What Davion Mintz's declaring for NBA draft means for Kentucky basketball roster

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON - The future of Kentucky basketball's backcourt is not getting any clearer.

Senior guard Davion Mintz, who can return to school via the extra year of eligibility granted all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic, declared for the NBA draft Monday but has yet to close the door on his remaining college eligibility. Mintz is not projected as a likely NBA draft pick this summer, but he could still work his way to the NBA through the G League or a professional contract overseas.

"These last two months for my family and I have been filled with a lot of reflection and a lot of personal evaluation," Mintz said in a UK news release. "I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this past season at Kentucky, a truly unique and unforgettable experience, while also trying to figure out what the next step is for me and my career. My ultimate dream has always been to play at the professional level. I believe at some point, whether that is now or down the road, that is where I will be. Figuring out when that time is right while weighing my love for Kentucky and thinking about the possibilities of next season has not been easy, and to be fully honest and transparent, I have not come to a decision yet of what I will ultimately do.

Kentucky basketball recruiting:McDonald's All-American point guard Nolan Hickman decommits

"However, at this point in time, I believe it is in my best interest to officially submit my name for the 2021 NBA Draft to test the waters and go through a proper evaluation period. I am looking forward to the process and I am going into this stage in the decision-making process with an open mind. I appreciate the support and honesty Coach Cal and the staff have shown me throughout this decision and I want to thank Big Blue Nation for your love and your patience as I take this next step."

Initially expected to serve as Kentucky's six man upon transferring from Creighton, Mintz developed into the Wildcats most consistent player by the end of an abysmal 2020-21 season.

He led Kentucky in scoring (11.5 points per game), made 3s (56) and assists (77). Mintz converted 37.8% of his 3-point attempts and hit several key shots late in close games.

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound guard spent the majority of the season playing off the ball but also thrived in the final three games after taking over primary point guard responsibilities from Devin Askew with 23 assists and three turnovers while averaging 15.3 points per game.

"I am in total support of Davion testing the waters to find out what his options are based on how he finished the year," UK coach John Calipari said in the release. "He is doing the right thing by taking his time with his decision, going through the workouts and evaluations, and really getting all the information out there that is afforded to him through the NBA Draft process.

"From his leadership to his shooting to how much he improved over the course of the season, I really enjoyed coaching Davion this last season. I really believe if our team had been better and got into the NCAA Tournament somehow, his path would be clearer. As I told his mom and dad, he is a young man I could coach for 10 years. Whatever he ultimately decides, he has a bright future ahead of him." 

What Davion Mintz's decision means for Kentucky basketball recruiting

Mintz's decision follows the unexpected decommitment of four-star point guard signee Nolan Hickman on Friday. Kentucky's coaches have been pursuing other point guard options in the transfer portal and high school class for weeks, but Hickman and Mintz were the only players at the position on the current roster or in the 2021 signing class. Askew, the team's primary point guard last season, transferred to Texas earlier this spring.

While Mintz would likely play primarily off the ball if he returns to Kentucky next season, he would also add a vital security blanket to the point guard position. If Mintz leaves, Kentucky will likely need to add at least two players capable of playing with the ball in their hands.

The Wildcats have been linked with transfers Marcus Carr (Minnesota) and Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), but both players are also testing the NBA draft waters before making a decision about whether to return to college. The NCAA's deadline for returning players to remove their names from the draft is not until July 7.

Five-star 2021 point guard TyTy Washington, the No. 26 recruit in the country according to the 274Sports Composite, has Kentucky in his final six, but it has been difficult for recruiting analysts to peg a favorite in his recruitment and UK faces still competition from Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, LSU and Oregon.

UK has signed Davidson transfer Kellan Grady for next season, but the 3-point sharpshooter is not considered a point guard. Kentucky has also been linked to transfer guards C.J. Fredrick (Iowa) and Bryce Hamilton (UNLV), but neither player is a pure point guard. Illinois transfer guard Adam Miller, who had been linked to Kentucky, committed to LSU Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen, a 3-point shooting specialist, is the only other scholarship guard remaining on Kentucky's roster from last season.

Further complicating Kentucky's pursuit of reinforcements for the backcourt is the fact that the staff remains in a state of flux. Assistant coach Joel Justus left for Arizona State, and support staffer Tony Barbee was hired as Central Michigan's head coach.

Illinois assistants Orlando Antigua and Ronald "Chin" Coleman have been rumored to be close to joining John Calipari's staff, but no announcements have been made. For now, assistants Jai Lucas and Bruiser Flint will lead the recruitment of transfers and high school prospects.

Kentucky is still awaiting a decision from sophomore forward Keion Brooks about whether he will return to school. Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson, a projected first-round pick, is testing the NBA draft waters but has left open the door to a possible return to school by maintaining his college eligibility.

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