The question was hanging out there: Would Kentucky do what North Carolina did? Would the core of the team return and make UNC vs. UK the dominant storyline heading into next season?
Turns out: no. At least, it doesn't seem that way. Freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, along with junior DeAndre Liggins, formally released today, through the university, they'll be putting their names in the 2011 NBA draft pool.
As of now, none in the trio has signed with an agent, nor publicly stated they'll do that in the near future. That's what Kentucky fans will hold on to in the short-term. The writing on the wall for this got etched yesterday, when freshmen Doron Lamb chose to announce he'd be staying with UK for his sophomore season. Conventional thinking was, If Lamb's making this decision now, and he's making it alone, then his fellow frosh must be forgoing next fall in Lexington. Indeed that's the case.
“I support the decision these three have made to take advantage of the process of putting their names in the draft,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said via the linked press release. “They were a joy to coach this year and I would love the opportunity to continue to coach them again next season. I will always support my players in weighing their options and doing what is personally best for them and their families.”
All the players quoted in the release carry a tone of eager and guarded optimism. They're happy to be moving closer to realizing their NBA dreams, but all want to see where they stack up in this year's draft, and what NBA scouts think of their greatest strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, Knight's got no reason to come back. Marquis Teague is the incoming Freshman Guard du Jour for Calipari, and he'll be much better suited with the ball in Cal's offense than Knight.
Knight grew into a force of a point guard, scoring 17.3 points per game alongside his 4.2 assists. According to the school, his 657 points this season was a Kentucky freshman record. He reached that milestone thanks to a Kentucky-freshman-best 87 3-pointers. Liggins averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He was a defty 3-point man, hitting at a 39.1-percent clip. Jones, the SEC freshman of the year, put up 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Knight's good enough and his stock is high enough: he can and should stay in the draft. The other two, we'll see. Terrence Jones can't go right, and everyone, including Steve Wonder, knows it. There are strengths, but also real drawbacks. Liggins is a fantastic defender; he's actually more suited to leave right now than Jones, I think. A lot of his skills are refined, and his length will be what makes scouts endear to him.
The deadline to withdraw one's name from the draft is May 8.