John Calipari is awaiting a pivotal rulings on the eligibility of transfers before he will know who’ll be around to help the Wildcats bounce back from the coach’s first losing season in Lexington.
As has been the case since Calipari’s 2009 arrival at Kentucky, the Wildcats underwent their annual roster makeover. This spring the turnover included several signings of players from an overstocked NCAA transfer portal.
How the Wildcats’ roster looks depends on the return of graduate guard Davion Mintz and the eligibility of transfer Sahvir Wheeler.
“I’m excited about what we’re doing and where it is and the kind of team we’ve pieced together,” Calipari said Friday during a virtual news conference. “But it’s a lot of work to do. Now, we’ve got to get this summer. The summer was important to us, I never realized how important.
“Sometimes you get to where, well, when I start coaching them, I’ll coach ’em up. Well, I’ve always said I don’t have a magic wand and last year kind of proved that, would you say?”
Like nearly every program, the pandemic created protocols that kept Kentucky’s highly prized recruits separated until fall practice. The young Wildcats struggled to develop chemistry or an identity, culminating in a 9-16 finish that left them outside the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 and with just their second losing record since 1927.
The usual player exodus to the NBA draft began during the offseason. Kentucky also has had to deal with the tragic death of freshman guard Terrence Clarke, who died on April 22 following a car crash in Los Angeles. Clarke was among five players who had decided to turned pro.
On Friday, 6-foot-10 defensive standout Isaiah Jackson announced that he will remain in the NBA draft. Mintz has left open the option of returning to school after being evaluated.
Guard Devin Askew and forward Cam’ron Fletcher also transferred, which left the Wildcats filling those voids through the transfer portal with some immediately eligible through the NCAA’s one-time transfer exception.
Last season Kentucky picked up 6-9 former West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game after leading the Mountaineers in scoring, rebounding and blocks as a freshman. The Wildcats have also added ex-Georgia guard Wheeler, last season’s Southeastern Conference assists leader, Iowa perimeter threat CJ Fredrick and Davidson guard Kellan Grady.
Add in recent signee TyTy Washington, a top-12 prospect, and 6-2 Nolan Hickman, and Calipari suggested Kentucky could have as many as six guards next season. As Mintz ponders his options, SEC presidents may soon decide whether to drop the rule requiring intraconference transfers to sit out a season. If so, Wheeler could become immediately eligible.
“The entire country is giving these kids the ability to transfer wherever and every league has,” Calipari said. “I can’t imagine we’d be able to do anything different, but I’m not in that room talking about it or voting.”
Sophomore forward Keion Brooks also has until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday to decide whether to enter the draft, though Calipari hinted that he expects him back on campus next month.
No matter how things unfold, Calipari doesn’t foresee making further moves and eagerly anticipates the earlier look that wasn’t possible last summer. And hopefully, better results.
“For all of us to go through it makes you stronger, makes you really evaluate everything and go through everything, which is not all bad,” added Calipari, whose coaching and recruiting methods were criticized on social media and sports talk radio. “But I’d rather not have lived through what I just lived through.”
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