After one of the worst seasons in Kentucky basketball history, the pressing question in most fans’ minds is, where do we go from here?
To start this off, let’s look at the players we already know are returning for another season.
(2021-22 Kentucky Basketball)
Devin Askew, Sophomore PG
Freshman guard Devin Askew had a very rough first season as the Kentucky point guard. He was inefficient, couldn’t score the ball, had turnover issues, and just simply didn’t get the job done. The unfortunate reality is that Askew was simply nowhere near the level we need from a starting PG at Kentucky.
Askew will look to improve upon his abysmal season, and hopefully make a Sophomore jump similar to what we saw from Immanuel Quickley. Only time will tell.
Dontaie Allen, Sophomore SG/SF
Dontaie Allen was a fan-favorite this season, and as one of the only players on the roster who could shoot the three, it’s a good thing he decided to come back. Transfer rumors circulated around Allen because of his lack of playtime, but the Falmouth, KY native made his choice to come back to Lexington. He is a prolific shooter who showed flashes of brilliance this year, so it will be exciting to see what he can do next season.
Jacob Toppin, Junior PF
Jacob Toppin wasn’t even expected to be eligible this past season, and it’s a good thing he ended up getting cleared. His numbers weren’t anything fantastic, but Toppin brought energy to a team that desperately needed it. He showed raw talent this year, and is a guy who will be very valuable moving forward. If he becomes anywhere near the college player that his brother Obi was, we’re in for a treat with Jacob Toppin.
Lance Ware, Sophomore PF/C
Lance Ware wasn’t a massive piece for this team, as he struggled to contribute much statistically. What he did do, however, was show a ton of grit and heart. Lance is a super talented big man with great measurables, he just has to put it all together. It hasn’t been officially confirmed that Ware will be back next season, but the consensus is that he will be.
(2021-22 Kentucky Basketball)
Players Still Awaiting Decision:
Davion Mintz, Senior PG/SG
Davion Mintz was arguably Kentucky’s best player during this rough season. He was bar-none the best shooter, passer, and leader that this team had. His experience, grit, and cold-blooded ability to hit shots made him the team’s MVP towards the end of the season. As a guy who can play both guard positions, I think it would help next year’s team substantially to have him back. Mintz isn’t currently projected to get drafted, so it will be interesting to see what decision he makes.
Keion Brooks Jr, Junior PF
Keion Brooks missed the start of the season, and some fans thought that his return would turn the team’s luck around. Unfortunately, the struggles continued, but Keion had a few solid games and ended up being one of the better contributors in the later part of the year.
There have been transfer rumors, which have been shot down by Brooks and his father. Some think he may test out the NBA waters, but he currently isn’t projected to get picked anywhere near the first round. Next season’s frontcourt will be jam-packed with talent, so it will be very interesting to see what Keion decides to do.
Isaiah Jackson, Sophomore PF/C
Isaiah Jackson was the only Kentucky player this season to be recognized with an All-SEC selection as he made the All-Freshman team for the conference. He was one of the best shot-blockers in the nation and was the team’s leading rebounder. He’s currently projected to be a mid-first round pick, but the word is that he wants a guaranteed lottery selection. If he doesn’t get that lottery guarantee from an NBA team, he will likely return for another season to work on his offensive skillset and play his way into a top-10 selection. This may be the most important offseason decision for this squad.
Olivier Sarr, Senior C
Olivier Sarr had a very inconsistent season at Kentucky. At times, it seemed like Coach Calipari didn’t really know how to use him, as Olivier spent most of his time banging around in the paint instead of popping out for jump shots, where he’s at his best.
Sarr is a pure 7 footer who can score from anywhere and block shots, and was a former All-ACC selection at Wake Forest. Sarr’s plan all along was to spend his one season at Kentucky and then leave for the NBA, but after a rocky season it doesn’t look like he will be selected in the draft.
Olivier has a tough choice ahead of him, because if he elects to come back, he will have to compete for a starting spot over Oscar Tshiebwe, Daimion Collins, and maybe Isaiah Jackson.
(2021-22 Kentucky Basketball)
Incoming Players [Transfers and Recruits]:
Oscar Tshiebwe, Junior C (West Virginia Transfer)
Big O is a massive addition to next year’s squad. A former 5-star McDonald’s All-American, Tshiebwe had two decent seasons at West Virginia before deciding to come to Kentucky. He almost committed to UK out of high school, but ended up choosing WVU instead.
Oscar is a force in the post, with his bulky frame and solid athleticism. He’s one of the best rebounders and post-defenders in the country as well. I see him as a day-one starter, regardless of any other decisions that may come. He will bring some post-toughness that has been missing in the UK frontcourt for awhile now.
Kellan Grady, Senior PG/SG (Davidson Transfer)
Ask, and you shall receive. Kentucky fans have been begging Coach Calipari to start bringing in elite shooters, so he did just that. Kellan Grady has consistently been one of the best 3-point snipers in the nation. Standing at 6’5, Grady is also a great ball-handler and finisher. He is a pure scorer, and an all-around great guard.
He averaged 17 PPG last season at Davidson, and will be a 5th year senior. He has tournament experience, and will be a MASSIVE piece for next year’s roster. Some say that Grady’s commitment means that Davion Mintz will not be returning, but we will see. My prediction is that Grady will play the SG spot at Kentucky, as he hasn’t really shown an ability to be an elite playmaker.
Daimion Collins, Freshman PF/C (5-Star All-American)
I think it has been very understated just how elite Daimion Collins could end up being. He is a freak athlete, and stands at 6’11. He has a well-rounded offensive game, with a developing jump-shot and a tendency to throw down ridiculous dunks that shouldn’t be possible for a borderline 7-footer. His senior highlight reel consists of demoralizing blocks and show-stopping posterizer dunks.
I believe he is the best big man prospect we’ve had since Karl-Anthony Towns, so it will be interesting to see how he plays as a freshman. A duo of Collins and Isaiah Jackson would be the best shot-blocking duo we’ve seen in a very long time.
Nolan Hickman, Freshman PG (4-Star Recruit)
Nolan Hickman’s ranking may not jump off the page to you, but I believe he is being severely underrated. Hickman is a poised PG, similar to what we’ve seen out of guys like Tyler Ulis and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s a solid playmaker, can score from any level, and plays the game patiently.
I think Hickman is good enough to be the starting PG for Kentucky this upcoming, unless we land a surprise recruit or a top-level PG transfer.
Bryce Hopkins, Freshman PF/SF (4-Star Recruit)
Hopkins is one of those players where you just don’t know exactly what you’re getting. He could be a suprise star, or he could be a mid-level contributor. Hopkins is a 6’7 hybrid forward, and my best comparison would be PJ Washington or Keion Brooks. He’s got a little bit of a handle, which isn’t seen often in forwards, and can score from all three levels. I’m not sure where he stands on next season’s roster in terms of playing time, but we’ll see how it shakes out.
Potential Transfers or Recruits:
Justin Powell, Sophomore SG/SF (Auburn Transfer)
With the return of Dontaie Allen, the potential return of Davion Mintz, and the addition of Kellan Grady, it’s now unknown how likely Kentucky is to land Powell. After hearing of his intention to transfer from Auburn, Kentucky was one of the first teams to get in contact with Powell.
Justin was one of the better freshmen in the entire SEC before he missed the rest of the year with an injury, Powell is one of the best shooters in the country, and would be a welcome addition to the UK roster. What makes things better is that Powell is a Kentucky native, which would please a lot of members of the Big Blue Nation. I still think Kentucky is a leader for his services, but we’ll just have to see how it plays out.
Walker Kessler, Sophomore C (North Carolina Transfer)
Walker Kessler was a 5-Star All-American coming out of high school, and played his freshman season with the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC had a crowded and experienced frontcourt, so Kessler didn’t see many minutes until the end of the season. Walker stands a whopping 7’1, and has a bit of a jump shot as well. He’s a good rebounder, can bang in the post, and has a nice shot-blocking ability to complement his game.
As of right now, Gonzaga and Kentucky are considered the favorites to land Kessler, but with Kentucky’s crowded frontcourt and Gonzaga’s massive success this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up in Spokane.
Jaden Hardy, SG (5-Star, Top 3 Prospect)
Of all the potential additions to the roster, Hardy is easily the number one choice. Hardy is a bonafide superstar, and one of the best pure scorers in the nation. Kentucky was always the favorite in his recruitment, and almost everyone had predicted him to commit to the Wildcats.
Unfortunately, the success of the NBA’s G-League experiment, which took elite high school players and made them into a G-League team, has thrown a wrench in Hardy’s decision-making process. Now, the overwhelming consensus is that Hardy will join the G-League’s Ignite team and forego college altogether. There is still a very slim possibility that he ends up at Kentucky, and if he does choose to go the college route, I think UK is the favorite to land him.
Brandin Podziemski, SG (4-Star Recruit)
Podziemski doesn’t get talked about enough from the BBN. He is a pure scorer and a great shooter, and gives off Tyler Herro vibes. They’re both from Wisconsin, they play similarly, and I think Brandin Podziemski would be a great fit in John Calipari’s system.
Unfortunately, it seems that Calipari and the Kentucky staff are prioritizing other targets, and now appears that Podziemski will be going somewhere else. Illinois seems to be the favorite to land his services, but we’ll see what happens.
Marcus Carr, Senior PG (Minnesota Transfer)
Marcus Carr is widely considered the #1 transfer in the nation. He averaged almost 20 PPG at Minnesota last season. The issue with Carr is that he’s not particularly efficient (38% FG), and he isn’t a playmaker (2.1 APG). I think Carr is a guy who can go out and get you buckets at will, but he also requires 20+ shots per game to get those numbers. I believe we landed a better option with Kellan Grady, and I think Carr ends up elsewhere. I could be wrong.
Mason Faulkner, Senior PG (Western Carolina Transfer)
There isn’t much recruiting buzz around Faulkner, but we know that Kentucky reached out to him after he announced his intention to transfer from WCU. Faulkner averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists this past season. He would play the PG spot if he were to end up in Lexington. Personally, with Askew, Hickman, Grady, and possibly Davion Mintz in the backcourt next year, I don’t see a great chance that Faulkner ends up at UK.
My Personal Thoughts and Predictions:
The way I see it, Kentucky is primed to have a great season in 2021-22. With potentially over half the team returning, a solid combination of incoming recruits and high-level transfers, and the potential to add even more, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in Lexington next season.
Regarding returning players, I think we see Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks as the only two to return who have still not made their decision. This means that in total, we lose 5 players. (BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Isaiah Jackson, Olivier Sarr, Cam’Ron Fletcher)
In terms of who I think we’ll have returning, the total comes to 6. (Davion Mintz, Devin Askew, Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks, Jacob Toppin, Lance Ware)
My predictions for incoming players is also 6. (Oscar Tshiebwe, Kellan Grady, Justin Powell, Daimion Collins, Nolan Hickman, Bryce Hopkins) I think we land Justin Powell as our last piece of the puzzle. Adding another 3-point sniper who also happens to be a Kentucky native would be a perfect way to round out the roster.
PG: Davion Mintz, 5th Year Senior
SG: Kellan Grady, 5th Year Senior
SF: Justin Powell, Sophomore
PF: Keion Brooks, Junior
C: Oscar Tshiebwe, Junior
PF/C Daimion Collins, Freshman
PG Nolan Hickman, Freshman
SG/SF Dontaie Allen, Sophomore
PG Devin Askew, Sophomore
PF Jacob Toppin, Junior
PF Lance Ware, Sophomore
PF/SF Bryce Hopkins, Freshman
That comes out to 12 high-end players on the roster. It would be the most experienced team Calipari has had, with 2 seniors in the backcourt, two juniors in the frontcourt, and 4 Sophomores on the team. Add in 3 talented freshmen, and you have a perfectly crafter roster:
Elite shooting coming from Mintz, Grady, Powell, and Allen. Playmaking coming from Mintz, Hickman, and Askew. Rim-protectors and rebounders in Tshiebwe and Collins. A Swiss-Army Knife in Keion Brooks. Energy from Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware. I think this would be the best case-scenario for the Wildcats next season.
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