Though the NBA's early-entry deadline isn't until Sunday evening, college basketball's underclassmen have almost all already announced their draft decisions. Below is a look at the programs who emerged as winners this draft declaration season. Check back Sunday for a look at the losers.
EARLY-ENTRY PERIOD WINNERS:
Who left early: Julius Randle, F, Fr.; James Young, G, Fr.
Who Stayed: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, So.; Marcus Lee, F, Fr., Alex Poythress, F, So.; Dakari Johnson, C, Fr.; Andrew Harrison, G, Fr.; Aaron Harrison, G, Fr.
Outlook: For a program known for sending players to the NBA as quickly as possible, Kentucky has a remarkable number of prospects returning next season. Eight Wildcats were considered potential draft picks this June had they turned pro, yet all but Randle and Young will be back. Cauley-Stein was a near-certain first-round pick had he left. Johnson and the Harrison twins may have gone in the first round too, while Poythress and Lee were more likely to be second rounders. Instead all six are returning and will be joined by four highly touted freshmen, making Kentucky the favorite to be crowned preseason No. 1. The presence of nine McDonald's All-Americans plus Cauley-Stein ensures the Wildcats will be two or three deep at every position but it also could create some headaches for John Calipari as he tries to find enough playing time to satisfy everyone.
Who left early: Nobody
Who Stayed: Frank Kaminsky, F, Jr.; Sam Dekker, F, So.
Outlook: Immediately after Wisconsin's heart-wrenching national semifinal loss to Kentucky, standout forwards Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky both pledged they would return to school. Kaminsky apparently wavered a bit since his brilliant NCAA tournament elevated his stock to the point that he might have gone late in the first round, but in the end both stayed true to their word. The result is Wisconsin should have a great chance to not only win the Big Ten but also return to the Final Four and perhaps finish what it started. Every key player from last season is back except shooting guard Ben Brust, who will graduate this spring. Bo Ryan can keep a three-guard look by inserting Bronson Koenig in the starting lineup in place of Brust or go bigger by sliding Dekker from power forward to small forward and giving power forward Nigel Hayes a starting spot. Promising freshman Ethan Happ also should provide frontcourt depth.
Who left early: Nobody
Who Stayed: Montrezl Harrell, F, So.
Outlook: Had Montrezl Harrell entered the NBA draft as expected, Louisville likely would have begun the season on the fringes of the preseason top 25. Instead the 6-foot-8 forward is returning for his junior season, giving the Cardinals hope of contending in their debut season in the ACC and reaching a third Final Four in four seasons. Harrell likely would have been selected in the first round had he turned pro, but he came back to try to play his way into the lottery. His return solidifies a Louisville front court that was supposed to be a concern with Chane Behanan gone and Stephan Van Treese graduating. Harrell and raw but promising center Mangok Mathiang would likely start, with Wayne Blackshear probably sliding down to power forward sporadically and heralded freshmen Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku supporting that group off the bench. Throw in a formidable backcourt headlined by Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, and Louisville clearly has top 10 potential.
Who left early: Aaron Gordon, F, Fr.; Nick Johnson, G, Jr.
Who Stayed: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, G, Fr.; Kaleb Tarczewski, C, So.; Brandon Ashley, F, So.
Outlook: Why is Arizona an early-entry deadline winner despite losing Gordon and Johnson to the NBA? Because that's all the Wildcats lost. Hollis-Jefferson flashed enough potential as a slasher and defender that an NBA team might have taken him in the first round despite his lack of jump shot, while Tarczewski developed enough as a sophomore to merit second round consideration. Both can certainly improve their stock by returning, but as Arizona found out with Grant Jerrett last season, players don't always make the mature decisions Hollis-Jefferson and Tarczewski did. As a result of their patience, Arizona is well positioned to contend for a national title again this season. T.J. McConnell will start at point guard with Hollis-Jefferson and elite recruit Stanley Johnson on the wings and Gabe York providing outside shooting off the bench. Tarczewski and Ashley will anchor the frontcourt and the Wildcats will have more post depth than last year thanks to their incoming class.
Florida — Power forward Chris Walker wisely waited a year to turn pro, giving him a chance to prove himself with a full year in the program and the Gators the frontcourt anchor they need.
LSU — Lost all-SEC forward Johnny O'Bryant a year early as expected, but the return of Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey should keep the Tigers in NCAA tournament contention.
North Carolina — The Tar Heels can survive the loss of James Michael-McAdoo. They couldn't have contended in the ACC had Marcus Paige left too.
Nebraska — Potential second-round pick Terran Petteway never even flirted with the idea of leaving for the NBA. That's huge for a Huskers program now set up for a big season.
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