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Men's Basketball

Kentucky Leave/Stay Predictions As We Enter Player Meeting Week

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© Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

It has now been over a week since Kentucky’s heartbreaking loss to Kansas State, which has given time for each player to meet with their families and camps to think about their future. On Wednesday, John Calipari will sit down with each of them to help them make a decision.

As we enter ‘player meeting week’, decisions will start to be announced. With that said, let’s give the latest update and prediction on each player.

Near-Locks

There are a handful of players that practically had their decisions made before the start of this season. The one outlier is Sahvir Wheeler, who found himself in a smaller role this season before his injuries. He will look to transfer elsewhere, for a system that better fits him.

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For Cason Wallace, the decision is easy, he is going to be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. As for Toppin and Tshiebwe, there is not much that they can do to improve their stock significantly by returning for another season.

Lance Ware is not the most talented player on the roster, but has flourished in his role at Kentucky and was even named a captain this past season. Last summer, Ware cited his love for Kentucky and Calipari as a reason not to transfer, even having the self-awareness to say, “not everybody can be the star.”

As for Adou Thiero, he came to Kentucky with the understanding that he would not get much playing time, but he actually saw the court in twenty games, playing an average of nearly 10 minutes per game. Based on the current roster construction Adou would likely be behind DJ Wagner and Rob Dillingham (there are rumors he may not make it campus) and share minutes with Reed Sheppard. So there may be a decision to be made there, but I expect him to be back.

  • Cason Wallace: Gone 100%
  • Sahvir Wheeler: Transfer, 100%
  • Oscar Tshiebwe: Gone, 95%
  • Jacob Toppin: Gone, 95%
  • Lance Ware: Stay, 95%
  • Adou Thiero: Stay, 80%

Difficult Decisions

Chris Livingston

Coming to Kentucky, Livingston had a first-round NBA Draft grade and expected himself to be a one-and-done player, as did those around him. This also included LeBron James-owned sports agency, Klutch Sports, which represents Livingston.

Hurt by consistency early, Livingston worked his way into being one of Kentucky’s key players at the end of the season. Over the final 13 games of this past season, Livingston played more than 32 minutes per game, contributing 7.9 points and 6.5 rebounds on 55 percent shooting.

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With an offseason to improve, most importantly his jump shot, he could give himself an opportunity to himself back into the first round with a return. Yet, that may not happen.

As said before, those around Livingston wanted a short trip to the NBA. While currently not projected, given his potential and NBA connections, he would likely be a second-round draft pick. For those reasons, I expect him to put his name in the NBA Draft while retaining his eligibility, but ultimately keep it there.

Prediction: Go through NBA Draft process, Stay in Draft

Confidence Level: Medium, 60%

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Antonio Reeves

Following the Kansas State game, Antonio Reeves told me “I’d love to be back. I love the school. I love the fans. I love everybody here.” That decision will come down to his role and NIL money.

It is reported that Reeves made six figures from NIL this past season in Lexington, so more opportunities should be there next season. As the roster is constructed, shooting is the biggest weakness. Therefore a top 15-shooter in program history (39.8%, 14th in all-time percentage) should be welcomed back with open arms.

Reeves will and should go through the NBA Draft process to receive feedback, but I fully expect him to be back.

Prediction: Go through NBA Draft process, Return to Kentucky.

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Confidence Level: High, 80%

Ugonna Onyenso

After the loss to Kansas State, I was able to interview Ugonna Onyenso, and he immediately talked about stepping in as a leader and accomplishing things that this team couldn’t. Yet, there is a possibility that may not happen.

If this decision was completely up to Oneyenso, he would be back at Kentucky for another season. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Being brought to the United States from Nigeria, this is a different situation than most players.

While this isn’t a Shaedon Sharpe situation where Oneysno could go to the draft as a Top 10 pick, there are people around him that are open to exploring possibilities outside of Kentucky, including some Big East programs. With that said, I don’t see another program that can offer what Kentucky can, which includes a large role and good NIL opportunities.

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Prediction: Return to Kentucky.

Confidence Level: Medium, 65%

Daimion Collins

Daimion Collins’ situation is unlike any other, as it has little to do with basketball. Prior to the season, Daimion’s father, Ben Collins, passed away unexpectedly. This impacted the entire family and hurt Daimion’s progression early this season, so much so, that Calipari said he lost sixteen pounds from his already thin frame.

Damion’s father did want his son to stay the process at Kentucky, even if it took all four seasons. However, it is family over everything for Collins, which is part of the reason why his father lived in Lexington.

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With that said, I expect Daimion to transfer to a school closer to home, with full support from the Kentucky program. Collins did have Texas and Texas Tech as finalists when he committed to Kentucky in 2021, but with the coaching changes since, I don’t expect those schools to be in play. Instead, look at SMU and Houston.

Prediction: Transfer

Confidence Level: Medium, 70%

CJ Fredrick

CJ Fredrick loves the game of basketball, but after enduring five seasons of college basketball, without one full healthy season, he may hang it up. Unlike other players on this list, it is retirement or return for Fredrick, as he will not decide to transfer or play professionally.

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Following the Kansas State game, Fredrick was very emotional when talking about what could be his last game, saying he has “no idea” what he will decide.

Fredrick is someone I have not heard much about, but given that he is getting married this summer and all that he had endured in his career, I don’t expect him to return to Kentucky for another season.

Prediction: Retire

Confidence Level: Low, 35%

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Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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