John Calipari’s remarkable ability to reload on the fly may be tested like it seldom has before next season.
Kentucky is likely to lose as many as eight of its top nine scorers after reserve forward Isaac Humphries announced on Wednesday that he’s turning pro with the intent of hiring an agent.
Humphries is the fifth Kentucky player to declare for the NBA draft since the Wildcats lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight last month. Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Humphries are definitely forgoing their remaining eligibility, while freshman big man Bam Adebayo has preserved the possibility of returning to school by not hiring an agent for now.
With Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder all set to graduate this spring, freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel is the only Kentucky rotation player definitely returning. Gabriel averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game last season, showcasing exemplary defensive tools but struggling to make an impact offensively.
A mass exodus each spring is the new normal at Kentucky under Calipari, but seldom have the Wildcats endured a talent drain quite like this.
Kentucky lost seven of its top eight players after it won the 2012 national title as only key reserve Kyle Wiltjer didn’t either graduate or enter the NBA draft. The Wildcats also lost their seven leading scorers off their 2014-15 team that completed the regular season undefeated, but injured forward Alex Poythress came back the following year and key reserves Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee also returned.
As usual under Calipari, Kentucky will attempt to reload behind a talent-laden group of freshmen.
The Wildcats landed the nation’s No. 1 rated class highlighted by guards Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green and forwards P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt. They also remain in pursuit of elite 6-foot-11 forward Mohamed Bamba and sharpshooting Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson.
The importance of landing Bamba increases if neither Humphries nor Adebayo return next season.
Adebayo became a double-double machine during the second half of his freshman season, but questions about his ability to score away from the rim or finish against NBA-caliber length have made it uncertain whether he’d be taken in the first round this June. Humphries is unlikely to be selected at all in the NBA draft, but the 7-foot Australia native should have a long career overseas because of his combination of size, rebounding and outside shooting ability.
“I will do whatever I can to help his dreams come true,” Calipari said. “You’re talking about a 7-footer who can shoot and can rebound. That has value anywhere in the world. He’s also just 19 years old, the youngest sophomore in the country this past season. Everyone forgets how young he is and how much he’s going to continue to grow and develop. He’s only going to get better and better.”
Regardless, Humphries’ decision makes Calipari’s job tougher next season.
Calipari’s best Kentucky teams have typically had a couple of veterans to provide guidance and leadership. Next year, he likely won’t have that luxury.
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