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Mass Exodus at Kentucky as Knight, Jones and Liggins Enter NBA Draft

April 21, 2011 – Kevin Burke

In an off-season where we’ve seen freshmen Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes announce that they will return to Ohio State and North Carolina for their sophomore campaigns, other standout freshmen such as Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Kansas’ Josh Selby have chosen to do the opposite and enter the NBA draft.  The latter is also the case at Kentucky as freshmen Brandon Knight and Terence Jones, as well as junior DeAndre Liggins have all declared for the draft.

Brandon Knight had a solid freshman campaign in Lexington and he did so under tough circumstances. I felt as if he had two strikes against him before he even played a game for Kentucky because his predecessor was John Wall, the most talked about college player in recent memory. The nation went Wall crazy two seasons ago before he left for the NBA. Based on that alone, and no matter how good he would ultimately end up being, Knight was to play under a certain level of heightened scrutiny. But he certainly held his own.

Knight led the team in scoring at 17.4ppg while setting a UK freshman scoring record with 657 points. However, he only averaged 4.2 assists. He wasn’t the playmaker Wall was, and looked to score more. That isn’t necessarily good or bad, but rather merely an observation of the differences in their games. Last July, I represented The Hoop Doctors in L.A. for the Gatorade Athlete of the Year presentation, that Knight won, and I had a chance to chat with Brandon after winning the award where I asked him if he knew how long he’d hang around at Kentucky before going to the league. He said that wasn’t even on his mind (which is what he should’ve said), and I can live with him leaving. One more season would not have hurt, but I’m sure that incoming Kentucky freshman Marquis Teague, who just happens to play Point Guard as well, played a role in Knight’s decision, especially since many think Teague is the better of the two. Both Knight and Teague have said the right things so far regarding their willingness to play with one another next season if it came to that. But come on, let’s be for real. Each guy no doubt wants to be the only PG deep down. Wouldn’t you?

I would’ve been shocked if Terence Jones said he was returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season and I’m surprised it took him this long to declare. Jones averaged 15.7 points 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. When I saw him play early in the season in the Maui Invitational against legit competition, there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to leave. He’s 6’8″, can bang around the basket, and can also step back and shoot the 3. And the fact that he’s a lefty certainly doesn’t hurt. If there was anyone on Kentucky’s roster that should leave early, it’s Jones because he has the highest ceiling in my opinion.

But I’m not that sure about DeAndre Liggins. His claim to fame for the Wildcats last season was that he steps it up on defense. He only averaged 8.6ppg (shooting nearly 40% from 3-point land), but was named to the SEC all-defensive team. I don’t know that it would even help his stock if he goes back to school for his final year eligibility. He doesn’t have an NBA game or he would be there already, especially since he plays under Calipari who recruits guys who are typically just about ready for the league right out of high school. Not saying Liggins won’t get drafted (Daniel Orton got drafted so I won’t rule anything out) or make an NBA roster, but even if he does, temper your expectations.

None of these three guys have hired an agent yet, so they have until May 8 to decide if they want to come back to Lexington, but I think all three will in fact remain in the draft pool, specially since Knight and Jones are projected to go high in the draft. I am however, happy to learn that freshman Doron Lamb is going back to Kentucky for his sophomore season because that would’ve been a terrible decision.

If you’re looking for your everyday, predictable basketball talk, then go somewhere else, because Kevin Burke of The Kevin Burke Project brings provocative, thought provoking content about basketball as only he can. Kevin also hosts The Hoop Doctors weekly podcast show, which you can subscribe to for free on iTunes. Follow Kevin on Twitter and Facebook

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