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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Kentucky’s five underclassmen all turn pro, clearing space for the next batch of stars

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

A few minutes into his soliloquy to open Tuesday evening's press conference, Kentucky coach John Calipari finally arrived at the part of his speech in which he planned to reveal the future plans of the five underclassmen seated next to him.

First he announced the players to his right, Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, were entering the NBA draft as expected. Then he paused dramatically as though there was a chance the freshmen to his left, Michael Kidd Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, might be returning to school.

"I tried to scare some coaches out there," Calipari said. "That's all I was doing."

There's no need for alarm in Gainesville or Bloomington or Louisville because the five freshmen or sophomores who started for Kentucky's national championship team last season are NBA-bound as expected. Those five and senior sixth man Darius Miller accounted for 92.2 percent of the Wildcats' scoring last season and all but 14 of their 488 NCAA tournament points.

[ Pat Forde: Wildcats will be fine with new crop of talent coming ]

Despite those staggering totals, this was still a day of celebration in the Commonwealth rather than a day of mourning.

First, the nationally televised news conference was a dream infomercial for Calipari, whose sales pitch to top prospects has been that his program prepares them better and quicker for the NBA than anyone else does. Secondly, Kentucky certainly won't suffer through a rebuilding year next season even though the core of this year's title team is moving on.

Calipari has once again signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class headlined by Rivals.com's No. 1 class of 2012 prospect, center Nerlens Noel, and a handful of other guys capable of making an immediate impact. Add in sweet-shooting returner Kyle Wiltjer and highly touted NC State transfer point guard Ryan Harrow, and Kentucky has the talent to contend for a third consecutive Final Four.

The most intriguing question following Tuesday's news conference is not about Kentucky's future but the future of the players on the podium. Can those underclassmen and Miller match or exceed what Kentucky did two years ago when it became the first school ever to produce five first-round picks in the same draft?

Early indications are that going six-for-six may be too much to ask, but landing five in the first round is conceivable.

[ Related: Kentucky's 6-foot-11 Eloy Vargas has impromptu prom date ]

Davis is a virtual lock to be the No. 1 overall pick, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones should be gone before the end of the lottery and Teague will go in the latter half of the first round in what promises to be a weak draft for point guards. On the fringes that leaves Lamb and Miller, the former a deadly shooter whose NCAA tournament success may help him crack the first round and the latter a likely second-round pick with the chance to make an NBA roster as a role player.

If Tuesday night's news conference turned into a recruiting pitch for Kentucky, then draft night will be an even greater stage and spectacle.

Two years ago, Calipari drew the ire of his championship-hungry fans when he called draft night the "biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball." He likely won't make that mistake a second time, but rest assured he'll capitalize on the forum to remind potential future players of the doors playing at Kentucky can open.

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