An Updated Look at UK’s Roster For Next Season

Yesterday Mohamed Bamba announced his commitment to Texas which gave us a much clearer picture of what next years roster will look like.  One large lingering question mark by the name of Hamidou Diallo remains.  He has until May 24th to withdraw from the NBA draft or leave his name in.  He has done several workouts with various NBA teams and is gathering feedback from them.  Cal is also getting information from teams on his draft stock so he can help him make an informed decision.  If a team is willing to give him a guarantee that they will draft him in the first round it may be tough for him to pass up.  If he plays a year at Kentucky he could see his draft stock move up into the lottery but that is no guaranteed thing.  At this point he is an unknown commodity but after a year in college he will not have that luxury which could either help or hurt him.  If he does not perform as well as expected it is possible that his draft stock could get worse.  With that said I would be fairly shocked if that happened because he is a legit elite level player that would excel in Cal’s system.  On top of that the draft after a year at Kentucky appears to be a little more thin which would also help him move up.  Ultimately it all depends on if any teams give him a guarantee in this draft and if that slot is high enough in his eyes.  It could go either way but I still believe there is a very realistic chance that he opts to return to Kentucky.  Missing on Bamba was a bit of a bummer but the truth is that Kentucky needs Diallo much more than they needed Bamba.  For now here is a quick rundown of the roster as we know it.

  1. C-Nick Richards 7’0- The biggest reason that missing on Bamba does not hurt the Cats badly is Nick Richards.  He is a top 15 recruit that is already projected as a top 20 draft pick in the 2018 NBA draft.  He is a raw player that is still learning the game of basketball but he is very talented.  Offensively he is just as good if not better than Bamba and defensively he is getting better and better.  He will be a better shot blocker than the Cats have had the last two seasons.  He rebounds at a high level and has a very good motor.  The Cats have a lot of offensive weapons which will allow Richards to focus on defense and crashing the glass.  He is being undervalued by most fans and should be a very pleasant surprise for them when they see him play in October.  He will likely start from day one.
  2. C-Sacha Killeya-Jones 6’11- An unfortunate side effect of the one and done era is that fans often write off a player that does not come in and contribute immediately.  The biggest reason that SKJ did not see much time on the floor last season was simply that he was not ready physically for this level of basketball.  He is a skilled offensive player that can make shots away from the basket and also has the length to challenge guys at the rim.  With a year of strength and conditioning under his belt I fully expect to see a much different player next season.  He will most likely be the back up center to Richards and play a much larger role than he did last season.
  3. C-Tai Wynyard 6’10- He had a few bright moments last season but for the most part he was buried on the bench.  He will likely be the third option at center once again but he will have another season under his belt and be more prepared if needed.  Foul trouble and injuries will likely dictate how much he plays from game to game.  He is also a good piece to have available if Kentucky faces a physical opponent and Cal needs a big body to give him some minutes.
  4. F-Wenyen Gabriel 6’9- It was an up and down freshman season for Gabriel but he certainly showed flashes of his high potential.  For whatever reason some fans seemed to get down on him but he should be a big part of the Cats success next season.  Similar to SKJ he needs to get stronger so he can compete at the highest level.  He plays as hard as any player and has a strong work ethic which should serve him very well this off season.  He shot 32% from three and should be able to improve on those numbers next season.  He will be a candidate to start at power forward but whether he starts or not he will get a lot of minutes next year.  If Cal opts to go to a small lineup at times he could slide over to the center spot.  Fans should be excited to see how his game expands in year two.
  5. F-PJ Washington 6’8- As another top 15 recruit PJ is a versatile forward that can play either the three or the four spot.  He is a high level rebounder and is also a solid shooter capable of making shots from beyond the 3-point line.  Like Gabriel he will play a lot of minutes whether he starts or not.  He is not currently projected as a one and done player so he may be a guy that fans get to enjoy for a couple of seasons.
  6. F-Jarred Vanderbilt 6’9- He is ranked 11th in his recruiting class and will play multiple positions next season.  He will primarily play the three and four but could even see some time defending the two spot.  He is a skilled ball handler and excellent passer that should be great in the open floor.  He is a decent shooter from outside but that is the main area that he needs to work on this summer.  He is a likely one and done candidate but that is not a forgone conclusion just yet.  He should be a fan favorite from day one because of how he plays the game.
  7. F-Kevin Knox 6’9- He was the surprise addition of the class and it was huge for the Cats roster next season.  He is a top 10 recruit and will almost certainly only play one year in Lexington.  He can score from outside as well as on drives to the basket.  He handles the ball well and will mostly play either the three or the two.  Yes Cal plans to play him at shooting guard some.  How much depends on if Diallo returns or not.  If he returns Knox will slide over there when Diallo goes to the bench.  If Diallo stays in the draft Knox will probably start at shooting guard.  He is a unique talent that Cal has not really had at Kentucky.  The last Wildcat with a game that seems comparable to Knox might be Tayshaun Prince although that is not a perfect comparison by any means.  He will start from day one and will be a strong candidate for leading the team in scoring.
  8. G-Quade Green 6’1- He is a top 25 recruit and the next point guard up in Cal’s system.  He is a floor leader whose game will resemble Tyler Ulis.  He does not have the same kind of quickness that Tyler had but he sees the game in a similar way and plays smart.  He is a very capable shooter from deep and could lead the team in made 3-point shots.  He is known as a tough defender and a leader.  Due to his size he will probably play more than one season at Kentucky but he is better than fans realize.  He should be the perfect facilitator for a team loaded with offensive weapons.
  9. G-Shai Alexander 6’6- He is a top 30 recruit that will play a very valuable role for the Cats next season.  He will be the back up point guard to Green but he will also play with him on many occasions.  If Diallo stays in the draft Alexander will play a lot more and would have a chance to start at shooting guard.  He is a long guard with a high motor and a developing game.  He could end up as a two and done player unless he really takes off this coming season.  His versatility will give Cal a lot of lineup flexibility.  He will also be very important if Diallo does not return.
  10. G-Jemarl Baker 6’4- He is the best shooter on the roster hands down and is a top 75 recruit.  His role on this coming team depends heavily on what Diallo decides to do.  If Diallo is not on the roster Baker will have a regular spot in the rotation but with Diallo it is way more up in the air.  I expect him to play a role similar to Mychal Mulder but his role could get smaller or bigger depending on other factors.  There is also the chance that he ends up being better than his ranking and forcing his way into the rotation.  He projects as a very solid multi-year guard that will give Cal some roster stability.
  11. G- Diallo or Cam Johnson???- The best case scenario would be for Diallo to return and slide into the starting shooting guard spot.  He would battle with Knox as the leading scorer on the team as well as being a dynamic defender.  The next best scenario would be that Diallo stays in the draft and the Cats land Pittsburgh grad transfer Cam Johnson.  He is a great shooter from deep and would give the roster some needed experience.  He is not nearly the defender that Diallo is but he would help offset his loss.  Worst case scenario they get neither and go with the above roster.  Even in that scenario it should be a team that is capable of doing big things in March but they will take a couple more lumps early in the season.

With May 24th rapidly approaching fans will know the final roster fairly soon.  For the time being the above roster is an impressive group that will be very fun to watch grow.  After a couple of years of guard heavy lineups the Cats are going to play a huge lineup.  It will be tough for opponents to match up with so don’t get too hung up on missing on that Bamba guy.

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