By LARRY VAUGHT
Certainly it would have made Kentucky a better team next year if PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro had all decided to play another year for the Cats rather than heading to the NBA.
Same with Jemarl Baker, who has decided to transfer rather than return for his redshirt sophomore season where his 3-point shooting and defense certainly could have been a big asset for John Calipari’s team.
Yet the positive here is that it is only April 17th and Calipari knows they will all be missing next season and has time to plan and recruit accordingly. He can look for another graduate transfer — he already has one in Bucknell’s Nate Sestina. He could still sign a high school senior or he might find a player who decides late to reclassify from the 2020 to 2019 class like he did with Jamal Murray a few years back.
It’s not like Kentucky is going to be without talent next year. USA Today has Kentucky No. 2 in its early preseason poll for next year. Sporting News puts Kentucky at No. 3 and CBS Sports has UK No. 4.
The Cats return starting point guard Ashton Hagans — all other four starters are gone (Washington, Johnson, Herro and Travis Reid). They also return two bigs — EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Both should benefit from what they learned from Travis and Washington this year. Guard Immanuel Quickley also returns and can play either guard spot — and could be UK’s best 3-point shooter.
Point guard Tyrese Maxey headlines the incoming freshman class. Wing Kahlil Whitney is a big-time talent. Same with Keion Brooks, who can play anywhere from the three to even center for brief periods if needed. Pendleton County’s Dontaie Allen could be a needed outside shooting threat if he’s recovered from his torn ACL fully.
Then there is grad transfer Nate Sestina, a 6-9 player who can stretch the court with his 3-point shooting.
Very few coaches in the country would not be happy to start next season with that group and take their chances. But Calipari has always shown a creative way to find just the pieces he needs to put a roster together in surprising ways and thanks to the early decisions that Washington, Johnson, Herro and even Baker made, it gives him even more time this year to do that than he’s had most seasons.