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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore forward Alex Poythress will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, he announced Wednesday.
“Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine, but I want to make sure that I’m NBA-ready before I make that jump,” Poythress said. “By coming back, I’ll be so much closer to earning my degree in business and it will give me another year to prepare my game and my body for the next level.”
The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in helping lead the Wildcats to the NCAA title game. He shot better than 68 percent from the field in the NCAA Tournament, including an eight-point, seven-rebound performance in the Final Four against Wisconsin.
“I’m excited for Alex and the decision he’s arrived at,” head coach John Calipari said. “I’m proud of the work he committed to this past season, on and off the floor, and think he’s ready to take that next step and lead this team next season.”
The Clarksville, Tenn., native tallied a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) in UK’s season-opener against UNC Asheville and pulled down 12 rebounds two games later against second-ranked Michigan State.
Fellow sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Marcus Lee announced their intentions to return for the 2014-15 season last week.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.
Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.
“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”
Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.
Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.
If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.
On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.
If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.
If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — When John Calipari had his postseason meeting with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky coach said he “never even talked to him about coming back” to UK for another season.
Calipari had been in touch with 19 NBA general managers gathering information on the draft stock for his players after their NCAA title game loss to Connecticut and the consensus was that Cauley-Stein, despite the ankle injury he suffered in the NCAA tourney that ended his season, would be a mid-first round draft pick and likely lottery choice.
That’s why Calipari admitted Thursday he was a bit surprised when Cauley-Stein told him he would return to UK for his junior season.
Calipari said he reminded Cauley-Stein that when he came to see him in high school that one time he had a tennis racquet, another time he was playing wiffle ball and a third time he was playing kickball.
“I saw him play two football games with a 7-foot wide receiver and defensive back,” Calipari said.
Yet Cauley-Stein had reasons Calipari understood for wanting to return to UK.
“When he came back he said, ‘Coach, I am in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I will be close to my degree (in another year). I still have to grow as a player and we left something (a national title) on the table.’ That is a good answer for me,” Calipari said. “There is a reason you do this and I want to make sure they are all thinking this through.”
Calipari’s press conference Thursday was to promote his new book, but it focused on what players might be back at Kentucky. Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the two players considered most likely to leave for the NBA, were not at the press conference and Calipari did not mention them or any player other than Cauley-Stein by name.
He said again he met with his players to ask them if they wanted him to explore their NBA options. He noted a “couple” said no but he received feedback on one from general managers that he might potentally be a first-round pick. That’s when Calipari told the player — presumed to be freshman center Dakari Johnson — that he needed to “get with his mother and needed to know what you are passing on if you come back” for another season.
“I have to live with myself. I think you need to come back, you I want you to know is out there,” Calipari said he told the player.
Calipari said he talked with NBA sources again Wednesday and his information he wants to go directly to parents.
“I don’t want any filter. This is it (accurate information),” the coach said. “I told all the kids when I met back on campus that whatever decision you make to leave or come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine. Don’t make it for me, make it for you. Whatever is right for you.”
Calipari wants his players, and others, to understand it is not a sign of failure to come back for a second year — or a third year as Cauley-Stein has done. He noted how Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season in Calipari’s first year at UK and is now in line to sign a lucrative NBA contract because of his recent play.
“You have to convince each kid that everyone is different and we have your back. You have to trust the process. The bottom line is developing people and players. Some are mature physically. Some are mature emotionally,” Calipari said. “If you are emotionally ready (for the NBA) and not physically ready, you are out of your mind (to leave school). If you are both, you are the number one pick in the draft like we have had before (with John Wall and Anthony Davis).
“You have to look at each of these situations and I am even doing it in homes when I am recruiting. One thing I am saying is you are not a failure if you come back for two, three or four years. Do not plan on coming to Kentucky for year. But it can’t just be me doing it. It has to be everybody out there. Staying in school more than one year is not a failure.”
He says Cauley-Stein is not back because of any concerns about his ankle. He had surgery last week by “the best doctor in the world,” according to Calipari.
“Willie still has a couple of months to go (before he can be full speed), but he will be fine,” Calipari said.
With Cauley-Stein set to return and sophomore Alex Poythress also likely to return, that would give Calipari two veteran players with national championship game experience to build on next season. Freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee both played in the game and will be back as well. If Johnson and along with freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison returned, it would give Calipari his most experienced — and deepest — team in six years at UK.
“Obviously it makes my job different (if those players return) than it has been the last four years,” Calipari said. “That means everyone of the kids needs me in a different way. It will be more of a challenge in having juniors, sophomores and freshmen that all need something different.
“Our young kids coming in want guys to come back. Some say someone should maybe leave because of who is coming in. You think it would be easier against NBA guys than high school guys. That’s nuts.
“What you have to do is accept their decisions. They have gotten the information. They know the downside because I have given it to them and when they make that decision you live with it.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore Alex Poythress and freshman Dakari Johnson are two Kentucky players that didn’t seem likely to put their name into the NBA draft when the NCAA Tournament started. However, both played well during UK’s tourney run and now continue to evaluate thei draft stock.
Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, offered these insights on both Wildcats and their draft potential.
Poythress: “Poythress had some impressive moments this year when he stuck to the limited role of an energy guy off the bench. I’m not sure if he will really be able to provide much more next year, thus I don’t know if coming back for another year really helps him. There is still some untapped potential to go with his athleticism, and I think teams would take him in the top half of the second round this year or next.”
Johnson: “Johnson had some good moments in the second half of the season, but he also had as many moments where he looked lost. NBA teams will like his size no matter when he decides to come out, though his skill level on both ends of the floor still needs a lot of work. If he was to come out this year, even if he went at the end of the first round, he won’t get the playing time and attention he needs to develop quicker than he would with another year at Kentucky where he will likely be a key player next year. I’m just not sure he has shown enough to guarantee he is in the first round of this draft.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Antoine Poythress thought it was “crazy” that coach John Calipari and his staff had to start talking about NBA draft possibilities with players hours after Kentucky lost to Connecticut in the national title game, but he also knew the time frame for making future decisions made that a necessity.
“You have zero time and it’s hard to evaluate all this so quickly,” said Poythress, the father of UK sophomore Alex Poythress. “I have been trying to get some feedback of my own. Trying to go through this so quickly is a nightmare. It’s just difficult with such a short period of time.
“For Alex, it’s even worse because it is not very clear. Last year (making a decision about the draft) looked like a cake walk compared to this year. It is so muddy and convoluted this year.”
Poythress averaged 5.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 18.4 minutes per game this year. He shot 49.7 percent from the field (88 of 177), but was just 8-for-33 (24.2) percent from 3-point range. He also had only 17 assists and 12 steals in 40 games.
“You can file with the NCAA to give you something back (feedback-wise), but they are so conservative it is not very realistic if you are not in the top five or six guys,” Poythress said. “I guess they don’t want to steer you wrong, so they are conservative to a fault. They just basically give you the worst case scenario and throw everybody in to the mid to late second round.
“You can’t talk to any teams directly as a parent. You can’t sign with an agent to get information if you want to keep the option of staying in school open. So you are just getting information from whoever volunteers to help and some guys might give you nothing but BS. You have got to have a friend or someone who can help and even then they can all tell you is hypotheticals. The school can talk to them (NBA personnel) more than I can or Alex can. So we have to work through the school to get feedback.”
Poythress had some of his best moments in NCAA play. He scored six points in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the comeback win over Louisville. He had eight points in the Elite Eight win over Michigan. He had six points against previously unbeaten Wichita State. More importantly, he showcased the athleticism and talent that made many project him as a high NBA lottery pick before he played his first game at Kentucky.
One NBA scout offered this on Poythress (NBA scouts cannot be quoted on the record about specific players who are draft eligible): “As good as Alex looked at times during the tournament, I just don’t see how he could sneak into the first round in such a deep draft,” the scout said.
Poythress has until April 27th to decide if he wants to declare for the draft or return to Kentucky for his junior season.
“We will let Alex make the decision. Technically, his decision might not be my decision, but he has to live it and go through it all,” Poythress adi. “From my perspective, I don’t have to dribble and go through all this. I just give him my recommendation. He has to make a decision on what he needs to do. I just try to help and gather information the best I can. It’s never my decision. It is always his decision to make.
“I couldn’t imagine him being able to get the same set of information that I can get with him just being a college kid. People will tell him anything to influence him, especially with the evaluation being tougher than last year.”
Alex Poythress would be close to finishing his degree if he decides to stay at UK for another year. His father said his son changed his major to accounting and has several accounting courses he would have to take in the next year to finish his degree.
“If he doesn’t get it done, he would be close. He has been in summer school both years and takes a very good class load,” Antoine Poythress said.
While finishing his degree will have “some impact” on the UK sophomore’s decision, where he would likely fall in the draft will naturally have the biggest impact.
“Where he is projected and the risk associated with it is what Alex has to weigh,” his father said. “The second round is risky. There’s no guaranteed money, no guarantee of anything in the second round. It’s really taking a big risk. A lot will tell you if you have to go as a second round pick, why bother doing. Other factors could lead to your stock going down as the draft approached. It is not an exact science.
“Kids that go early in the second round are probably okay, but if you go 40th or later, you just taking a risk that you will even make a team. You get not guaranteed contract and a team is really not vested in you.”
He noted that a team like the Philadelphia 76ers “has a ton of second round picks” and isn’t likely to keep all those draft choices on the roster. He also said the Developmental League “is not a very good life” for young players who fail to land on a NBA roster.
“That would not be an option to leave school early to end up there,” Poythress said about his son. “He played great the last few weeks and great in the tournament. He was relaxed and played great down the stretch. He made big plays at the right time when they really needed them. He played big, played good defense down the stretch in about every game and played well against different styles coming at him.
“Then again, his stat line not very good. He averaged less than six points per game. Field goal attempts and all were down (from last year) and points per minute were down cause he did not shoot as much.
“He just has a tough decision to make. He’s got to weigh a lot of things. He enjoys school. He enjoys the environment and being at Kentucky. It’s just a mater of getting minutes to show all he can do in longer stretches. That would be ideal for him. He just has to sit down and think and decide (about what to do) before he runs out of time.”
Antoine Poythress said the good thing is that his son is not being forced to make a bad decision because he can return to UK and be the most veteran player — and likely team leader — on another talented team.
“You don’t want to make a bad decision. That’s the most important thing,” Antoine Poythress said. “He can always come back. He’s not out there on a ledge with no options. He just has a decision to make versus having a decision made for him.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
All during the NCAA Tournament, including after he injured his ankle and could not play again, Willie Cauley-Stein kept insisting that he was in no hurry to leave Kentucky even if he was projected as a mid-first round draft pick.
“You meet a lot of people and college ball is fun. It’s not a big thing on my mind to leave, you know what I am saying. If the opportunity presents itself, then why wouldn’t you go. But if not, I am cool with staying a year or two here,” said the 7-foot Kentucky sophomore.
“I don’t really even know what I enjoy the most. You just have like security. Like if you leave, you are on your own. Know what I am saying? In college, you have a whole coaching staff that is kind of like your dad and they are family just like your family. You don’t feel alone like you would if you left and you started to having to pay for yourself. It’s not like you have a meal plan. You have to start paying bills and stuff. That’s a lot to think about when you 20 years old. So why not stay in school?”
And that’s what he is going to do. Cauley-Stein sai Monday he will return to Kentucky for the 2014-15 season.
“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said in a statement released by UK. “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”
Cauley-Stein did not play against Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut. He played only briefly against Louisville when he heard something “pop” in his ankle and later in the tourney he revealed the X-ray then showed he had a “cracked bone/stress fracture” that he has had surgery to repair. However, Cauley-Stein also said that he thought he might have actually injured his ankle in UK’s opening NCAA tourney win over Kansas State.
Cauley-Stein actually announced he was returning to UK on Twitter. However, Kentucky Sports Radio’s Ryan Lemond learned Sunday that he would return and had posted that on Twitter. He was the only media member with that information that became official about 24 hours later.
“I was as convinced as everyone that Willie was going pro, but when I got the news he was 100 percent coming back I was as shocked as anybody,” Lemond said. “Reporters have sources that you know you can believe 100 percent and this was one. That’s why I was not afraid to say he was going to have good news for Kentucky fans.”
Cauley-Stein has 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year and will give Calipari and UK the rim protector it missed after he was hurt this season. It will also give Calipari at least one veteran leader — and perhaps send a message to sophomore Alex Poythress, who is not projected to go nearly as high in the draft as Cauley-Stein was, to also return.
“I don’t want to think how we will be remembered,” Cauley-Stein said after UK’s national championship game loss to Connecticut in Arlington. “I want to hear about it. I want to read about it or see somebody in Wal-Mart that tells me how we will be remembered instead of me thinking about it.
“Our guys last year we were all separated. Maybe three of us hung out with each other. This year everybody so close and you could feel like you had known then all for years when you had only known them for six months.
“You want to leave on joy. It’s so much better if you leave on a stage swinging shirts, wearing hats backwards and taking goofy pictures (after winning the national title). That’s the way I always thought of going out.”
Cauley-Stein was named to the all-Southeastern Conference defensive team when he had 106 blocks, second all-time on the UK season list behind only the 186 Anthony Davis had in 2011-12.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”
He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.
“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.
“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.
“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.
He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.
He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.
“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.
Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.
Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?
“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.
He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.
“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”
Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.
“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”
Could Kentucky lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?
As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.
Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.
Ford agreed that Randle and Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th
“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”
Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.
NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.
Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.
Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.
“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.
He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.
“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.
Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.
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