CHICAGO – With the 2019 NBA Draft shaping up to be another big night for the Kentucky men’s basketball team, it came as little surprise Wednesday when the Wildcats led the way with expected attendees for the 2019 NBA Draft Combine, which will take place May 15-19 at Quest Multisport in Chicago.
UK underclassmen Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington were on the 66-player attendee list that the NBA released Wednesday. UK’s three players are tied the most of any school.
A select number of draft-eligible players will also be invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine based on their performance in the NBA G League Elite Camp, which will take place May 12-14 at Quest Multisport. UK doesn’t have any current players on the Elite Camp list but former UK men’s basketball player Mychal Mulder (2016-17), who has played with the Windy City Bulls the last two seasons in the G League, was invited.
The NBA Draft Combine is a multi-day showcase where some of the world’s best draft-eligible players will participate in physical measurements, interviews, drills, medical and athletic testing, and scrimmages in front of NBA personnel. NBA coaches, general managers and scouts will be on hand to assess individual players in preparation for the annual NBA Draft, to be held June 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
ESPN2 will televise parts of the NBA Draft Combine on May 16 and May 17 from 3-7 p.m.
Athletes attend by invitation only from the NBA based on the feedback and requests from the 30 NBA teams. Some of Kentucky’s most recent departures have participated in the NBA Combine and gone on to successful NBA Draft nights and promising professional careers.
All three Wildcats slated to participate at the combine have announced they are forgoing their remaining collegiate eligibility to stay in the draft.
Under NCAA rules, underclassmen can “test the waters” by declaring for the NBA Draft, participating in the NBA Combine and working out for individual teams. New NCAA rules this season also allow players to sign with an NCAA-certified agent and still return to school.
Players have until 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA Combine – May 29 this season – to retain their college eligibility.
Washington ended his Kentucky career with 932 points, 475 rebounds, 120 assists and 74 blocks, but his legacy will stretch far beyond his numbers or accolades. He racked up numerous All-American honors, including NCAA Consensus All-America Third Team selection, as he put the NBA on hold for a season to become a more complete player.
The 6-foot-7 forward evolved into one of the nation’s most dominant players in his sophomore campaign. He produced career highs in virtually every statistical category in 2018-19, including leading the Wildcats in scoring (15.2 points per game), rebounding (7.5 rpg) and double-doubles (nine).
Washington was an absolute force during the second half of the season as he scored in double figures in 19 of his final 20 games and 25 overall. He shot 53.1 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from 3-point range during that time span, including three straight double-doubles vs. then-No. 9/10 Kansas, at Vanderbilt and at Florida. Perhaps the truest indicator of Washington’s worth this season was his impressive play vs. Kentucky’s best competition. In the 11 games he played vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams, Washington averaged a team-high 17.2 points and added 6.8 rebounds while shooting 54.8 percent.
One of Kentucky’s most productive and efficient players this season, Johnson started in 36 of 37 games. He averaged 13.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per outing. Both of those marks ranked third best on the team. He shot 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from long range, while draining 45 3-pointers on the year.
Johnson averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 48.9 percent in UK’s 12 matchups with AP Top 25 foes. That included a 19-point outing in the win over top-ranked Tennessee on Feb. 16. He snared a career-high 17 rebounds in a home win over Auburn, Kentucky’s first game without injured Reid Travis, who suffered a sprained knee. The 17 boards were the most by a Wildcat in an SEC game under John Calipari.
The league’s head coaches named Johnson its SEC Freshman of the Year and he was also tabbed to the All-SEC Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team. He also won SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times this season. The Basketball Times named him to its national All-Freshman First Team.
Herro was not only UK’s second-leading scorer (14.0 points per game) and leading 3-pointer shooter (60 3-point field goals), he was one of UK’s most important pieces to its success. The Wildcats were 19-0 this season when Herro scored 15 or more points and 11-7 when he didn’t. Herro proved to be much more than just a shooter, as many labeled him to be when he got to Kentucky, by becoming a lethal scorer from anywhere on the floor, a much-improved defender (40 steals and a lockdown defensive performance against the NCAA’s all-time 3-pointer leader, Wofford’s Fletcher Magee), an underrated rebounder (4.5 boards per game), and one of the nation’s best at the free-throw line (93.5 percent). The Milwaukee product shot 46.2 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from 3-point range.
The AP’s SEC Newcomer of the Year made 70 of his last 72 foul shots to close the season and enjoyed one of the best seasons in the history of the collegiate game from the free-throw line. With a 93.5-percent rate and a minimum of 50 attempts, he not only set a new single-season school record for free-throw percentage but also for the SEC (with players between 50 and 100 attempts).
Herro scored in double figures in a team-high 29 games and 20 or more points six times. Among his many awards, Herro was named to the All-SEC Second Team by the league’s coaches, made the CollegeInsider.com Kyle Macy Freshman All-America Team and the Basketball Times All-Freshman First Team, and was selected to the NCAA Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team after hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play to down Houston in the Sweet 16.
Since Calipari joined the Wildcat program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 35 NBA Draft picks over nine seasons, nearly twice as many as the next-closest school (Duke). Included in the 35 are 26 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall picks and 19 lottery selections.
Of the 25 players at UK who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 23 have been first-round draft picks. All 25 have played a game in the NBA.