JOHN CALIPARI has proved that he doesn't need upperclassmen to compete for conference and national championships, but the 2017--18 Wildcats will have the least experience of any of the eight teams he's coached in Lexington. Kentucky has only one rotation player, sophomore forward WENYEN GABRIEL (4.6 points), returning from the team that won 32 games, claimed its third-consecutive SEC tournament title and reached the Elite Eight.
The Wildcats reloaded with another top-ranked recruiting class, but none of their seven incoming stars are surefire All-Americas. The strongest candidate for that honor is HAMIDOU DIALLO, a 6'5" off-guard who joined the program last January and declared for the draft without ever playing a college game, only to withdraw and return to school as a redshirt freshman. Over the summer, Diallo averaged 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds with USA Basketball's U-19 team, which was also coached by Calipari.
The Wildcats will surround Diallo with a cast of long, rangy, freshmen who are not easily categorized into positions, including KEVIN KNOX, a 6'9" 3-and-D prototype with a 7-foot wingspan, and JARRED VANDERBILT, a 6'9" playmaker (who will be out until January with a left-foot injury). Another freshman, 6'11", 240-pound center NICK RICHARDS, will stabilize the back line of Kentucky's defense, and five-star prospect QUADE GREEN, a shifty creator off the bounce with the shooting chops to keep defenders on their toes, will likely take over at point guard.
PROJECTED TEAM STATS
With 2017--18 projections for the top six scorers
COACH JOHN CALIPARI (9TH SEASON)
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Hamidou Diallo [Starter] 6'5" Fr.
Kevin Knox [Starter] 6'9" Fr.
Quade Green [Starter] 6'0" Fr.
PJ Washington [Starter] 6'7" Fr.
Nick Richards [Starter] 6'11" Fr.
Jarred Vanderbilt 6'9" Fr.
He comes in with less hype than his classmates, but 6'6" point guard SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER will be an important piece on a team heavy on wings and big men. He can initiate the offense or slash to the rim, and he has the length to check every perimeter position.