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The Hoop Doctors

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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  • Greas

    Mass exodus? that was last year…The person who’s presence will be missed the most is actually Liggins, in my opinion. He’s an upperclassman (which is rare on a Calipari team) He knows what it is to come in and do the dirty work. He was a monster this year on D which is crucial to making a run. It will hurt to lose Knight because he (not Wall) put Kentucky back in the Final Four and is a Wildcat that will not soon be forgotten. That being said, Teague IS a beast and I’m part of the group who is not sure Knight would be THE starting PG. Also, the weak draft, combined with what Knight did do this season all sets up a very favorable set of circumstances for him to go high. I am not so sure this is true for Jones. While I agree, he does have the highest ceiling in the NBA, he is not there yet. And there are about 3 forwards who I see going before him in the draft. As a UK fan I won’t be mad if he goes, because his offensive production had a negative correlation to the team’s winning percentage, and I agree with Cal that Jones is a selfish M$#@ F#$$%#er. I do think that if Jones were inteligent (which I dont think he is) he would serve himself well to stay and grow up and learn to play basketball as a part of a team and with his right hand, but that won’t happen. I also think the impending lock out will have an affect on these young mens’ decisions, along with Jones’ ego (he’s only projected 12th overall right now) and Liggins newborn son. If the least likely scenario happens and they all do come back…#8 is coming home to Lexington in April 2012.

  • Mollallen

    I agree with Knight going pro since he’s surely to go Top 10, especially with Teague coming in. Teague is more of a flashy PG in the mold of John Wall. I thought maybe Knight would slide to the 2 with Teague at the point if he stayed. When it comes to Jones, I’m one of his biggest fans but he seemed invisible late in the season, showing up rarely. He definitely needs to work on his low post skills and is better off the dribble. One observation is that although he is a lefty, he stands with one foot too far behind the other when shooting. Maybe that makes him more inconsistent than he should be. With that being said, he led the SEC in rebounding and blocks an above average # of shots. Another year in college could see him as a potential POY. I think Liggins is a superb athlete and belongs in the NBA. Unfortunately he will go in the 2nd round – not guaranteed money. He has potential in the Shane Battier mold of great defender and 3 point shooter. If they all would come back, they would be a Top 3 team next season.