Everything was coming together. John Wall signed. Patrick Patterson returned. That recruiting class was, even without Wall, one of the best in the country. The "return to glory" motif that's followed John Calipari since he resigned at Memphis -- that comes with any new coaching hire at a legendary program, but especially in a pressure cooker like Kentucky -- was reaching a fever pitch. All the Wildcats needed now was Jodie Meeks, and surely he would return, and surely UK would be the preseason favorite, yes?
Not so fast. Perhaps suprisingly, Meeks decided in the past few hours that he is going to take his chances in the NBA draft. That's according to CatsPause, as well as John Calipari, who was diplomatic via Twitter this morning, saying he was "excited for him" and that he "wished he got a chance to coach him." So that's nice.
For Meeks, the decision is a slightly bold one. There had to be plenty of pressure from plenty of different people for him to return to Kentucky and for a deadly squad, pressure which probably increased after Patterson dropped out of the draft. Meeks's draft status is slightly questionable. Draft Express has Meeks in the low end of the second round at No. 17, and NBADraft.net doesn't even have him on the board. Meeks is an excellent shooter and scorer who struggles athletically, but he might be a little underrated there. Either way, it was a ballsy decision for someone without a draft guarantee, especially given what Meeks will be leaving behind.
Exactly what Meeks is leaving behind varies greatly based on his decision. With Meeks, Kentucky was terrifying and whole; they'd be coupling new point guard John Wall with perhaps the country's best shooter and one of its best big men, not to mention backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and Kentucky's bevy of young former Memphis recruits. Without Meeks, the Wildcats still have all that talent, but they lack outside shooting. They will look like so many other Calipari teams: athletic, fast, and mostly shaky from the three point line.
That formula worked just fine at Memphis, and it will work again this year at Kentucky. (And in perpetuity.) But it's hard not to think of what could have been -- what unique heights the Wildcats could have scaled in Calipari's firstyear -- if Meeks had chosen differently.
(Update: USC's Taj Gibson is joining him. More later as needed.)