By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky likely will be ranked No. 1 in most preseason college basketball polls, but the first three Southeastern Conference players being projected to be picked in the 2019 NBA Draft come from other teams.
Arkanas sophomore Daniel Gafford, Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland and Missouri sophomore Jontay Porter are the top three picks in ESPN’s early 2019 mock draft. Kentucky has two players — No. 13 Keldon Johnson and No. 20 P.J. Washington — in the top 20 with Johnson projected in the lottery.
Mississippi State coach Ben Howland thinks the bevy of SEC players who pulled their name out of the NBA draft to return to college could “be a very good pro team” and says those players that would include Auburn’s Austin Wiley, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield, and Florida’s Jalen Hudson along with Washington, Gifford and Porter.
Mississippi State had four players — brothers Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon, Aric Holman and Lamar Peters — make that same move.
The SEC sent a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament last year and has Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn as likely top 10 preseason teams with LSU, Mississippi State and Florida all potential top 25 teams. Vanderbilt had perhaps its best recruiting class ever.
“Top to bottom, the league was the best I’ve ever seen it last year. There truly wasn’t a night off,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said on last week’s SEC teleconference. “Next year, I think the top is going to be even stronger than it was last year. This is going to be the most competitive year that I can remember in SEC basketball because the quality at the top of the league is going to be even stronger.
“You look at Mississippi State and LSU, what those teams have brought in and Vanderbilt, how much they’re improved. Tennessee’s got everybody back. We’ve got a lot of guys back. Alabama’s got a lot of guys back that have a lot more experience.”