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Jeff Eisenberg

Five early defections again put Kentucky in rebuilding mode

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The fastbreak came as swiftly as any Kentucky had run this season.

Five pillars of the Wildcats team that won the SEC title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season made a joint announcement Wednesday evening that they intend to enter the NBA Draft.

That stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson are leaving is a mere formality, but some Kentucky fans had held out hope that freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton might stay for their sophomore years. Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points and hit 49 3-pointers this season, while Orton averaged just 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in a reserve role behind Patterson and Cousins.

"I've spoken with all five guys concerning the NBA and have encouraged them to put their names in the draft," Kentucky coach John Calipari said in a release. "They've all met individually with our compliance office to make sure they have a full understanding of eligibility rules and academic responsibilities. I'm so proud of these five young men, with everything they did for us on the court and the way they represented us off of it."

Although it's rare for five players to declare for the draft all at once like this, the reality is that none of these defections is a surprise. All five underclassmen are projected first-rounders, though Orton in particular could probably improve his stock by returning to school as the focal point of Kentucky's offense.

Underclassmen have until April 25 to declare for the draft and until May 8 to withdraw their name if they don't sign with an agent.

If all five players leave as expected, the challenge for Calipari will be to rebuild on the fly once again by signing another freshman class capable of contributing right away. Four-star small forward Stacey Poole has signed with Kentucky and five-star center Enes Kanter has committed, but Calipari remains involved with a handful of elite prospects still weighing their options heading into the spring signing period.

"It's extremely unusual for four freshmen from the same team to have this opportunity, but it’s my job as a coach to prepare these young men for such opportunities," Calipari said.

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