Who’s coming? Who’s going?
Actually, who’s coming to Kentucky to play basketball is a lot easier to answer now than who is leaving the team.
But three players are leaving. Or at least going off scholarship.
Kentucky finished last season with 13 scholarship players on coach Billy Gillispie’s roster. That’s the NCAA maximum.
One player, Jared Carter, has been at UK for four years and even Gillispie made it clear he would not be back on scholarship. Another player, junior point guard Michael Porter, announced last month he had decided not to play next season for personal reasons.
That leaves 11 returning players for new coach John Calipari. However, he’s also signed three players – DeMarcus Cousins, Darnell Dodson and Eric Bledsoe – and kept two Gillispie signees – Daniel Orton and Jon Hood. That’s 16 potential scholarship players when only 13 are allowed.
So who will Calipari cut, or encourage to leave?
There’s one given, freshman guard Donald Williams. Even though he was redshirted last season, Gillispie had already indicated to him that his scholarship likely would not be renewed.
There are two possibles, junior Jodie Meeks and sophomore Patrick Patterson. Both put their name into the NBA Draft and have yet to withdraw it. The smart thinking is that Meeks will see another year of college, especially since Calipari’s system will benefit him. Patterson is projected as a potential first-round pick, but not until late in the round.
If both are back, that means two more players have to go. Who will they be?
Likely to return
First, let’s look at who is most likely to be back.
Start with freshman forward Darius Miller. He had an up and down season under Gillispie, but he flourished early in the workouts with Calipari. He’s easily UK’s most talented returning player after Patterson and Meeks. He’s a lock to return.
Perry Stevenson has played in 100 games and started 41 in his three years. He’s a proven shot blocker and an inconsistent scorer and rebounder. Yet his experience could be valuable, especially when he has to play a supporting role that he seems to prefer rather than a starring role.
Sophomore Matt Pilgrim transferred to UK last year and his teammates raved about his play in practice. His physical play and demeanor will suit Calipari.
That leaves five players – freshman DeAndre Liggins, sophomore A.J. Stewart, sophomore Josh Harrellson, junior Kevin Galloway and junior Ramon Harris – vying for the three remaining roster spots.
If none “volunteer” to transfer on their own, who will Calipari ask to say adios to UK?
Harris should be safe. His role likely will diminish, but he’s a garbage player – and that’s not an insult. He’ll play defense, rebound, pass. He doesn’t have an ego that will cause problems when he comes off the bench rather than starting.
Liggins should get a year to see if Calipari’s fast-paced offense really is a good fit for his fast-paced game. Liggins matured last year even though he often was confused by what Gillispie wanted. It’s not a given he’ll return, but I think Calipari will roll the dice with him.
That leaves Harrellson, Stewart and Galloway. Harrellson seems the most logical choice of those to be gone. He’s not as athletic, strong or fast as Cousins, Orton, Pilgrim, Patterson or Stevenson. Harrellson has made it clear he doesn’t want to leave, but if he stays it likely will not be on scholarship.
Galloway or Stewart? Stewart may actually have the better overall athleticism. However, his two years were filled with a series of misadventures from sleeping in a team meeting to missing class to allegedly briefly leaving the team after a loss last year. He doesn’t seem to have that burning passion to become a great player even though he’s extremely popular with his teammates.
Galloway won’t play a lot and if UK was to sign point guard John Wall and both Patterson and Meeks return, then he likely will need to find another school as well. But with today’s numbers, Galloway seems the safer pick to assure better team chemistry than there might be with the fun-loving Stewart on the roster.
The numbers always work out. They will this time, too. It’s just that we may have to wait to see what Wall, Patterson and Meeks all do before Calipari juggles his balance sheet and churns out the final tally for us all to see.