The countdown continues as Kentucky men’s basketball waits for stay-or-go decisions to be announced by the likes of Chris Livingston, Antonio Reeves and Oscar Tshiebwe, the three UK players from last season whose names are still part of the NBA Draft process.
That trio of key players from last season’s team has until May 31 to either remove their names from the draft, or to remain in and begin their professional basketball careers.
All the while, UK’s roster construction for next season continues to come under criticism.
Currently, John Calipari only has seven scholarship players for next season, five of them being incoming freshmen. This has heightened the focus on Kentucky’s failings in the NCAA transfer portal this offseason, which has seen the Cats whiff on desired players like Hunter Dickinson and Keshad Johnson.
But there are still players left to be recruited in the portal, and new names continue to be linked to Kentucky.
Additionally, all the players who left UK this offseason to transfer have now announced their new college homes.
Former St. John’s forward David Jones is new UK transfer target
David Jones has already spent time at two schools during his college basketball career, and he’s looking for a third.
A class of 2020 recruit, Jones — who is from the Dominican Republic and has extensive international playing experience representing his country — spent two seasons at DePaul and last season at St. John’s, both in the Big East.
Now, the 6-foot-6 Jones is being courted by several big-name programs in his pursuit of a third school: Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and UConn are among the schools that have reportedly contacted Jones since he entered the transfer portal in early April, following a coaching change that saw Rick Pitino take over the Red Storm.
Jones had a breakout sophomore season at DePaul with per-game averages of 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds. Last season at St. John’s, he logged more than 25 minutes per game with averages of 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Jones is a career 28.4% three-point shooter and a career 73% free-throw shooter at the college level.
According to college basketball statistician Evan Miyakawa’s rankings, Jones is the 55th-best player to have entered the transfer portal this offseason (out of more than 1,660 players).
Jones isn’t a new name to UK fans who closely follow recruiting: He took an unofficial visit to Kentucky in February 2020 during his initial high school recruitment.
While Jones is the latest in a long list of transfer portal players to have been linked to Kentucky over the last few weeks, it’s worth remembering that graduate transfers can enter the portal at any time.
So as long as Kentucky’s roster remains lacking for experience (and at this point, bodies), you can be sure new names will appear on UK’s radar.
And with the next week also promising to offer roster clarity with UK’s stay-or-go NBA Draft decisions, some analysts think this will aid the Cats in the transfer portal.
Isaac Trotter, a national college basketball writer for 247Sports, told the Herald-Leader that by retaining players like Tshiebwe or Reeves, UK will be able to better assign roles to players for next season, including potential transfers.
“It also gives Kentucky some defined roles for its freshmen and makes the sell in the portal to some really good players like Creighton wing Arthur Kaluma or St. John’s wing David Jones a little more feasible,” Trotter said. “Playing with an offensive rebounder like Tshiebwe and a sniper like Reeves is attractive. I’d be stunned if Kentucky keeps whiffing in the portal after Tshiebwe and Reeves make their respective decisions.”
In addition to Jones, the Wildcats have also been linked to former Tennessee forward Julian Phillips, who entered the transfer portal just before it closed to non-grad transfers earlier this month.
Phillips — a 6-8 forward who was a five-star recruit in the 2022 class — also has his name entered in the 2023 NBA Draft, and he’s expected to take all the way until the May 31 deadline to determine if he will begin his pro career or return to college.
If the latter occurs, Kentucky has been reported as a school with serious interest in what would be a second-year frontcourt player.
Phillips averaged 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game during his freshman season. He shot better than 41% from the field and better than 82% from the free-throw line, but he shot worse than 24% on three-point shots.
According to Miyakawa’s rankings, Phillips is the ninth-best player to have entered the transfer portal this offseason (out of more than 1,660 players).
Something that’s important to note with Phillips as a potential transfer option?
He will need an SEC waiver if he wants to return to college and play for an SEC school, according to Travis Branham of 247Sports.
Daimion Collins announces new school
It took more than a month, but Daimion Collins has found a new home via the NCAA transfer portal.
After spending two seasons at UK, the 6-9 forward from northeastern Texas will be transferring to LSU, where he will have two seasons of college eligibility left.
A former McDonald’s All-American and the No. 14 overall recruit in the 2021 class — according to the 247Sports rankings — Collins averaged 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 7.5 minutes per game as a freshman during the 2021-22 season.
His sophomore season with the Wildcats was derailed by tragedy following the death of his father, Ben, in Lexington just two days before UK’s exhibition opener.
In January, a foot injury sidelined Collins for three weeks, further affecting his development.
Collins ultimately averaged 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.9 minutes per game last season for the Cats.
According to Miyakawa’s rankings, Collins is the 157th-best player to have entered the transfer portal this offseason (out of more than 1,660 players).
Collins becomes the fourth and final player from last season’s Kentucky team to transfer to a new school, although he’s the only player that will remain in the SEC.
Guard CJ Fredrick is now at Cincinnati, forward Lance Ware is now at Villanova and guard Sahvir Wheeler continued the trend of UK to Pac-12 transfers by opting to go to Washington.
Less than a week remains for Tshiebwe, others to announce decisions
The deadline for players to decide whether to remain in the NBA Draft or return to school is May 31 at 11:59 p.m.
This means that within the next week, we will know whether or not Livingston, Reeves and Tshiebwe will be Wildcats next season.
Here’s a current breakdown of the scholarship players joining and leaving the Cats, along with the question marks that still exist for next season’s team.
Incoming players: Aaron Bradshaw (freshman center), Robert Dillingham (freshman guard), Justin Edwards (freshman small forward), Reed Sheppard (freshman guard), DJ Wagner (freshman guard).
Returning players: Brennan Canada (fifth-year guard), Ugonna Onyenso (sophomore forward), Adou Thiero (sophomore guard).
Outgoing players: Daimion Collins (forward, transferred to LSU), CJ Fredrick (guard, transferred to Cincinnati), Jacob Toppin (forward, NBA Draft), Cason Wallace (guard, NBA Draft), Lance Ware (forward, transferred to Villanova), Sahvir Wheeler (guard, transferred to Washington).
Yet-to-be announced: Chris Livingston (forward), Antonio Reeves (guard), Oscar Tshiebwe (forward).