Entering conference play a season ago, if you would have asked me which member of the Kentucky squad would most likely depart for the NBA early, I would have said Terrence Jones. He’s long. He’s athletic. He just looked like a year-and-done kind of prospect.
I would have said the chances of Brandon Knight leaving would have been less than 50-percent. But, this was before Knight became Mr. Clutch in tournament time.
The notion of Deandre Liggins leaving never even crossed my mind. Sure, he’s 6’6″ and is one of the best defenders in the country, but while his game had improved significantly on the offensive side of the ball, it was nowhere near the caliber of what it needed to be to succeed at the next level.
My predictions were a little different entering the weekend. Despite all of the talk that Knight wanted to finish school, it appeared as if he was gone. He played himself into a Top 10 and maybe even Top 5 selection in March. Heck, even Magic Johnson tweeted that he would take him No. 1 overall. If you are predicted to get drafted in the Top 10, you almost have to leave. Which he did.
I was 60/40 on Jones leaving. And I’ll be honest, there was a time in mid-February when I openly said I wouldn’t even mind if Jones left early. But, then in March he started doing things that were best for the team. Instead of prancing around three-land and pretending like he won the National Championship every time he scored, he focused on rebounding and defending. His offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he was a huge reason why the Wildcats finished the year in Houston.
I am still a bit surprised that he is staying.
On Liggins, I really didn’t know what to expect. Despite the fact that he is a great defender that can defend multiple positions, personally I felt that he would benefit from another year in Calipari’s system. I think Calipari felt the same way as he urged Liggins to stay for his senior year. But, the fact that Liggins even entered his name made me wonder if he was even really considering returning to Lexington. Then, late last night we found out he, too, would not be returning. Ultimately, I think that Liggins’ decision boiled down to much more than basketball.
Despite the departure of two really good players, UK still looks to be one of the favorites to win it all in 2012. With Jones, they return a solid rotation that includes the likes of Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer, and possibly the emergence of Jon Hood or Stacey Poole.
We wish the best of luck to Knight and Liggins, and look to cheer on them as we did John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, and Eric Bledsoe a year ago.