Kentucky basketball, under head coach John Calipari, has been known for the "one and done" culture; bringing in top talent, turning them into professional prospects, and then sending them to the NBA.
In some cases, some members of the BBN feel like players should have come back for an extra year to continue to develop and raise their draft stock. In other cases, our players absolutely needed to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and go the professional route.
In the era of the transfer portal, we have seen seniors such as Reid Travis, Nate Sestina, and now Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady spend their last year(s) with Kentucky before graduating and going pro.
But there exists an extremely fun hypothetical of, "What if everyone in our original recruiting class 4 years ago stayed until their senior year?" Let's take a look back at where our "Seniors" are at now, and how hilariously dominant our team would be if they were still here today.
Ashton Hagans, Guard
Ashton Hagans, best known for being one of the best off ball defenders at Kentucky under John Calipari, decided to test out the draft waters after his Sophomore season at Kentucky. Some criticized his decision because he ultimately went undrafted, and with a lack of point guard on our team the following season, there was an opportunity for Hagans to come back, run the team, and improve his game so he can get drafted the following year.
Coming out of college, Ashton had briefly struggled. His rookie year, he didn't make an NBA roster, and even got kicked off of his G League team after breaking COVID protocols. But the guard out of Georgia is finally finding his way in the professional ranks. Ashton is averaging 11.9 point, 5.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game in the G-League this season, a statline that looks very familiar to the Big Blue Nation. He even had a game of 24 points, 11 assists, and 7 steals, and also briefly cracked the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA roster. If Ashton were a Senior at Kentucky today, we would see him in a very similar roll to what we are getting from Sahvir Wheeler this year. He would be a playmaking and pass first point guard who hustles his behind off on both ends of the floor. In John Calipari's modernized offense with 4 perimeter players, 3 guards, and multiple shooters on the floor at all times, Ashton would be able to get into the paint and create shots for his teammates with ease. He could easily lead the SEC in both assists and steals, as well as be in the conversation for the Bob Cousy award for the nation's best point guard.
Immanuel Quickley, Guard
The last we saw of Immanuel Quickley in college consisted of him lighting up Rupp Arena and opposing arenas with knock down shooting and his signature floater. After bringing home the SEC Player of the Year Award, Immanuel had no choice but to take advantage of his high draft stock and enter the NBA Draft.
With the the 25th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Immanuel Quickley was drafted to the New York Knicks, joining former Kentucky names such as Kenny Payne, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel, and Kevin Knox. After infamously being graded as a "D+" draft pick by CBS Sports, Immanuel has put the league on notice with what BBN already knew.
Immanuel is averaging 10.5-2.9-2.4 in a back-up role for the Knicks, providing court spacing, playmaking, and a spark of energy off the bench. Quickley joins other former college basketball stars in Dayton's Obi Toppin and Duke's RJ Barrett to lead the next generation of the Knicks.
Considering Immanuel Quickley was already one of the best college basketball players in the country two seasons ago, if he were a senior today, he would be giving Oscar Tshiebwe a run for his money for the National Player of the Year Award. I see him fitting right into the role TyTy Washington is playing this year; our main source of perimeter scoring and playmaking coming from spot up 3 point shooting, pull up jumpers, and of course, floaters in the paint.
Tyler Herro, Guard
Tyler Herro was the first player in this "Senior Class" to get drafted, going 13th in the 2019 NBA Draft to the Miami Heat, joining former Cats Pat Riley and Bam Adebayo. And rightfully so.
Tyler had one of the most memorable moments in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, hitting a go-ahead transition three pointer in the final minute of Kentucky's matchup with Houston, sending the Cats to the Elite 8. He also helped keep Fletcher Magee, the all time NCAA leader in made 3 pointers, to 0-12 shooting from behind the arc in Kentucky's Round of 32 win over Wofford.
Herro wasted no time carrying his swagger over to the NBA. In just his rookie season, Tyler was one of the instrumental pieces to the Heat making the NBA Finals in the 2020 "Bubble". After a let down in his second NBA season, he is now right back on track as one of the best scorers in the Eastern Conference, putting up a stat line of 20.2-4.6-3.1 for a first place Miami Heat team.
On this year's Kentucky team, a Senior Tyler Herro would fit right into the roll of Kellan Grady, a wing with good size and the green light to pull up from anywhere at anytime. But Herro would not just be a shooter. He would be the best three-level scorer in the nation, and if it weren't for needing to share the ball with his other talented teammates, could lead the country in scoring.
And not only would Tyler dominate on the court, but "The Bucket" would without a doubt be capitalizing off the court with NIL deals as well.
Keldon Johnson, Forward
Keldon Johnson was the second player in this "Senior Class" to get drafted, going just 16 picks after Herro to the San Antonio Spurs. While Keldon was primarily a slasher during his time at Kentucky, he has completely transformed his game at the pro level.
Making just 1.2 three pointers a game on 38.1% shooting while primarily playing the small forward in college, Keldon is now making 1.9 three pointers a game on 42.2% shooting from behind the arc while playing the "Stretch 4" for the Spurs. On the season, he is putting up a stat line of 15.9-6.0-1.8 on impressive shooting splits of 46.4-42.2-75.6%, making him one of the best knock down shooters in the NBA.
Keldon reminds me a lot of Bryce Hopkins, a guard in a forward's body who can play the 3 or the 4. However, I would see him in the Keion Brooks role as a "Stretch 4" in our offense, but instead of midrange jumpers like Keion, Keldon could space the floor from well behind the arc.
EJ Montgomery, Forward
EJ's decision to go the professional route was another one that confused a lot of people. He also went undrafted, and until we went out to get Olivier Sarr from the transfer portal, the center position was wide open for him to come back in an improved role.
After not making any NBA or G League rosters, EJ went overseas to play ball in Lithuania his rookie year. After some mediocre results, EJ is now finding his grove playing in Hungary, averaging 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds on an impressive 66% shooting. With his frame as an athletic, tall, and mobile big, with the potential to have a jump shot from behind the three point arc, it can be a matter of time before EJ starts playing pro basketball back in America.
Unfortunately for EJ, he might struggle with getting minutes in this hypothetical Senior season, as he shares a front court with the front runner for National Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe. However, he would definitely find time at the back up center, as well as a bunch of time at the 4 in a similar role to Keion Brooks, Jacob Toppin, or Lance Ware.
PG: Ashton Hagans
SG: Immanuel Quickley
SF: Tyler Herro
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: Oscar Tshiebwe
6th: EJ Montgomery
Kentucky already has a roster that is good enough to win a national championship. Adding 5 seniors who have all formerly started for Kentucky, including multiple players who are shining in the NBA as young stars, would form maybe the most dominant college basketball team of all time.