LEXINGTON — With the passage of the NBA draft early entry and transfer portal deadlines, the Kentucky basketball 2022-23 roster has begun to stabilize.
Five returning scholarship players are confirmed for next season, as are four additions to the group. Two scholarship players have transferred, and another has announced plans to stay in the NBA draft. Of the three Wildcats testing the NBA draft waters while maintaining their college eligibility, only junior forward Jacob Toppin is expected back.
But is the roster finished?
“I like this roster,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said last week in an appearance on SportsTalk with Dan Issel and Mike Pratt. “Jacob is going through the process. I believe he’ll be back, but we’ll have to wait and see. But I believe he’ll be back.
“With Daimion (Collins), with Lance (Ware), with Oscar (Tshiebwe), with our guards, with Chris (Livingston), with Cason (Wallace), with CJ (Fredrick), Antonio (Reeves) and then Sahvir (Wheeler ), I mean, come on. I’m like saying, let’s go, let’s play the games.”
Kentucky basketball recruiting:What Adou Theiro’s commitment means for UK’s 2022-23 roster
Calipari predicted next season’s team will have 9 or 10 scholarship players while leaving open the possibility of adding an 11th. Following the commitment of three-star Pennsylvania prep guard Adou Thiero, UK’s roster is at nine scholarship players. A return from Toppin brings the total to 10.
Calipari has rarely used all 13 scholarships allotted him by NCAA rules, so there is no reason to expect him to do so now. But could he add an 11th player? Here are two areas of concern another addition could help address:
3 point shooting
Kentucky lost its top three 3-point shooters since last season with the departures of Kellan Grady, Davion Mintz and TyTy Washington.
A healthy Fredrick, who missed all of last season with a hamstring injury after transferring from Iowa, should help replace that trio. Fredrick shot 46.6% from 3-point range (83 for 178) in two seasons at Iowa and can be considered one of the best shooters in the country when on the court. The question is how many minutes he can be expected to play after the long injury layoff and previous injury problems at Iowa.
Reeves, a transfer from Illinois State, shot 39% (76 for 195) from 3-point range last season after shooting 31% during his first two college seasons. He would provide another shooter if those improvements stick.
Kentucky Basketball:John Calipari loses assistant coach Jai Lucas to new Duke staff
Wallace and Livingston, the two consensus top-10-ranked freshmen joining the roster, are considered capable shooters, but history suggests it would be wise to assume there will be consistency issues with their shots as freshmen. One of the two figures to be on the court at most times, as will Wheeler, the SEC’s two-time assists leader but a 27.5% career 3-point shooter.
Unless Calipari is willing to play Fredrick and Reeves together for long stretches, floor spacing might be a concern. Adding another transfer guard who is a strong shooter would at least provide insurance if Fredrick’s minutes are limited.
Calipari has made no secret he thinks his best teams have featured primary rotations no deeper than eight players. Keeping talented scholarship players happy who are not seeing consistent minutes has always been difficult but has grown even more so since the adoption of the one-time free transfer rule.
For those reasons, it is understandable that Calipari has not focused on filling out his 13 available scholarships, but what happens if the injury issues that plagued Kentucky a year ago return? Without another addition, the answer may be prayed that doesn’t happen.
UK basketball:What makes Jacob Toppin an elite dunker? UK’s ‘dunkologist’ breaks it down
Of course, it should be noted Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team was not especially deep. An injury to Anthony Davis that year would have sunk that team in the same way an injury to Tshiebwe would likely kill Kentucky’s chances of making a deep NCAA Tournament run next year. There is a certain amount of injury luck needed to win big.
Email Jon Hale at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.