’Aaron Fox a little bit and John Wall,” Lewis said. “So that was great to hear from him. He puts guys in the league — Coach Cal does and Coach Payne does — and it’s a guard school. They just let their guards play fast, up tempo. It’s great hearing from them.”

RELATED: Analysts predict most/least likely 2019 recruits to pick UK

Payne told Lewis that Kentucky plans to keep monitoring him this spring and summer. The Wildcats could be forgiven for jumping into his recruitment later than most. John Calipari has been busy trying to hoard all of the 5-star guards in this class.

Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Jalen Lecque, all top-15 overall recruits, have UK offers and some interest in reclassifying to play college basketball this fall.

Hagans is already committed to the Cats and widely expected to make that move to 2018. Maxey is considered a heavy UK lean — he’s announcing his commitment Wednesday — and might also enroll early. If both do that, there’s a good chance Lecque goes elsewhere.

Point being, Kentucky will still want to sign a point guard from whatever is left in the 2019 class when the dust settles. Lewis looks like an increasingly good option.

“He has game-changing speed, is a playmaker in transition and has the tools to be a good defender,” Daniels said. “He’s one of the breakout performers of the spring.”

So far, Kentucky has offered 10 players in the Class of 2019: No. 1 James Wiseman (center), No. 2 Vernon Carey (power forward), No. 4 Matthew Hurt (power forward), No. 7 Bryan Antoine (shooting guard), No. 8 Scottie Lewis (small forward), No. 9 Lecque (combo guard), No. 10 Hagans (point guard), No. 13 Maxey (point guard), No. 27 Keion Brooks (small forward) and No. 31 D.J. Jeffries (small forward) — with Hagans and Jeffries committed.

Who might be next? Lewis is an option, as is 6-foot-10 Bam Adebayo clone Aidan Igiehon. But what about Isaiah Stewart? He’s ranked the No. 14 player in the class and passes the eye test at a chiseled 6-foot-8, 243 pounds. He’s averaging 16.1 points and an EYBL-best 10.5 rebounds per game.

Stewart is getting close to cutting down his list of schools — Duke, Michigan State, Indiana, Louisville, Texas, Virginia and Villanova on the long list he’s trying to whittle — but he said it isn’t too late for Kentucky. If the Wildcats offer, he’ll listen.

“Kentucky came up earlier in the school year to visit with me,” the Rochester, N.Y., native said, “but I haven’t done much with them since.”

Even as the Wildcats are in strong early positions with their top two targets in the post, No. 1 and 2 overall Wiseman and Carey, the lack of interest in Stewart so far seems strange. He looks like a player who can make an impact from Day 1 in college and says everything Calipari likes to hear.

Asked to describe his ideal school, “I want to go somewhere where I can develop and grow, be coached and get better,” Stewart said.

Asked whether he has one eye on the NBA, “Oh, no, no,” Stewart said. “What’s weird is some schools pitch the one-and-done to me, but that’s something I’m not really worried about. I’m worried about coming into college and getting better and trying to win some games — hopefully a championship.”

Asked if he wants to be the man in college, “I’ve been in both situations,” Stewart said. “I’ve been in situations where I’m the main guy or I’ve been in situations where I’ve sort of got to share the show. I feel like I’m an easy player to play with.”

So what is Calipari waiting for? Chris Mack certainly couldn’t say. He’s been hot on Stewart’s heels since he was at Xavier and has only intensified the pursuit since taking over as the coach at Kentucky’s rival, Louisville.

“They just went to a bigger stage and they’re still recruiting me hard,” said Stewart, who was asked whether the Cardinals have a real shot at landing him. “I had a really good relationship with them back at Xavier, so yes.”

RELATED: Jeffries not swayed by Penny, trying to sway Wiseman

RELATED: Bam Adebayo told Vernon Carey UK the spot for 1-and-done 

RELATED: Could Keion Brooks be first Cats-Cards battle under Mack?

RELATED: Latest on top-10 teammates, UK targets Lewis and Antoine

RELATED: Did Cats discover Bam 2.0 watching Lewis and Antoine? 

RELATED: In-state star Tandy’s dad not holding breath for UK offer

RELATED: Mini Mash, son of Jamal Mashburn, making own name

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Kentucky basketball recruiting: 5-star Tyrese Maxey intrigue about when, not where

Kentucky-Tyrese Maxey-announcement-commitment-reclassify-2019-2018-decision-UK recruiting-Kentucky recruiting-John Calipari

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As 5-star point guard Tyrese Maxey prepares to announce his college commitment Wednesday, there is not much mystery about where he’s headed. But there is quite a bit of intrigue about when he’ll enroll there.

While Maxey lists Texas, Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma State as finalists, Kentucky is an overwhelming favorite to land one of the most exciting playmakers in high school basketball when he releases a video commitment at 5 p.m. ET.

“What sticks out about Tyrese is just the ease with which he scores,” said 247Sports scouting director Evan Daniels, who logged a prediction of Maxey to Kentucky two weeks ago. “He’s very impressive off the bounce, can score at all three levels. He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, a really good defender who plays hard every play — but the best part of his game is his ability to put up points.”

The 6-foot-3 Maxey leads the Nike AAU circuit in scoring (24) and steals (2.9) through two weekends this spring. He also averages 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists and sank 14 of 30 3-pointers in four games two weeks ago in Indianapolis. Sound like something John Calipari could use this season?

That’s the part of Maxey’s announcement everyone will be most focused on Wednesday: Will he say definitively that he’s staying in the Class of 2019 or moving up and enrolling in college this fall?

After a few weeks of buzz — and even a significant tease from Maxey — that he will reclassify, there’s a growing rumble that he might just stay put. And contrary to Calipari’s hoarding desires, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for the Wildcats, whose 2018-19 back court seems to be getting more crowded by the day.

Kentucky already has a commitment from the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, Ashton Hagans, who is expected to reclassify and enroll this fall. Maxey is ranked the No. 2 point guard in 2019 — he’s also the No. 1 player in Texas and No. 13 overall prospect in the country — by the 247Sports composite.

“Those two can definitely play together,” Daniels said. “Now Kentucky’s roster is going to consist of a lot more than just those two guys. What does that mean for guys like Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley [two other 5-star point guards on the roster this fall] and how do those four fit? But it’s a great problem to have, and it’s not necessarily one that’s new for John Calipari.”

The argument for Maxey to reclassify, as he’s noted himself, is that Calipari and Kentucky have made it work with an abundance of 5-star point guards in the same back court before — and because Maxey is a different type of player than Hagans, Green or Quickley.

“Very different,” Daniels said. “Tyrese is a true combo guard. You can play him on the ball, you can play him off, he can guard both positions. But the main thing is he can really score it. Now I’m not saying he can’t pass, but he can really score. Whereas, with Hagans, I think he needs the ball in his hands to be as effective as he can be, because he’s a true facilitator, set-up man, who can really distribute and pass.

“Like Maxey, [Hagans] can guard multiple positions on the floor, so there would be a lot of defensive versatility if they were playing together.”

But if not, if Maxey picks Kentucky but stays in his current class while Hagans heads to Lexington this summer, the Wildcats still would have a terrific foundation in the Class of 2019.

“Oh, it’s a tremendous piece to already have in place,” Daniels said. “And they already have some talent headed their way in that class in [top-30 small forward] D.J. Jeffries. So that puts them off to a strong start. And the truth is, the 2019 class is really bad overall, so to go ahead and get two 5-star guys locked in and ready to go is a big deal.”

Also of note: Jeffries is an AAU teammate of 6-foot-11 superstar James Wiseman, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019, who was asked two weeks ago which other top players he’d like to play with in college and listed Maxey and Hagans.

“That never hurts,” Daniels said. “Now James Wiseman is not making his decision based on what Tyrese Maxey does, but we all know these top players like to play with other really good players, so that’s a nice bonus.”

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Kentucky basketball recruiting: Tyrese Maxey joins 5-star point guard parade, commits to Cats

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — We’re starting to think elite point guards really like John Calipari and Kentucky. It’s just a hunch, of course, but Tyrese Maxey on Wednesday became the 12th 5-star point guard to pick the Wildcats since Calipari arrived in 2009.

He’s the third in the last seven months alone, joining 2018 signee Immanuel Quickley and fellow 2019 star Ashton Hagans. Maxey and Hagans are ranked as the top 2 point guards in their class, and for both, the big question has been not where they’d go to college but when.

Maxey, the top-ranked recruit in Texas and the No. 13 overall prospect in the country, did not address the reclassification question during a video he shared on social media announcing his commitment to Kentucky over finalists Michigan, Michigan State, Texas and Oklahoma State. But he did announce those plans on a new blog for USA Today.

“I’m deciding to stay in my own Class of 2019,” Maxey wrote. “It came down to me just wanting to be a kid for my last year of high school.”

He added that it has been a lifelong dream to become a McDonald’s All-American — a prestigious honor for which reclassifying would’ve made him ineligible — and that he prefers to help build a recruiting class, rather than be a late addition to an already loaded one. (More on why that’s a significant statement in a moment.)

“I told Coach Cal my decision to stay in 2019 about a week ago, and he was fine with it,” Maxey wrote. “He’s always told me he doesn’t care when I come as long as I come there.”

 

Hagans’ AAU coach told SEC Country that Hagans will make his own reclassification decision in July, but he is widely expected to play for the Wildcats this fall. That means even without Maxey, Kentucky will have a pair of 5-star point guards — rising sophomore Quade Green is the other — plus 4-star shooting guards Jemarl Baker and Tyler Herro, not to mention incoming 6-foot-6 McDonald’s All-American wing Keldon Johnson.

Even with all that, Calipari was unabashed in his greed for guards on the recruiting trail this spring.

“Me and Coach Cal have talked about [reclassifying] multiple times,” Maxey told SEC Country last month. “He’s just saying it would be a great opportunity for me to be a part of this special team that he’s building. It’s going to be a lot of NBA talent in the building and it [would] be getting us all ready for the next level. It’s like an NBA practice every day.

“Coach Cal has had three 5-star guards on the roster before with Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and he gets it done. And that’s not the first time he’s had it like that. He had Tyler Ulis, the Harrison twins, Devin Booker. That’s four 5-star guards on one team. He finds a way to make stuff like that happen and work, so you gotta trust him.”

Maxey is more of a combo guard — adept at playing on the ball or off — while Hagans is more a pure point guard, so 247Sports scouting director Evan Daniels said he thinks they could easily coexist in the same backcourt. But with Maxey staying in 2019, that’s a huge building block for that class.

The Wildcats already had a commitment from small forward D.J. Jeffries, ranked No. 31 in 2019, who is AAU teammates with No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman. And Wiseman, who is uncommitted, has said he’d love to play in college with Maxey and Hagans.

Maxey is explosive getting to the basket, has deep 3-point range and leads the Nike AAU circuit in points (24.0) and steals (2.9) per game. He also averages 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game and is known to want — and make — game-winning shots with some regularity.

“What sticks out about Tyrese is just the ease with which he scores,” Daniels said. “He’s very impressive off the bounce, can score at all three levels. He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, a really good defender who plays hard every play — but the best part of his game is his ability to put up points.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Calipari showed early and intense interest.

Kentucky’s coach conducted in-home visits with the South Garland, Texas, star on Feb. 9 and April 15 and hosted him for an unofficial visit in between, on Feb. 17.

“It’s exciting for a legendary coach like Coach Cal to want me to come play for his school and show what I can do and help lead a team to a national championship,” Maxey told SEC Country. “I trust him. I know he’s really good with point guards and getting us to the NBA.”

Calipari’s 5-star Kentucky point guards

2019

Ashton Hagans

Tyrese Maxey

2018

Immanuel Quickley

2017

Quade Green

2016

De’Aaron Fox

2015

Isaiah Briscoe

2014

Tyler Ulis

2013

Andrew Harrison

2012

Ryan Harrow*

2011

Marquis Teague

2010

Brandon Knight

2009

John Wall

* Harrow, an N.C. State transfer, was a 5-star prospect when he left high school.

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Kentucky basketball: John Calipari welcomes 5-star signee EJ Montgomery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari prefers to wait until he’s done loading up on talent to announce his signing class, that way he can dote on the whole group at once, but this is a weird year and the roster might not be set for a while longer. So on Monday, Kentucky went ahead and made the signing of 5-star big man EJ Montgomery official.

Calipari raved about the 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American, a former Auburn commit who averaged 25.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists for Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., last season.

“I hope our fans understand just how good EJ is and how excited we are to have him,” Calipari said in a UK-issued released. “You’re talking about a skilled big man who can affect the game in a number of ways. EJ is the type of position-less player the game is moving towards. He can play just about anywhere and make plays on the perimeter with his skills and versatility, yet he’s got the length and the ability to finish in the post as well as anyone in this class.

“What I love about him is he models his game after Anthony Davis, one of the best we’ve ever had, but wants to be his own player and carve out his legacy.”

Montgomery is ranked as high as No. 6 overall in the Class of 2018 and is No. 9 in the 247Sports composite. He joins the Wildcats’ three fall signees: No. 11 Keldon Johnson (small forward), No. 20 Immanuel Quickley (point guard) and No. 35 Tyler Herro (shooting guard).

Kentucky also has a commitment from Ashton Hagans, the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, who is widely expected to reclassify and play for Kentucky this season — but that decision won’t be made official until July. The Cats could also still add another player, either a recruit or graduate transfer to the 2018-19 roster.

With so much in flux, Calipari didn’t want to wait to gush about a player he told, “You’re not a want, you’re a need” while recruiting him.

“My goals for picking a school was to find a program that could push me as a player to reach my dream and as a person to grow; a school that made sure me and my family’s dreams became their dreams and that would push me to be my best. I’ve found that with Coach Cal and the University of Kentucky,” Montgomery said in the school-issued release Monday. “I’m proud to be a part of the Big Blue Nation where the standard is excellence, which is what my mother and father have instilled in me.”

Kentucky has now signed 48 top-50 recruits, 41 top-25 players and 23 top-10 players in Calipari’s 10 recruiting classes. Each of those classes has been ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally by 247Sports, which as the 2018 haul at No. 2 — for now.

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Kentucky basketball: Jarred Vanderbilt’s 2018 NBA Draft decision not as simple as it seems

Kentucky-Jarred Vanderbilt-NBA-NBA draft-NBA combine-UK basketball-Kentucky basketball-decision-injury-stock-mock draft-first round

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Some might say Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt has an easy NBA draft decision. Some would be wrong.

“He’s in a little bit of a different situation, because you’ve got to think he’s had these injuries and nobody really knows when the next one is going to be,” ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony told SEC Country. “So do you try to cash in on whatever you can cash in on now as opposed to what if [you return to school and] disaster strikes? It’s a very difficult position that he’s in, and it’s hard for someone like me to comment on what he should do, because it’s not my foot, you know?

“That’s such a unique situation, and I could see it going either way, honestly.”

RELATED: PJ Washington has ‘work cut out for him’ at NBA combine

Vanderbilt, a 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American who was one of the most dominant rebounders in the country while healthy last season, hasn’t been healthy very often the last few years. Since high school, he has significantly injured his left foot three times and has been sidelined after rolling both ankles. He missed 23 of 37 games with the Wildcats because of two of those injuries.

So his body of work is small, his medical history a red flag and his shooting ability very much in question after he shot just 42.6 percent from the field — mostly at point-blank range — and 63.2 percent at the free-throw line during a truncated college debut. Givony’s latest two-round NBA mock draft does not have him being selected at all; ESPN ranks Vanderbilt the 63rd-best prospect in a 60-player draft.

He has been invited to the NBA combine this week in Chicago, but it’s unclear whether he’s healthy enough to participate in any of the physical testing or 5-on-5 scrimmaging to improve his standing in the eyes of scouts and general managers. Vanderbilt’s father, who previously said he would prefer to see a first-round grade for his son to leave Kentucky, did not return phone calls or text messages Tuesday.

“It’s all about the physical for him,” Givony said, which could be one reason why sources tell SEC Country that Vanderbilt might actually skip the combine altogether.

And still, this isn’t necessarily a simple decision for him — even if he suspects he won’t be drafted. Before last season, NBA rosters expanded from 15 to 17 players, with the addition of two spots for players with two-way contracts. Those players spend most of the season in the NBA G League and 45 days or less with the actual NBA team, with the potential to earn around $ 275,000 for the year.

Several undrafted players, including former LSU star Antonio Blakeney, have signed two-way deals. Vanderbilt, who averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in just 17.0 minutes per game at Kentucky (he snagged a staggering 18.5 boards per 40 minutes) would almost certainly get one of those.

“There’s not a lot of difference between those guys and guys who were picked in the 50s last year and got two-way contracts,” Givony said. “What does it matter if you’re the 61st pick [the odd man out in a 60-player draft] and you got a two-way deal or you’re the 55th pick and got a two-way deal? At least if you’re undrafted, you get to negotiate with all 30 teams. So there really isn’t this cut-off that there used to be that, ‘You gotta get picked here or you go back to school.’

“So all these guys just need to prioritize what they prioritize and it’s not really my position to tell anybody what to do.”

That said, Givony has Vanderbilt going 33rd overall — mighty close to the end of the first round — if he sticks around another year and enters the 2019 NBA Draft. Either way, we’ll know his decision soon enough, as players only have until May 30 to decide whether they’re staying in or pulling out of the draft.

ESPN’S 2019 NBA Mock Draft, Kentucky players

12. Keldon Johnson (incoming freshman)

18. P.J. Washington (freshman testing 2018 waters)

33. Jarred Vanderbilt (freshman testing 2018 waters)

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Kentucky basketball: Unlikely to be picked in 2018 NBA Draft, Wenyen Gabriel must decide if G League is A-OK

Kentucky-Wenyen Gabriel-NBA-NBA draft-combine-workouts-decision-coming back-UK basketball-kentucky basketball-ESPN

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The 2018 NBA Combine begins today in Chicago, and Kentucky sophomore Wenyen Gabriel will not be there. He wasn’t invited, which is his first clue about what pro scouts are thinking about his readiness for the next level.

He did get a workout with the Utah Jazz over the weekend, alongside five other hopefuls, and he’ll likely get in front of a few other teams before the May 30 deadline to decide whether he’s staying in the draft or returning to school. But early returns are pretty clear.

“Where we have him ranked is what we think about him,” said ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony, who then belted out a long laugh. Gabriel is not ranked among Givony’s top 100 prospects. “So there you go. There’s 60 spots in the draft. If you’re not in the top 100, you don’t need to be a mathematician to calculate that one, right?”

Gabriel, a 6-foot-9 forward and former 5-star recruit, has been a solid contributor for two seasons at Kentucky. He averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench last season, but those numbers spiked in the postseason. He set an SEC Tournament record by sinking 7 of 7 3-pointers in the semifinals and delivered 16 points and 12 rebounds in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m not down on him in general,” Givony said. “I think he definitely has some good attributes. He’s really tough, plays super hard, seems like a great teammate. He has shown the ability to make a three, which is important at his position, and he’s a competitor. NBA teams want those kinds of guys, but the question is how far away is he from helping someone and what’s the best route for him to get there.”

Gabriel, a stick figure when he arrived in Lexington two summers ago, still needs to get stronger and be a more consistent defender. While his energy and shooting ability are intriguing — he hit 19 of 35 threes (54.2 percent) over the final 10 games as a sophomore — he’s still not a polished player.

One NBA scout told SEC Country he believes Gabriel could eventually play in that league, but that day is still fairly far away.

“I like him as a four-year guy, so I hope he does go back to school,” the scout said. “I feel like if he hadn’t come in with all of the hype of a [5-star recruit], people would be more realistic with him. He needs to go back. He could be a four-year player and actually end up being something [in the NBA], like a three-and-D guy.”

Gabriel’s high school coach compares his situation to that of Willie Cauley-Stein, who played a little as a freshman at Kentucky, more as a sophomore and then became the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and No. 6 overall pick as a junior.

“All the talk all the time about Kentucky and its players is about the one-and-done thing,” said Wilbraham & Monson Academy coach Mike Mannix said. “That’s all good, but at the same time, guys like Willie Cauley-Stein and others who’ve come back have had really great careers. To see the minutes [Gabriel] got, especially in March, I thought that was great and I’m hoping for big things to come for his junior year.”

Kentucky and coach John Calipari are hoping for the same. However, sources have told SEC Country for the last two months — even before he declared for a draft that almost certainly will not include him — Gabriel hasn’t ruled out the idea of taking the long road to the NBA, whether that be in the developmental G League or overseas.

“A lot of these guys are going to work their way through the G League, even first-round picks,” Givony said. “I can tell you for sure he’s not going to be with any NBA team at the start of the year. He’s in a huge boat with a billion other players who would have to work their way through the G League. So the question for him is just: Where do you want to develop? Do you want to do it in college or do you want to do it in the NBA’s development league?”

We’ll know the answer to that question for Gabriel and Kentucky teammates PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are also testing the waters without hiring agents, in no more than 14 days.

RELATED: Vanderbilt’s NBA decision not simple as it seems

RELATED: Washington has ‘work cut out for him’ at NBA combine

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Vegas, baby! Kentucky basketball announces two Sin City games in four days

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari would like to formally invite Kentucky basketball fans to spend the week before Christmas 2019 in Las Vegas watching the Wildcats. Or so it seems, given the scheduling announcement Thursday.

Kentucky will play Utah in Las Vegas on Dec. 18, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena. That will be followed by a game three days later against Ohio State, on Dec. 21, 2019, in the same building as part of the annual CBS Sports Classic. The Cats played a thriller there against North Carolina in 2016.

In addition to the extended stay in Sin City, Kentucky made official the other piece of its two-game agreement with Utah: The Utes will play at Rupp Arena this season on Dec. 15.

“We are always trying to put together a schedule that our fans will enjoy while preparing us to be at our best at the end of the season,” coach John Calipari said in a school-issued news release. “One of the things I hear most about from our fans is they enjoy traveling with us and staying at a destination location for multiple games. That was our goal in scheduling this game with Utah.

“It gives us a great opponent for one of our favorite stops over the last few years. I still get people who come up to me and tell me about how much fun they had in 2016 when we played North Carolina.”

The Wildcats are 9-2 all-time against Utah, a frequent postseason foe. Kentucky has won the last six meetings — five in the NCAA Tournament, including 1996, 1997 and 1998, when they met in the national championship game, and most recently in 2005.

With the extended Las Vegas trip, Big Blue Nation will have opportunities for basketball-centric vacations in each of the next two seasons. This year, Aug. 8-12, the Wildcats will give fans a sneak peek at a highly anticipated team with four exhibition games in the Bahamas.

The 2018-19 nonconference schedule also includes Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Seton Hall — with a marquee matchup in the Big 12/SEC Challenge to be announced.

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Kentucky basketball: 2018 NBA Combine measurements for Gilgeous-Alexander, Knox, Diallo, Washington

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BREAKING: Kentucky basketball’s 2018 NBA Draft entrants are long, tall and lean.

The Wildcats have four players participating in this year’s draft combine in Chicago — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington — and the first order of business Thursday was measuring all of them.

Gilgeous-Alexander had some eye-popping numbers. He posted the lowest body fat (3 percent) at the combine, and Knox and Diallo (both under 5 percent) ranked top 10 in that category. Those three and Washington, the one Wildcat who has not hired an agent and could return to Kentucky, all stood 6-foot-6 or taller with wingspans longer than 6-11.

Washington’s measurements certainly won’t hurt his cause: 6 feet, 8 inches tall with a 7-2 ½-inch wingspan. These official NBA numbers are very close to the measurements at UK’s on-campus combine for pro scouts last fall.

Here’s the complete rundown. Sprints, drills and vertical leap numbers are not yet available. Washington and Diallo are also expected to participate in 5-on-5 scrimmaging the next two days.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Body fat: 3 percent

Height in shoes: 6-6

Weight: 180 pounds

Wingspan: 6/11 ½

Standing reach: 8-8

Kevin Knox

Body fat: 4.95 percent

Height in shoes: 6-9

Weight: 212.6 pounds

Wingspan: 6/11 ¾

Standing reach: 9-0

Hamidou Diallo

Body fat:  4.45 percent

Height in shoes: 6-6

Weight: 197 pounds

Wingspan: 6/11 ½

Standing reach: 8-7

PJ Washington

Body fat: 6.85 percent

Height in shoes: 6-8

Weight: 223 pounds

Wingspan: 7-2 ½

Standing reach: 8-11

MORE NBA DRAFT COVERAGE

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PJ Washington and Quade Green to Kentucky freshmen: Get your mind right

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari’s best Kentucky teams have all had at least a few returning players to show the always-talented freshman class the ropes. To that end, rising sophomores PJ Washington and Quade Green had some advice Thursday for the new guys: It’s all between the ears.

“Just be mentally tough,” said Washington, who pulled out of the 2018 NBA Draft at the May 30 deadline. “If you’re mentally tough, you can get through it. That’s the biggest thing with Cal. If you’re mentally tough, you’ll play a lot of defense and you’ll do your thing.”

Washington, Green and 7-footer Nick Richards were all McDonald’s All-Americans who experienced a mix of success and disappointment as freshmen last season at Kentucky. All three are back, along with former top-100 recruit Jemarl Baker, who sat out with a knee injury.

RELATED: Baker is UK ‘mystery man’ after year off

Green lost his starting job to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who will likely be a lottery pick in the draft next week. Green was rumored to be considering a transfer this spring. One report had him heading home to Philadelphia to play at La Salle.

“I actually laughed at that one. That was hilarious,” said Green, who claims to have never even considered leaving Lexington. “No, not at all.”

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have some low moments last season, when he averaged 9.3 points, 2.7 assists and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. Not a bad freshman season, but not what he expected.

“I wasn’t ready for the mental work, really,” Green admits now. “I was just frustrated sometimes, down all the time.”

He was all smiles on Thursday, though, as Kentucky’s returning players met with the media for the first time since the Wildcats lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Green has gotten in better shape and embraced the competition that’s coming this fall.

Calipari signed McDonald’s All-Americans Immanuel Quickley (point guard) and Keldon Johnson (shooting guard) and top-40 sharpshooter Tyler Herro. The No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, Ashton Hagans, is in the process of reclassifying and joining UK this season.

“That didn’t bother me at all. I’m still here,” said Green, whose wisdom for the freshmen is simple: “Just come in with a clean slate mentally. Everything you did in high school doesn’t matter. You gotta elevate on a whole new level — Cal’s level. I didn’t have any idea until I came here.

“My mental wasn’t there all the way, I would say. But now I think it’s all together and I’m ready to go. ”

Washington, a power forward who had 18 points and 15 rebounds in his last game, will lead a similarly loaded front court. EJ Montgomery, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American, is already on campus and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, a former McDonald’s All-American and All-Pac-12 forward, could be here soon.

“I like our roster now, but I feel like if we include a couple more guys it’ll be great,” Washington said. “We have four guys coming back who have all been through it — we all know what Coach Cal wants — so we can go out there and help teach the younger guys, lead by example, and win a lot of games this year.”

RELATED: Meet 5-star freshman EJ Montgomery

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country