Kentucky basketball roster watch 1.0: What we know about each player's stay-or-go decision

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON – Most college basketball fans may be focused on the start of the NCAA Tournament this week, but Big Blue Nation has already turned its focus to next season.

Who is leaving the Kentucky basketball team? Who is going to return? Here is the latest we know on each of the Wildcats’ scholarship players.

Likely leaving

Isaiah Jackson

2020-21 stats: 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks

What we know: While Jackson was not Kentucky’s highest-ranked recruit in its No. 1-ranked 2020 class, he is undoubtedly its best NBA draft prospect now. ESPN ranks him as the No. 8 prospect in the 2021 draft class. Projected lottery picks almost never return to college. Kentucky has never had one come back to school in the Calipari era. It will be interesting to see if Jackson blossoms into an NBA star how he will be perceived among UK fans considering what is almost certainly his only season in the program was so bad.

Terrence Clarke

2020-21 stats: 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2 assists

What we know: Nothing about Clarke’s eight college games suggests he is ready for the NBA, but there has been no buzz around the program that he is seriously considering a return. Assuming Clarke leaves, the consensus top-10 recruit in the 2020 class will hope a team takes a flier on his potential, likely in the second round. After missing the entire SEC regular season schedule with an ankle injury, Clarke did return to the court for the SEC Tournament loss to Mississippi State. That return is at least a boost to his ability to workout for teams in the pre-draft process.

Brandon Boston

2020-21 stats: 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists

What we know: John Calipari seemingly made a case for Boston to return after the regular season finale by pointing to how Immanuel Quickley and PJ Washington improved their draft stock by returning for a sophomore season. “Those are the guys that should come back, that mentality,” Calipari said. Boston’s stock has plummeted after a disappointing season that saw him shoot just 30% (30 for 100) from 3-point range. The former consensus top-five recruit is now ranked as the No. 34 prospect in the 2021 draft class by ESPN. It seems like a team late in the first round will still gamble on Boston’s potential. There is a chance he returns to school in hopes of working his way back into the lottery, but the only UK player to return to school with a borderline first-round grade in the Calipari era was Terrence Jones in 2011.

Olivier Sarr

2020-21 stats: 10.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks

What we know: Sarr could take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is no indication he will do so. When he transferred to UK from Wake Forest, he told ESPN he would start his professional career if the NCAA did not clear him to play last season instead of sitting out a year, suggesting this was always envisioned as a one-year stop. Sarr is not projected as a NBA draft pick but could still sign a lucrative contract playing in his home country France. “I would say Olivier, who had a plan even before he started playing – ‘Here’s what I want to do’ – would probably go that route,” Calipari said on his radio show Monday.

MORE:Why John Calipari cannot afford to write off dreadful season as side effect of pandemic

Likely to return

Dontaie Allen

2020-21 stats: 5.4 points, 1.5 rebounds

What we know: Kentucky fans worried aloud all season that Allen’s inconsistent role might lead the former Pendleton County star to consider transferring to a program that places a great emphasis on his skillset, but his mother told hometown newspaper, the Falmouth Outlook, this week that Allen plans to return to UK. Allen closed the season on a high note with 23 points in the SEC Tournament loss to Mississippi State. His shooting ability cannot be questioned, but Allen needs to work on his defense to feel confident Calipari will award him a larger role next season.

“The last month I've been in the gym,” Allen said after the season-ending loss. “I'm feeling really good, really confident. I'm just going to stay in the gym literally all summer. I'm going to work to exhaustion.”

Devin Askew

2020-21 stats: 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists

What we know: Askew looked overmatched as Kentucky’s primary point guard for much of the season and twice lost the job. While Askew will hope to follow Quickley’s lead in turning a poor freshman season into a breakout sophomore year, it would probably be best for his personal development and Kentucky’s team if he is not the primary point guard next season. Calipari’s track record with keeping role players from the west coast on campus is not good, but Askew twice went on record to say he had no plans to transfer closer to home.

“I’m not one of those kids," Askew said in February. "I’m here for good, staying here.” While there has been no official word on Askew’s decision from UK, his father did tell KentuckySportsRadio.com the plan is for Askew to return.

Jacob Toppin

2020-21 stats: 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 points

What we know: The original plan was for Toppin to work on adding muscle to his lanky frame during the 2020-21 season while sitting out as a transfer from Rhode Island. After the NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately, Toppin surprised by developing into a key player for Kentucky, even starting the final two games of the season. Toppin’s elite athleticism makes it fun to dream on how he could improve after a full offseason in the program, but he has much work to do to develop into the kind of NBA prospect his older brother, New York Knicks 2020 first-round pick Obi Toppin, was. Toppin was prepared for multiple years at Kentucky when he transferred. Until he says otherwise, there is little reason to believe that plan has changed.

Oscar Tshiebwe

2020-21 stats (at West Virginia): 8.5 points, 7.8 rebounds

What we know: ESPN’s top-ranked transfer starred at West Virginia as a freshman (11.2 points, 9.3 rebounds per game) but was not as productive in 10 games this season before deciding to transfer to Kentucky. Tshiebwe is the type of physical big man the Wildcats lacked this season, and is the favorite to takeover Sarr’s starting spot at the five next season. Kentucky fans may still have some PTSD from Hamidou Diallo testing the draft waters after practicing with Kentucky for a semester before he made his debut, but there has been no indication Tshiebwe is considering an immediate jump to the professional ranks.

Lance Ware

2020-21 stats: 2.0 points, 3.0 rebounds

What we know: Ware played in 21 of 25 games for Kentucky as a freshman, making three starts. While he was always considered something of a developmental prospect as a recruit, Ware likely hoped for a larger role as a freshman. His limitations were obvious though, and considering Ware came to basketball later than most of his peers, he has plenty of room for growth. Ware has not voiced displeasure at his role, but it is fair to wonder if the crowded frontcourt on the 2021-22 roster concerns him. With Tshiebwe and five-star signee Damion Collins likely already locked into the rotation, Ware could get pushed back to the end of the bench if Keion Brooks returns to school or Toppin plays the majority of his minutes at the four. Ware's physicality will always endear him to Calipari, though.

MORE:This SEC rule could complicate Kentucky basketball's pursuit of Justin Powell


Keion Brooks

2020-21 stats: 10.3 points, 6.8 rebounds

What we know: No NBA draft pundit includes Brooks among the likely selections for the 2021 draft, but Kentucky’s recent history shows sophomores tend to leave the program whether they are projected as draft picks or not. Brooks missed the first nine games of the season with a leg injury. He looked like Kentucky’s best player at times after returning but battled the same inconsistency that plagued most of the team. Like Nick Richards, Brooks could blossom into an all-SEC caliber player as a junior. It would not be a surprise to see Brooks at least test the draft waters to workout with teams, but there is no clear indication yet whether he will return.

Davion Mintz

2020-21 stats: 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists

What we know: Of UK’s two seniors, Mintz is more likely to use the extra year of eligibility to return to school, but Calipari acknowledged on his radio show Monday that Mintz’s age will be a factor in the decision of whether to start a professional career. “If he has an opportunity to be drafted, I’m all for it,” Calipari said. Mintz was Kentucky’s most consistent player and thrived when he took over the primary point guard duties in the final week. He would be a vital piece as both a veteran leader and sharp shooter on next season’s team, but this decision may come down to how big an attraction getting a normal year at Kentucky in front of a packed Rupp Arena is to Mintz.

MORE:Kentucky basketball freshman Cam'Ron Fletcher entering transfer portal

Definitely leaving

Cam’Ron Fletcher

2020-21 stats: 1.7 points, 1.7 rebounds

What we know: Fletcher played in just two games for six total minutes after returning from his brief suspension in December. His decision to enter the transfer portal was no surprise then. Fletcher told 247Sports Tennessee, Memphis and UCLA are among the teams that have already reached out.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ