Tracking Kentucky basketball roster moves: Calipari set to meet with players this week

·9 min read

Who will be playing basketball for Kentucky next season?

It’ll likely be several weeks (possibly months) before the 2023-24 Wildcats’ roster is finalized, but some official decisions are already starting to trickle in, with Sahvir Wheeler entering the transfer portal to become the first UK player to make a move.

UK Coach John Calipari is scheduled to meet individually with each of his players Wednesday, and those conversations typically lead to some public announcements in fairly short order.

This should be an interesting offseason for Kentucky, with all 11 of the program’s scholarship players — including the five seniors — technically eligible to return to college due to the extra year granted to all student-athletes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the 2020-21 season.

Players who enter their names in the 2023 NBA Draft pool must remove themselves from consideration by 11:59 p.m. May 31 to retain their NCAA eligibility, so Kentucky fans could be waiting awhile to receive final word on some of the current Wildcats (as well as any possible transfer targets who enter the draft and later decide to return to college).

UK does have the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class coming in next season, with scholarships set aside for five incoming freshmen: center Aaron Bradshaw, combo guard Robert Dillingham, small forward Justin Edwards, combo guard Reed Sheppard and combo guard DJ Wagner.

Here’s a look at who could join those recruits (and this page will be updated regularly with the latest information on each possible Kentucky returnee).

Oscar Tshiebwe

Status: Not widely projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 16.5 points, 13.7 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game.

What’s next? The reigning national player of the year didn’t quite match the expectations in season two as a Wildcat, but he still managed to have an All-America-caliber return to college basketball. His NBA Draft stock took a hit in the process, however, and Tshiebwe’s name is now absent from most 2023 mock drafts as this postseason wraps up. That leaves the 23-year-old with a tough decision: begin his pro career now, amid more uncertainty than a year ago; or return to UK for a fifth year of college basketball, reap the benefits of NIL and make a run at the NCAA Tournament success that has eluded him. The expectation is that Tshiebwe will ultimately choose to move on to the pros, but nothing is final, and this could be a decision that drags out.

Antonio Reeves

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 14.4 points, 39.8% threes in 27.9 minutes per game.

What’s next? Kentucky’s top backcourt scorer still has one season of eligibility after spending three years at Illinois State and then coming to UK last summer as a transfer. He is the only senior on this season’s team not on pace to graduate this spring, so a return to college would allow Reeves to finish his college degree. The NIL possibilities could also be more plentiful following a year of familiarity with the UK fan base, and the 22-year-old is not expected to be drafted in 2023. Calipari did say following Kentucky’s season-ending loss that he expects all of his seniors to depart, but Reeves might be the most likely to come back. He said after UK’s loss to Kansas State that he didn’t know what he would do next.

Jacob Toppin

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 12.4 points, 6.8 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game.

What’s next? Toppin didn’t have quite the breakout campaign that many predicted in season three with Kentucky, but he still emerged as a key part of the Wildcats’ lineup. While nothing has been announced yet, Toppin is expected to enter and keep his name in the NBA Draft this year. He is not currently projected as a draft pick, but Toppin, who turns 23 in May, is likely to get a long look from pro teams and would have an opportunity to make a league roster next season.

Cason Wallace

Status: Projected as an NBA lottery pick.

Season stats: 11.7 points, 4.3 assists, 2.0 steals in 32.1 minutes per game.

What’s next? Wallace is projected as a lottery pick this year and anything other than him keeping his name in the NBA Draft would be shocking. The freshman guard is No. 9 on ESPN’s most recent list of the top 100 prospects for the 2023 draft, and The Athletic has Wallace at No. 10 on its top 100 list. College players must enter their names in the draft by April 23, though Wallace is expected to announce his intentions well before that date.

Sahvir Wheeler

Status: Entered the transfer portal.

Season stats: 7.7 points, 5.6 assists in 28.5 minutes per game.

What’s next? Wheeler entered his name in the transfer portal about a week after Kentucky’s final game of the season. He missed UK’s final 11 games after sustaining an ankle injury in early February. He spent his first two seasons of college basketball at Georgia and then transferred to Kentucky for two years. Wheeler is expected to remain in college for a fifth season and will not be back on UK’s roster in 2023-24.

Chris Livingston

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 6.3 points, 4.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game.

What’s next? The former McDonald’s All-American and top-15 national recruit emerged as a starter and major-minutes player for Kentucky as the season progressed, though he is not currently projected as a 2023 draft pick. Livingston could be close to the draft zone, however. He’s No. 72 on The Athletic’s top 100 list and No. 81 on the ESPN list. (There will be 58 picks in this year’s draft.) Expect Livingston to go through the NBA Draft process and make a decision on his future after that. He could stay in the draft. He could return to Kentucky for a second season. Or he could even enter the transfer portal in search of a larger role elsewhere. Livingston’s final decision could have a profound impact on next season’s roster, and it’ll probably be a while before his plans are finalized. The NBA Combine is scheduled for May 15-21 in Chicago.

CJ Fredrick

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 6.1 points, 31.8% threes in 22.2 minutes per game.

What’s next? Fredrick just completed his first season with Kentucky but his fifth year in college, with two of those lost completely to injuries and the other three considerably hampered by physical setbacks. The Cincinnati native said after the NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State that he was unsure if he would return for another season of college basketball, and there was a reflective tone to his comments in the postgame locker room. Fredrick, who turns 24 in July, was engaged to departing UK women’s basketball senior Blair Green during the season, and he will discuss his future plans with his family before making a final decision. He will either return to Kentucky for another season or move on from college basketball altogether.

Ugonna Onyenso

Status: Expected to return.

Season stats: 2.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks in 6.9 minutes per game.

What’s next? Onyenso — a promising shot-blocker from Nigeria — told the Herald-Leader in a one-on-one interview the day before the UK-Kansas State game that he will return to Lexington for a second season. That hasn’t been officially announced by Kentucky yet, and other major college programs continue to put out feelers regarding his future status, but it’s quite clear that Onyenso wants to remain a UK basketball player and Calipari wants him to be part of the 2023-24 roster.

Adou Thiero

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 2.3 points, 1.9 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game.

What’s next? A late addition to Kentucky’s 2022 recruiting class, Thiero showed plenty of promise in year one with the Wildcats and is expected to return for a second season. The 18-year-old came to Lexington with more of a long-term outlook, and — barring a major influx of additions via the transfer portal — he’s likely to stick to that plan in hopes of securing a larger role at UK next season. His father, Almamy Thiero, played for Calipari at Memphis.

Lance Ware

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 2.0 points, 2.0 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per game.

What’s next? Ware is a liked and respected veteran within the Kentucky program, and Calipari named him a co-captain of the team entering the NCAA Tournament, even though the 22-year-old has played relatively sparingly over his three seasons so far. Unless he takes a big step forward on the court, Ware’s usage in a possible year four is likely to be similar to his past playing time. He could enter the transfer portal and seek out a larger role elsewhere, or he could return for another season. If Ware is back, he would join Alex Poythress as just the second out-of-state scholarship player to spend four seasons at UK in the Calipari era.

Daimion Collins

Status: Not projected as an NBA Draft pick.

Season stats: 1.9 points, 1.9 rebounds in 7.9 minutes per game.

What’s next? A former McDonald’s All-American selection, Collins was projected as a possible breakout player this past season before tragedy struck his family. His father, Ben Collins, died while visiting his son in Lexington just before the start of the season. The UK player lost more than 15 pounds over the weeks that followed and ultimately did not play more than eight minutes in a game over the final two months of the season. Collins has rare athleticism and possesses immense upside, though he hasn’t made much of an impact in college yet. The 20-year-old could enter the transfer portal, which would likely lead to a move closer to his Texas home and his family, which includes younger siblings. Or he could decide to stay at Kentucky, where he’s formed an incredibly close bond with Calipari and has talked about the support he’s received from teammates and staff members in the wake of his father’s death.

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