The Kentucky Wildcats were cutting down the nets in New Orleans just over two weeks ago. The Wildcats celebrated a national championship after a hard fought, 67-59 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks which gave head coach John Calipari his first NCAA title.
On Tuesday at a press conference in Lexington, the University of Kentucky, Calipari and legions of Wildcat fans were given a sobering dose of reality in today’s era of college basketball. The entire starting five of the team that won Kentucky’s eighth national championship would not be on campus for the 2012-13 season. In fact, none of them would be.
Anthony Davis, who was the nation’s Player of the Year, Marcus Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones all declared for the NBA Draft in a nationally televised press conference Tuesday. None of the quintet had been at Kentucky more than two years. Lamb and Jones were sophomores, while the trio of Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague were freshmen. They’ll make the transition to playing against wily, grizzled veterans who, in some cases, will be twice their age.
The departure of the starting lineup, along with seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas, wipes out nearly all of Kentucky’s production from the 2011-12 season. Kentucky will face the daunting task of replacing 93.3 percent of their points, 94.5 percent of their individual rebounds and 96.2 percent of their assists. Even worse, the team will definitely be green, as the returning players made up just six percent of the minutes played last season.
Here is a quick look at each of the members of the starting lineup and what the future may hold for them.
Anthony Davis: The best nickname that could be tossed out there for Davis would be “The Unibrow.” He was a force to be reckoned with on the court, evidenced by being a freshman but winning the Naismith Award for Player of the Year. He was stifled offensively in the NCAA Championship, making just one field goal but contributed with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals en route to capturing the Most Outstanding Player award in the tournament as well.
For the season, Davis averaged 14.7 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. Davis also averaged 4.7 blocked shots per contest and his 186 blocks on the season shattered the Southeastern Conference mark for blocks by a freshman. The record was previously 116, set by Shaquille O’Neal when he played at LSU in the 1989-90 season. He shot 62.3 percent from the field and 70.9 percent at the free throw line.
Davis is widely projected to be the top choice in the NBA Draft and teams will be lining up hoping that their ping pong ball comes up with the lucky number one pick.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Kidd-Gilchrist is more than capable of being an effective two way player at the next level. He wasn’t a big scorer, averaging 11.9 points per game but pulled down 7.4 rebounds per contest and posted a couple big games in the NCAA tournament. Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Indiana in the Sweet 16. He then followed that up with 19 points and five rebounds against Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Kidd-Gilchrist has the ability to be an effective small forward at the next level. His frame and size will be distinct advantages if he can develop a decent mid to long range jump shot, forcing opposing defenders to cover more of the court. ESPN’s Chad Ford has Kidd-Gilchrist as the number two prospect in his top 100 for the upcoming NBA Draft, trailing only Davis.
Terrence Jones: Jones actually saw his numbers drop from his freshman season, mainly due to the addition of talented frontcourt players in Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. His statistics went from 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game to 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in his sophomore season. It should be noted that Jones took three fewer field goal attempts per game. He did block 1.8 shots per game and also added 1.3 steals per contest.
Jones’ biggest game in the tournament came in Kentucky’s opener against Western Kentucky, when he scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. At 6 foot 9 and 252 pounds, he has the build of Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone. Whether he has the talent and the ability to transform a team remains to be seen. Ford has Jones ranked number 8 on his top 100 list and it is safe to project him as a lottery pick.
Doron Lamb: Lamb was expected to be a late first round pick last season and came back for his sophomore season to pursue a national title, as did Jones. Lamb increased his scoring slightly from his freshman season, scoring 13.7 points a game. He averaged 12.3 as a freshman with the team. Lamb has the ability to shoot from long range, as he connected on 47.5 percent of three point attempts in his two years with the team.
Lamb needs to be more multidimensional in his play. He didn’t pull down many rebounds, averaging 2.3 rebounds per game. Lamb also did not distribute the ball well; averaging just 1.6 assists per game. Shooters are a dime a dozen in the NBA and if Lamb can’t contribute more than scoring, he may not find much time on the floor. He is projected to go in the first round, but far later than Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones.
Marquis Teague: Teague has a connection already to the NBA as his brother Jeff is the point guard for the Atlanta Hawks. Teague averaged ten points and 4.8 assists per game running the point for Kentucky. Too often, he tried to take on the scorer’s role and it is not one that suits him. Teague shot just 41.2 percent from the floor and 32.5 percent from three point range.
Teague will need to work on his shooting and his ball handling; he averaged 2.7 turnovers per contest at Kentucky. Like Lamb, he has talent but is not an elite player like some of his now former teammates. Teague may be drafted in the later stages of round one but has plenty of work ahead to become a top point guard at the next level.
Calipari is no stranger to seeing players leave early from school to go to the NBA. Since coming to Kentucky, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight are among those who quickly left. At Memphis, Derrick Rose played one season, took Memphis to a national championship, and left for the NBA. He’s the reigning MVP of the league. It’s safe to say it worked out for him.
In the end, it will work out for the majority of Calipari’s latest group too. Once people stop flogging Kentucky and Calipari for the way things are done, maybe we can get back to what’s important, like predicting next year’s champion.