Class of 2016: Who’s out the Door?

After the 2009-10 season, I hoped against hope that John Wall would return. He had been saying how much he enjoyed his Kentucky experience.

I was wrong.

A year later, in the spring of 2011, I hoped against hope that Brandon Knight would return. Getting to the Final Four and emerging with unfinished business might inspire him to come back and finish that business.

Again, I was wrong.

I even thought Anthony Davis might return, to work on his offensive game and fill out his physique.

Whoa, how wrong was that?

And wrong as well about Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Marquis Teague, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Devin Booker, Dakari Johnson. I thought I could make a case for every one of them returning. None of them sought my advice.

So perhaps my thoughts about this year’s team, as the time for making such decisions approaches, are more wishful thinking than clear-headed analysis. After all, how many of us can actually get inside any of these players’ minds?

Jamal Murray seems the one slam dunk to turn pro. Once the tears and disappointment of his last UK game against Indiana have dried, he seems to have little to prove. Everyone could see his scoring prowess and his ability to generate offense.

Last spring, when we were first being exposed to these new recruiting targets, I watched video of Murray’s game and thought he had an odd release. He shot less, in classic form, from the top of his extension (think Allan Houston) – more from his shoulders.

I thought that might even lead to getting some shots blocked. Strangely, that never was a problem until the IU game, when he had two 3-point attempts deflected. One could write that off to the desperation he was feeling. Or maybe a flaw in his game had been uncovered.

Either way, I doubt that it would deter any pro team from grabbing Murray, likely among the lottery picks.

Tyler Ulis also seems out the door. His height might have been a mitigating factor a year ago. Now, everyone knows he can play anywhere with anyone. I can’t imagine what might bring him back unless he too feels he has some unfinished business to take care of.

But after watching six of John Calipari’s seven Kentucky teams fall short of the NCAA championship – three of them after reaching the Final Four – I now know that an 18 or 19-year-old’s emotions soon turn to the ambition all of them bring to college, that of moving on to a level where they get paid well for playing the game they love.

So, sadly, goodbye and good luck, Tyler. You were an amazing joy to watch.

Skal Labissiere has been the most tantalizing of the prospects. Thinking back a year, everyone was calling him a sure-fire All-American and the first pick in the 2016 draft. A year later, the thoughts that come to mind are “disappointing” and “how could everyone have been so wrong?”

Calipari tried to protect the kid by explaining that he really hadn’t played much competitive basketball, but I can’t imagine that’s something he only recently discovered. With Skal’s lack of experience, you wonder why he made him the centerpiece of his recruiting.

But even as Skal’s production diminished and his weaknesses emerged, his size didn’t change. Many people were still proclaiming him a lottery pick. Do NBA teams really fork out millions of dollars on potential? Apparently so, if a kid is 7-feet-tall.

I think he ought to come back. An article recently said that despite the incredible recruiting class about to land in Lexington, the Cats still lack a center. How much better Skal could become with months spent in the weight room and in the gym with Kenny Payne, without the burden of making an NBA roster and justifying the huge investment.

But Skal might have other people in his ear who have only the investment in mind. And anyway, how can you convince anybody to walk away from several million dollars, if only deferring it for a year?

Isaiah Briscoe could definitely benefit from another year. He was so hyped coming in, but I wonder how the NBA feels about an ordinary shooter who struggles at the free-throw line. On the other hand, Briscoe is a fine athlete, strong and well built, a determined defender. Sounds like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and he was the second pick of the 2012 draft. Of course, MKG is 6-9; Briscoe isn’t.

As noted though, I’ve been wrong before. VT