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Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection James Young will forego his sophomore season and enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft.

“My time at Kentucky has been special to me, something I’ll always treasure, but I feel that I’m ready to take the next step to the NBA,” Young said. “I’ve learned more this year, on and off the court, about life from Coach Cal and the staff and appreciate all of their guidance and support. I can’t say enough about my teammates; the journey helped us build a bond that we will always share for the rest of our lives.  I would like to thank the best fans in the country, the Big Blue Nation, and I hope you guys will continue to support me as I move on. I will always bleed blue. Succeed and Proceed!”

The Rochester Hills, Mich., native knocked down a squad-best 82 3-pointers, the seventh most in a single season inprogram history and second most by a UK freshman. He shot 42.6 percent from behind the arc and better than 85 percent from the free-throw line in the NCAA Tournament.Young averaged 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in the Final Four en route to Final Four All-Tournament Team honors.

“I’m excited for James and his family and the decision he’s come to,” head coach John Calipari said. “From day one, the NBA people who came to our practices in the preseasonraved about him. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him all season, investing himself in his brothers for the betterment of the team, and I think we all saw the end result in the tournament and Final Four. Whatever team drafts James is not only getting a superb athlete, they are getting the ultimate teammate.”

Young collected All-SEC Second-Team and All-SEC Freshman Team honors after logging 30 double-figure scoring efforts on the season. He received national player of the week honors after delivering a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) against No. 6/4 Louisville in the regular season. He followed that performance with a 26-point, 10-rebound performance in UK’s SEC opener against Mississippi State. It was one of his team-high nine 20-point efforts on the season.

The NBA Draft lottery is scheduled for May 20, and the 2014 NBA Draft will take place June 26.

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

Kentucky coach John Calipari did nothing to totally rule out a rumor that Kentucky might take an exhibition basketball trip to Spain this summer when asked about it Thursday.

“We will probably do something this summer, but there is not a total decision on what that will be,” said Calipari, who took a team to Canada in 2010. “It will probably be something with the World Games. That means we might get beat up because there will be NBA players on those teams, but it will be a good experience.”

Calipari also said he had yet to formally interview about possible candidates to replace Orlando Antigua on his coaching staff after he accepted the head coaching job at South Florida.

The UK coach said he had “not slowed down” since the title game loss to Connecticut because of recruiting and various media outings to promote his new book.

“I have not slowed down or I would think about that last game and it being a one-point game for five possessions and they eventually make a shot and then I would want to jump off a bridge,” Calipari joked. “I am not looking back.”

He did say he would slow down May 2nd when he has hip replacement surgery that will require about a one-month recovery.  His surgery will be done in Lexington.

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

As Kentucky fans wait to see what twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison are going to decide about the NBA draft, speculation continues as to exactly what type of information that might be getting from NBA sources.

Some indicate the twins could both be late first-round picks. Some say neither will go in the first round. Some reports have the twins playing regular pick-up games at UK now, a sign they could be more focused on next year at Kentucky than the NBA draft.

I asked Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, if the Harrisons helped their draft status with their NCAA Tournament play and how would he evaluate their status today. Here’s what he said:

“While Aaron Harrison provided some tremendous moments, he really was a non-factor for much of the tournament. Andrew did well when he stuck to the one thing he is very good at, driving to the basket and drawing fouls,” said Isaacson. “At points you could see the ‘tweak’ that was implemented to get him to pass more, but the results were too inconsistent to say it was a factor in the tournament run.

“If they were to come out, I don’t see them gaining any real value from the tournament run, and if they were to make a move up the draft, it would have to come in stellar showings during workouts. If they were to come out, I have a hard time thinking they drop out of the first round, but I would put Aaron’s value in the low 20′s and Andrew’s in the high 20′s to mid 30′s.

“There is still plenty of potential in both of them, but, as I’ve mentioned many times, changes need to start with their attitude on the court.”

Willie Cauley-Stein celebrates a big play for the Cats. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Willie Cauley-Stein celebrates a big play for the Cats. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

If you want to see why Karl Towns such be a good fit for Kentucky next year and likely a player fans are going to embrace from day one, just look at his reaction to news that Willie Cauley-Stein will be back at UK — a move that likely will cost Towns playing time but make the Cats a better team.

“A little surprised but happy he will be coming back to help us do something special,” Towns told SNY.tv. “It will be a blast playing with him.”

Guessing here that Cauley-Stein will feel the same way about Towns.

Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

By LARRY VAUGHT

First came the DraftExpress.com speculation that Kentucky signee Karl Towns Jr. could possibly develop into the top pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Now this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated lists what it considers the top five recruits for the next college basketball season. Towns is not one the list, but Indiana Mr. Basketball Trey Lyles — another UK signee — is along with Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Cliff Alexander of Kansas, Stanley Johnson of Arizona and Myles Turner, who has not picked a school (and remember that UK was actively involved in the recruiting of all five).

Here’s what Sports Illustrated had to say about Lyles: “Combines a diverse repertoire in the post (6-10, 245 pounds) with an advanced perimeter game. His strong ballhandling makes him an intriguing point-forward prospect.”

I got to watch Lyles play in three different events, including the Indiana state championship game, last season and came away more and more impressed. He will rebound. He will handle the ball. He will pass. He will make free throws. He can make 3-point shots. He will play defense.

And he understands the team concept because his father as well as his high school coach always emphasized that to him.

So while he’s not been as highly touted by some as say Anthony Davis or Julius Randle were, Lyles continues to impress more and more who see him and the idea of a point-forward in indeed intriguing.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

By LINDA SINCLAIR

We passed through one of the most wearisome and frustrating seasons we have ever had with Coach Cal. Don’t compare it to psycho coach or slow ball, please. A lot of us lost faith; some wanted Cal’s head on a platter, others could not learn to love the players, and then many were desperate — and if you were like me you were going crazy.

As noted in many post and stories we went from the #1 recruiting class ever assembled to falling out of the rankings altogether and then we end up at the Senior Prom competing for Prom King. We ended up in second place and could not wear the crown home but we can be proud of the way the young men finally learned to play together and be brothers.

I did not think it would happen especially so late in the season. Who would have thought such a thing could have taken place? WOW! I admit I was frustrated and upset but I was still bleeding blue even if it was a trickle instead of a full flow.

We have our Willie back and Marcus Lee is coming back, smart move … one game does not make an NBA player. Now we must sit back and patiently twiddle our thumbs and keep our eyes and ears open in hopes that more of our young men return.
If they don’t, so be it, it is their life not ours. We cannot judge them; we do not know what it is like to play in their shoes. We have never had their dreams or talent. No matter how many more come back for next year, we will be fine. I believe in Cal and wear my UK Blue proudly.
Born a Wildcat Fan, Still a Wildcat Fan, Always a Wildcat Fan.
Karl Towns photo courtesy MSG

Karl Towns photo courtesy MSG

By LARRY VAUGHT

While looking back through some information on the Nike Hoop Summit, I came across this evaluation of the game’s most undervalued players by Jamie Cooper of dimemag.com.

Kentucky signee Karl Towns Jr., the 7-foot player from New Jersey who played on the World team for the second straight year, was one of the players mentioned. Here’s what Cooper wrote before the game:

“ESPN has him ranked ninth, while DraftExpress  has him at number six, but the growing perception seems to be that Towns could potentially end up as a top-three lottery pick next summer. In fact, by the second practice session this week, one scout was already half-joking that the top two prospects were actually on the World Select Team (Towns and UK signee Trey Lyles) and not, in fact, hailing from the Windy City. I’m not completely sold on Lyles just yet, partially because I just haven’t seen enough of him, but Towns, on the other hand, is already showing signs of the type of physical maturity that will ultimately set him apart from someone like Okafor, who has a much less impressive physique.

“Beyond that, Towns is arguably the most versatile player of the bunch. He has solid footwork and a soft touch around the rim (with plenty of room for improvement), unlimited range on his jump shot, and great rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the No. 1 pick (in the NBA draft) next summer (2015).”

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) saves the ball from going out as Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky (44) defends during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) saves the ball from going out as Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky (44) defends during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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.”

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