John Calipari’s next move could decide the 2023-24 fate of Kentucky basketball

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soon no one could say “Lance Ware is in the portal” A harsh reality regarding the 2023-24 Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball roster as it currently stands.

yet, the Cats only have seven recruited, scholarship players — five gorgeous incoming freshmen and two under-utilized but promising sophomores — who have committed to play for the Big Blue this winter.

It doesn't seem a stretch to think that how John Calipari handles filling out the Kentucky roster in the coming weeks will determine what a realistic competitive arc is for the Wildcats in 2023-24.

If UK is to exit the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019 — much less make Kentucky's first Final Four appearance since 2015 — Calipari will certainly need to supplement his current young roster with the right complement of veteran Need to complement players.

What is possible for Kentucky in the 2023-24 men's basketball season may be determined by how UK coach John Calipari is able to navigate the upcoming weeks of the off-season.

In an ideal world (from a UK perspective), three key players from the Wildcats' 22-12 team from this past season — Oscar Tshebwe, Antonio Reeves and Chris Livingston — would return to provide veteran moxie and physical maturity. The -heavy 2023-24 squad will need to compete at the highest level of college hoops.

All three are currently in the NBA Draft. They have until May 31 at 11:59 p.m. EDT To decide whether to follow turning pro or drop their names and return to college hoops.

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The two announcements on Thursday greatly increased Britain's need for Tshibwe's return. The UK's high-energy backup Big Man Ware entered the transfer portal. Too, 7-foot-1 Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson picks Kansas, not Kentucky, as his hoops destination

Still, in an appearance on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Thursday, Calipari said he continues to reach out to NBA personnel on Tshibwe's behalf, including most recently speaking with an unnamed team owner. .

“Do I want to coach the Oscars another year?” Calipari himself asked rhetorically on The Patrick Show. “‘Yeah. Yeah. What am I, moron? Yeah, I want to coach them for one more year.' But, if I'm doing right by him, I have to give him every chance to finish this off and see where he really is with the NBA.

As has been discussed repeatedlyThe 6--9, 255-pound Tshibwe isn't a natural fit for the NBA's current emphasis on three-point shooting and pick-and-roll actions.

But getting the two-time All-America selection — who averaged 21.0 points and 19.7 rebounds in the three NCAA tournament games he played for Kentucky — back for his “free COVID season” would be a boon for UK.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Reeves (14.4 points, 39.8 percent three-point shooting in 2022-23) also has an opportunity to make a comeback by using the extra season of eligibility that the NCAA granted to all college enrolled during the coronavirus pandemic. did. -Affects 2020-21 school year.

As of this time, the Illinois State transfer's name is not appearing in the most visible of NBA mock drafts.

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So if Reeves returns for a fifth college season, Kentucky will have an accomplished, if streaky, outside shooter and a veteran backcourt presence. Should he depart, however, United will be in a near-desperate need from Portal for a guard with both outside shooting and experience.

The 6-6, 220-pound sophomore-to-go decision seems most difficult for Livingston (6.3 points, 4.2 rebounds in 2022-23). If he does return to college basketball — which won't necessarily happen at Kentucky — it looks like he has the talent to play his way into a more coveted NBA draft prospect.

However, the Akron, Ohio, product is represented by Clutch Sports Group (Think LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul), an agency that may have the juice to get an NBA team to use a draft choice on Livingston.

Making it a tight rope should Calipari walk away, if all three players eventually return to Lexington, Kentucky won't need to add anyone through the NCAA transfer portal. Conversely, even if several of the currently limited trio eventually decide to leave UK, Calipari will need to replace that number on the Wildcats' roster.

Complicating matters is that the talent available in the transfer portal will likely be stretched thin as time progresses, meaning the Wildcats brain trust should now have a pretty good idea of ​​what Tshibwe, Reeves and Livingston will ultimately settle on.

As we have seen in the observation Kentucky's Challenges in Roster Management In recent years, the task of projecting what players are going to do with regards to their professional future can be bewildering.

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Ground Level: John Calipari is estimated to earn $8.6 million For UK coaching in 2023-24. If he can successfully navigate next season's Kentucky roster during the uncertainty of the coming weeks, he will have earned a good chunk of that .

Calipari implies that he will be in Kentucky for years. ‘I want to do some special things here.'

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