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Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.