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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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle took to Twitter tonight — Kentucky does not make players available for interviews — to deny an ESPN report that he has already decided to declare for the NBA draft.
He posted: “Idk (I don’t know) who reported what but I haven’t made up my mind about the draft yet. Haven’t even talked to my family about it. So it’s all false.”
Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, both team highs. He had just 10 points and six rebounds in the national title game loss but had 24 double-doubles in 40 games, the nation’s best total. He’s projected as a likely top five pick if he does enter the draft.
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By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — Kentucky’s players were still trying to come to grips when their 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game when they started getting the question — would they be back at UK or head to the NBA.
“I don’t even know. I am not thinking about that right now. I am just thinking about this game,” said freshman center Dakari Johnson.
Next he got asked if that meant it was too early to say he would definitely be back at UK.
“I don’t know. I am still trying to deal with this loss,” Johnson said.
That’s basically what twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison said except they added they would have to discuss it with their family. Ditto for James Young. Julius Randle, considered the player that would be drafted the highest, dodged the question, too, as he softly answered question while trying to handle the disappointment of Monday’s loss.
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was injured and did not play the last three tourney games, had more to say than his teammates about what the future might hold.
“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it like that,” Cauley-Stein said when asked what it was like to be together with so many teammates for the final time. “I am just trying to relish the moment with my brothers and see what some of them are doing. That is kind of how I based my decision last year (to come back to UK rather than going to the NBA.)
Two NBA scouts at the Final Four said Cauley-Stein was UK’s most intriguing prospect after Randle. His size and athleticism have scouts contemplating what his potential could be once he fully commits to improving his offensive game. Both said his injury — Cauley-Stein said after the game he had a “cracked bone, stress fracture” in his ankle — would not be an issue unless it was more severe than it appeared.
“I can see coming back. I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said. “I went up from last year and now I want to make another jump in my game. Could I come back to school and make that step and be safe or do I make the jump to the league and mess everything up? What if I go there and don’t do what I thought and I’m stuck and can’t come back to school?
“I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. So why not stay until they make you leave? IYou just get better as you get older. There are so many things that go through my head.”
That would be what he called “millions of dollars” and being able to work only on his game without balancing school, which he called a full-time job.
“That kind of weighs in. My family weighs in. I will talk to my family and coaches and then decide what is best for my future and my game and if I could be happy either way.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari does not discourage players from leaving if he feels they are ready to make the jump. The question becomes how many of these players are truly ready — and NBA scouts warn that what happens in March won’t wipe out a season’s worth of observations.
“Well, I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know. Tell me what you want to do, what do I need to do to help you?’ Calipari said after Monday’s loss.
“I kind of stay out of the decision making. I just get them information. So we’ll see. I have no idea because I haven’t talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season’s over, it is about the players. It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team.
“It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. And we’ll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — From the time he found that the national championship game would be played in his hometown of Dallas in 2014, Julius Randle dreamed of playing in the game.
Monday night he got his chance — and his dream game didn’t go like he planned as UK lost 60-54 to Connecticut.
“We just came up short. Their guard play and shot making was ridiculous. There are things we could have did, but we gave our all. I am not regretting anything,” said Randle.
He had 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and one block. He finished the season with 24 double-doubles and 417 rebounds, a freshman record and two more than Anthony Davis had in 2012. However, he took just seven shots and seemed that either his ankle he tweaked in Saturday’s win over Wisconsin might have been bothering him, especially early in the game, or that he might have not been 100 percent physically.
“I was fine,” Randle said.
Calipari said Randle was tired two minutes into the game “because he’s a freshman and he was anxious.” Calipari also indicated nothing else was wrong with his leading scorer and rebounder.
“That was the national championship in front of 17 zillion people and he ran up and down the court three times and he got winded. It’s normal. He got winded a few other times in the game. olks, these kids did stuff, I think Aaron (Harrison) was a little winded. Same idea. I was trying to get them to focus on the court, on the lines,” Calipari said. “But let me ask you, if were you 18 and you had to be in that kind of environment, and everybody you looked at was 18, how would you do? Oh, you would make every free throw and dunk every ball, especially with (Ryan) Boatright and (Shabazz) Napier up under you, or somebody trying to block it, or all of a sudden the thing swings and we may lose. All of a sudden you’re 18 and you got to react to that.”
Randle also said he took only seven shots because of UConn’s defense.
“My shots didn’t matter. When I was penetrating, guys were open on the wing and that’s my job to get them shots if they suck in. So I don’t care about shots,” Randle said. “They collapsed on me. I just tried to create for other people. There wasn’t much one on one or anything. The defense just collapsed on me. I just tried to create for others. I made the right plays, or tried to.”
That included a shot he took in the lane with UK down 58-52 and under three minutes to play that went in and came out.
“I thought it was in,” Randle said.
Maybe the NCAA Tournament had been “a grind” as he indicated Sunday and wore him down, but he played the second half like it was his last game — and likely it was at UK as he’ll probably put his name into the NBA Draft where he’s projected as a top 10 pick. He said he had no idea when he would decide about that, but he’s projected to go so high it would be hard for him to come back to UK.
He was a huge part of Kentucky’s improbable run to the national title game after UK lost nine regular-season games and dropped out of the national rankings.
“The biggest thing is that this is what we expected of each other. No matter how hard things got, the belief stayed the same,” Randle said. “Whether people expected us to be here or not didn’t matter because we expected to be here. What we have done is special to us. Only we know all the hours and work we put in. We did this for each other, not to prove anybody wrong. You are always going to have people rooting against you, but proving them wrong and getting here did make that sweet.”
A year ago Randle wasn’t afraid of the 40-0 talk for this team. He didn’t say UK would go 40-0, but he never said he thought that was an unfair expectation.
“When I committed here I was aware of the expectations that the whole state has. This is Kentucky basketball. It did get a little crazy at times. The expectations are hard to fulfill. We never fed into any of that. We just got better each day,” he said. “We finally figured out that we had to get better defensively. We started trusting each other on offense and just playing with more energy. Our roles got more simplified. We just came together as a team when it mattered the most.
“We had no college experience. It wasn’t like effort or our attitudes or how we approached games was not there, we just had to figure it out and luckily it clicked. Our thing was never about proving people wrong. We just wanted to have fun and get better each game. In the process, we proved a lot of people wrong. I didn’t prove anything to you guys, but I proved a lot to myself. No matter how tough things get, there is always light at the end of the tunnel that you can fight through.”
Even without a championship, Randle — who was the SEC Newcomer of the Year and member of several All-American teams — sad he has plenty to remember from this 29-11 season.
“This group of guys are special. We have been through a lot this season. How we kept fighting and we were able to make this run just says a lot about the guys. I just hate that it ended like this,” Randle said. “I am just extremely proud of everybody and how they fought this whole postseason and how we fought through everything. It’s just hard to come up one game short.”
By Victoria Sun, Winchester Sun
ARLINGTON – Kentucky’s unexpected and improbable run to the national championship game ended with tears and hugs in a solemn locker room.
As confetti swirled around AT&T stadium in celebration of UConn’s 60-54 victory against UK on Monday night, Kentucky players embraced each other and comforted each other as the realization that their tumultuous season was over had finally ended sunk in.
In front of luminaries including former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the Huskies (32-8) pounced on the Wildcats (29-11) and never let up en route to their fourth NCAA title and second in four seasons.
“I’m proud of these guys, and we had our chances to win,” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said. “That game stayed a one-point game. We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws and we hung in there. These kids never gave up.”
The Wildcats missed 11 free throws and admittedly exhibited some jitters early on while competing in their third Final Four in the last four seasons. UK became the first team since Michigan in 1992 to start five freshmen.
UK freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who finished with eight points, five assists and four turnovers, thought a combination of nerves and UConn’s defensive effort led to the Wildcats’ demise. Kentucky’s 54 points scored was a season low.
“Playing the national championship game your freshman year, it’s pretty tough,” Harrison said quietly. “But at the same time, they played great defense.”
The Wildcats had no answer for UConn guard Shabazz Napier, who showed why he won the Bob Cousy Award earlier in the day and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Napier had 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Usually reliable workhorse Julius Randle had a quiet 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists, but didn’t have the dominating performance that the Wildcats had come to expect from the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year.
About midway through the second half, Randle had a senior moment of the geriatric variety. After UConn guard Ryan Boatright made two free throws, Randle gripped the ball with both hands, raised both arms in the air, then turned and hurled the ball into the stands thinking he was throwing to a teammate. That turnover led to dynamic Huskies guard Shabazz Napier hitting another signature pull-up jumper to extend UConn’s lead to 48-39.
As Randle was driven to the post-game press conference on a golf cart, he buried his face in both hands.
“It’s tough, it hurts, man,” Randle said quietly. “I’m proud of everybody. How we fought, it was just unbelievable.”
A year after failing to make the NCAA Tournament last season, there were high expectations for the young Wildcats, due to their impressive freshmen class. But the season was full of highs and lows as Calipari tried to get his inexperienced team to mature.
The Wildcats spent most of the season defending themselves as fans and the media took verbal jabs at them. With seven McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, they were an extremely talented, inconsistent, and sometimes frustrating bunch, until something clicked during the Southeastern Conference tournament that helped propel them to the championship game.
“It’s been up and down, but at the same time, we fought,” Harrison said. “No one even thought we’d be here.
“The stuff we fought through and the scrutiny we took, it was amazing (that we made it) and this one definitely hurt us, but it’s a bigger picture than that.”
The future of the team is not a subject any of the distraught Wildcats were in the mood to discuss. Several Wildcats, including Randle, and James Young (20 points and seven rebounds) are projected to be first round picks, if they decide to leave school and declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft. Both were named to the All-Final Four Team.
UK players declined to speculate on what players would return or said they hadn’t given it much thought yet.
“That’s the farthest thing from my mind right now,” Randle said. “My dream was to win a national championship. That was my only focus.”
Calipari will have a season-ending meeting with each player to assess his situation and discuss future plans.
With the tears flowing after the game, Harrison made it a point to express to his teammates how grateful he was for the ride.
“I just walked around and told everybody I love them,” Harrison said. “It’s been the best experience of my life. “
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — As Julius Randle rode in a golf cart on the way to postgame interviews with teammate James Young, he buried his heads in his hands as the tears flowed down his cheeks. At the same time, members of the Kentucky pep band waiting in the AT&T Stadium hallway gave him a huge ovations.
Kentucky may have lost the national championship game 60-54 to Connecticut Monday night, but the Wildcats won a spot in the their fans’ hearts with their gritty play in March that turned a disappointing season into a near miraculous season.
The Wildcats were a No. 8 seed and given no chance to reach the Final Four when March Madness started. But after falling behind 30-15 in the first half — the fifth straight game they were behind by nine or more points — they came roaring back and actually had chances to take the lead in the second half. But missed 11 of 24 free throws, shooting only 39 percent from the field and giving up 17 points off 13 turnovers was just too much to overcome.
“I can’t believe what these guys got done together. Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I needed to do a better job for these kids today, because they needed more help in this.
“You could tell early on they were feeling the game. One of the things we tried some stuff, pick‑and‑roll, obviously it didn’t work. We had to play zone. Tried to get their sweat to dry a little bit, make them less aggressive and it worked and these guys performed. They came back, We tried doing different things, but we didn’t have enough answers for these guys to finish that team. Their guard play was outstanding. But again we had our chances and that’s all you can ask of your basketball team.”
He’s right and that’s why he told his team he was proud of them and to hold their heads high despite the loss.
“We know he meant that and eventually this will be okay, but it hurts right now,” point guard Andrew Harrison, who had eight points, five assists, five rebound, three steals and one blocked shot — he also had four turnovers — said in a much softer voice than normal.
“We had a great run. Nothing went wrong tonight. We could have got blown out, but we came back. We are a team full of competitors, but they just made plays and beat us,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said.
Connecticut did make the big plays this time that Kentucky had in wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. When Aaron Harrison had a chance to hit a key 3-pointer in this game, he missed. When Julius Randle drove inside late needing a basket, it came out. When Kentucky desperately needed a defensive rebound with about two minutes to play, it went to UConn.
Kentucky got just two field goals in the final six minutes after cutting the deficit to 51-49 — a big reason the Cats scored a season-low 54 points.
“We always think we are coming back,” Randle, who had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists against UConn’s sagging defense, said. “This time we just didn’t quite get it done.”
“We just kept our heads up and just kept fighting for each other. And we had a couple chances that we had to bring it back and we just kept fighting,” Young said as he sat at his locker with tears running down his cheeks. “This hurts. We’ll get over it, but it hurts.”
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart hopes fans will remember the remarkable March journey, and not just the ending. He expects a bit crowd at this afternoon’s welcome home celebration in Rupp Arena for a team that started five teenagers and learned how to play as a team as the season went on.
“I am awful proud of them,” Barnhart said. “I don’t know if you could have four more memorable back-to-back games than we did. Those were four pretty spectacular games and fun to watch. It was really good stuff.
“I probably didn’t see this run coming. Not many probably did. These kids had a lot of talent. People questioned their character and heart. The kids responded the right way with a remarkable run. Don’t lose sight of how special that was because of this 60-54 score. We just came up seven point shorts, but it was still a remarkable run.”
It was and give Kentucky credit for making no excuses. No complaints about officiating. No complaints about Willie Cauley-Stein being out with an injury. No complaints about missed shots.
“They played a great game. They hit big shots. Just take your hat off to them. They played better than we did,” sophomore Alex Poythress said.
Calipari had to plead, push and pull this team much of the season. He said he never lost faith in his team, but he often admitted it had not been an easy year and that he had made as many mistakes as his players. But it was obvious, even in this difficult moment, he was proud of what his team did.
“These kids really fought and tried and what they accomplished, I told them, this was the best group I’ve ever coached as far as really being coachable and wanting to learn. I’ve never coached a team this young. Never. Hope I don’t ever again,” Calipari said.
Then he even showed he still had his sense of humor.
“I think all these kids are coming back, so we should be good,” Calipari said.
That’s not going to happen with the NBA big bucks waiting, but it shows that Calipari truly had enjoyed this run.
“We’ve all had so much fun the last month,” Johnson said. “You hate to see it end this way, but what a month it has been. I’ll never forget it.”
By EDDIE PELLS
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — No conference wanted them. Several teammates and their coach left them. The NCAA kept them out for a year.
UConn won it all anyway.
Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky’s freshmen and a national title hardly anyone saw coming.
Napier had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.
Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.
“Honestly, I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier said. “You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”
Yes, it is only a short year since the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.
UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, Kentucky’s big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would’ve given the ‘Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.
One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky’s 11 missed free throws — a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah’s two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.
“We had our chances to win,” Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. We just didn’t have enough.”
In all, Calipari’s One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.
Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and all those other UConn champs of years past. This adds to the school’s titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
This one was, by far, the most unexpected.
A short year ago, UConn was preparing for its first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Longtime coach Jim Calhoun left because of health problems. And most damaging — the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.
Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun’s replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to get the most out of their grit and court sense.
“Coach Calhoun, the greatest coach ever,” Ollie said. “He paved the way we just walked through it.”
They were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.
Kentucky’s biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.
In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.
Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn’s next two possessions, and suddenly, that one-point lead was back up to five — fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament’s standards.
The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too. Big question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note.
They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.
But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission — a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.
Oh, what fun this was, though.
Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison’s face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.
He could also shoot it a bit — including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: “He shot that one from Fort Worth.”
They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.
If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.
UCONN 60, KENTUCKY 54
KENTUCKY (29-11): Young 5-13 8-9 20, Aa. Harrison 3-7 0-1 7, An. Harrison 3-9 0-0 8, Randle 3-7 4-7 10, Johnson 2-5 1-4 5, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Poythress 2-5 0-1 4, Hawkins 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-46 13-24 54.
UCONN (32-8): Nolan 0-3 0-0 0, Daniels 4-14 0-0 8, Giffey 3-7 2-2 10, Boatright 5-6 4-4 14, Napier 8-16 2-2 22, Samuel 1-1 0-0 2, Kromah 1-4 2-2 4, Brimah 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 10-10 60.
Halftime_UConn 35-31. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 5-16 (An. Harrison 2-4, Young 2-5, Aa. Harrison 1-5, Poythress 0-2), UConn 6-19 (Napier 4-9, Giffey 2-4, Boatright 0-1, Kromah 0-1, Daniels 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 33 (Young 7), UConn 34 (Daniels, Kromah, Napier 6). Assists_Kentucky 11 (An. Harrison 5), UConn 8 (Boatright, Napier 3). Total Fouls_Kentucky 10, UConn 17. A_79,238.
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