Seven Wildcats Declare for NBA Draft

April 9, 2015

Photo Gallery | Video: Player Interviews | Press Conference Quotes

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- An unprecedented seven Kentucky Wildcats announced they are declaring for the NBA Draft at a press conference at the Joe Craft Center on Thursday.

Junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson, and freshmen Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, will forego their future eligibility at UK and put their names in the upcoming draft, to be held June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"It's about each individual up here making a decision -- not based on what's right for this university, not based on what's right for me and our staff -- but what's right for them and their families," UK head coach John Calipari said at Thursday's press conference. "The way this works, I meet with each player after the last game, and truly it's the morning after the last game. I ask, `Do you want me to explore your options?' They all said yes. A few said no. We gather the information. We talk to about 20 NBA teams, maybe more. We let the parents talk directly to the NBA so there's no confusion. We have about a five-minute meeting -- maybe. I'm not convincing them to stay and I'm not pushing anybody out the door. This is their choice."

Kentucky is coming off a record-setting season in which the Wildcats became the first team ever to post a 38-0 record. UK's 38 victories tied the most in NCAA history, tying Calipari's 2012 national championship team and his 2008 Memphis squad.

The Wildcats, who captured both the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament crowns, made it to the Final Four unblemished, the first team to accomplish that feat since UNLV in 1991.

"We didn't quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0, but it can't and it doesn't take away from what these people have accomplished," Calipari said.

Booker averaged 10.0 points and sunk 58 3-pointers during his freshman season. He was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year by the league's coaches and was also a member of the All-SEC Second Team and All-SEC Freshman Team.

The Grand Rapids, Mich., native was a five-time winner of the SEC Freshman of the Week honor while connecting on 41 percent of his shots from long range. Booker's season highlights included a stretch of seven games in which he connected on 20 of 28 (71.4 percent) of his 3-point shots, beginning with the game vs. No. 18 North Carolina.

"We all wanted a national championship, but I feel like we made a lot of history here, did a lot of great things," Booker said. "These are memories that I'll never forget. People always ask what my hardest decision was, and it's the decision to leave Kentucky, not to come here. That was the easy decision, to come here and be a part of this program. Great fan base. That was an easy decision and leaving all of that will be the hardest."

Cauley-Stein became one of UK's 58 all-time All-Americans during his breakout junior campaign and its 25th consensus First Team All-American. The 7-foot forward from Olathe, Kan., averaged 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds during his three-year career in Lexington.

Cauley-Stein finished his career as the only player in program history to amass 500 or more rebounds, 200 or more blocks, and 100 or more steals. He concludes his career ranking second all-time in the UK record books with 233 blocked shots.

In addition to his consensus All-America honors, Cauley-Stein was the 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2015 SEC Tournament MVP, an All-SEC selection, an All-Freshman Team selection in 2013 and a two-time member of the All-SEC Defensive Team.

"It's the start of something big for all of us," Cauley-Stein said. "It definitely is a tough decision, especially with how young we are and everything, but it's a decision that everybody and their family, they got to make. We think it's the time to go."

Aaron Harrison will forever be remembered for his three straight game-winning 3-pointers during UK's thrilling 2014 NCAA Tournament run. The sophomore averaged 12.4 points in his two-year career with the Wildcats and sunk 121 career 3-pointers, a mark that ranks 22nd all-time in Kentucky's record books.

Aaron Harrison started all but one game in his 79 career appearances. He was a Second Team All-SEC selection as a sophomore and a two-time All-SEC Tournament Team selection. For his career, he shot 41 percent from the field and 33.5 percent from behind the arc. He finishes just 21 points shy of joining UK's 1,000-point club.

"It was just time for me to go to the next level," Aaron Harrison said. "I think I'm ready for the next level. I haven't really heard much with draft projections, but I feel like I'm one of the best No. 2 guards. I had an up-and-down season, but I still think I'm one of the best No. 2 guards in the draft. I just have to go out there and prove it."

Andrew Harrison served as the floor general for two seasons at Kentucky. The 6-foot-6 point guard averaged 10.1 points and churned out 298 career assists in 79 career contests, starting all but one game for the Wildcats during his tenure.

Andrew Harrison's 298 career dimes ranks 16th all-time in UK's record books, which are the most for a two-year player in program history. He earned a spot on the 2015 All-SEC Tournament Team and was a member of the Midwest All-Region Team after sinking the game-winning free throws against Notre Dame to send Kentucky to its 17th Final Four in program history.

"It's really cool, but it's just now beginning," Andrew Harrison said. "Like they say, you've got to fight for what you want and don't worry about what anybody says about you and just fight and believe in your talent. Obviously, we are all pretty talented in our own rights and it was fun. This was the best experience of my life playing basketball here at the University of Kentucky, and I'm so thankful for them for having me here these past two years."

The seven players

Johnson appeared in 78 career games and started 18 contests during his two-year career in Lexington. The 7-foot center averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in his career, logging career bests in points per game, rebounds per game, free-throw percentage, blocks, steals and assists during his sophomore campaign.

In UK's Final Four game vs. Wisconsin in 2014, Johnson poured in 10 points and hauled in seven rebounds, including five offensive boards. Against Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2014, Johnson played in a career-high 31 minutes and posted a career-high 15 points while filling in for the injured Cauley-Stein.

"I just feel like it's my time," Johnson said. "Growing up as a kid, you always wait for this moment. I just think I'm prepared. These last two years here have been great. When you go up against people every day that's going to be pros one day, I think it just made me mentally stronger, and stronger as a player and person. After the meeting me and my mom had with Coach Cal yesterday, I just told my mom I'll call her this morning and tell her my decision. Last night, I just prayed on it. God told me it's my time."

Lyles, who Calipari described as the "X-factor" of Kentucky's magical 2014-15 run, averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 36 games in 2014-15. An All-SEC Freshman Team selection, Lyles was also named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice during his career.

The Indianapolis native averaged 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game throughout UK's NCAA Tournament run in 2015, which included his second career double-double effort with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Cincinnati.

"It was a really tough decision," Lyles said. "The bonds that I built with a lot of coaches and teammates here makes it hard to say goodbye, but I know this is the next step for me to reach my goal. It's been my dream since I was 7 years old, and now that it's time for me to make that move, it's crazy for me to think about. I would shoot in the driveway or mimic game-winning shots at the park and it's just crazy to think about the fact that it's happening now."

Towns earned All-America distinction while hauling in SEC Freshman of the Year accolades during his freshman season at UK. The 6-11 Piscataway, N.J., native averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the floor and 81.3 from the charity stripe.

Towns saved his best basketball for the biggest of games, logging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds throughout the NCAA Tournament. He was the 2015 Midwest Region Most Valuable Player after scoring a career-high 25 points and hauling in five rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting vs. Notre Dame.

"It's surreal," Towns said. "You never think of this moment; you dream of this moment when you're young, when you're playing on the court and you just think about these moments, like the one today -- like hopefully I could be in the same league as the greats like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. All these great players, you just want to be a part of the fraternity that they are a part of."

All seven of Kentucky's early-entry players are on the majority of NBA mock drafts.

Coach Calipari has placed 31 players in the NBA during his college coaching career (30 of them via the draft), including 19 over his first five seasons at Kentucky. The 19 draft picks over that five-season span is the most of any coach.

Included in the Wildcats' recent draft success includes two No. 1 overall draft selections (John Wall in 2010 and Anthony Davis in 2012). Toss in Derrick Rose in 2008 at Memphis and Calipari has coached three top draft picks, more than any other coach all-time.

In 2010, five UK players were selected in the first round for the first time in NBA history, and the Wildcats' six selections in the 2012 NBA Draft are the most in the two-round era.

All told, UK has had 15 first-round draft picks in the Coach Cal era, two No. 1 overall selections, five top-five picks and nine lottery picks.

For the latest on the Kentucky men's basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBB on Twitter and on the web at UKathletics.com.

Video: Player Interviews

Aaron and Andrew Harrison

Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker

Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns

Press Conference Quotes

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari

Opening statement …
“Let me welcome everybody on this special day for these young people and their families. We had a meeting to begin our year, and the meeting was based on them. My comment was ‘I’m on a mission. My goal is to have eight of you have an opportunity to be drafted if you chose to put your name in the draft.’ That was from the beginning of the year. They also knew that meant they would have to be the most selfless, sharing, sacrificing group of young people ever in this game if that were to happen. And they were. They also knew they’d have to do some historic things. Even at this crazy university. Historic things and they did. Thirty-eight and zero to start a season. Thirty-eight wins, the most ever. I can go on and on what they did defensively. Things that are historic. We didn’t quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0. It can’t and it doesn’t take away from what these people have accomplished. They had a 3.13 grade point average. They had a 3.0 last year, the guys that were with us. They look after each other. They’re their brothers’ keeper. The keep them – each of them – walking the right path. Keeping themselves together. They also know if they chose – I’m hoping they all stay – if they chose to leave, their scholarship is here waiting on them when they chose to come back. During this year it’s about team. I think you all saw that. They shared, they sacrificed. It was about team. Now it’s about each individual up here making a decision not based on what’s right for this university. Not based on what’s right for me and our staff. What’s right for them and their families? The way this works: I meet with each player after the last game, and truly it’s the morning after the last game. I ask, and this is every year, ‘do you want me to explore your options?’ They all said ‘yes.’ A few said ‘no.’ We gather the information. We talk to about 20 NBA teams. Maybe more. We let the parents talk directly to the NBA so there’s no confusion. We have about a five-minute meeting. Maybe I’m not convincing to stay and I’m not pushing anybody out the door. This is their choice with their family. We’ve done that, and now it’s time for these young people to let us know what they’re going to do. I think maybe the easiest way is if you’ve decided to put your name in the draft why don’t you stand up?”

On if the number of players declaring for the draft surprised him …
“Well I probably shouldn’t say this, but if Alex (Poythress) didn’t get hurt it would have been eight. So no, it doesn’t.”

On if Poythress has decided if he is declaring for the NBA draft …
“Alex is going to go home and meet with his family. We have done some research for him. It’s unfortunate. It’s a tough deal because he would be sitting here too. (If) Alex comes back, he will graduate in three years. He will have his college degree and he has an opportunity to do the things he wants to do and reach his dreams too.”

Devin Booker, guard

On how long it took to make his decision to declare …
“It was a long thought-out process, but it was kind of quick too because we’re not focused on it during the season, and the season just ended, too. We gathered information and I feel like I made the best decision for myself.”

On his relationship with Tyler Ulis and how it affected his decision …
“I talked to him [Tyler] a lot about it, but Tyler wanted me to do what’s best for myself too. Everyone knows we’re going to be best friends for life. Me moving on, that’s not going to change anything, really. I’d love to play with him more, be on the court with him again, but hopefully [we will again] one day in the future.”

On what helped him make his final decision …
“I talked to my parents about it, I talked to the coaches about it, and they all felt the same way so we came to a conclusion [to enter the draft].”

On what he needs to improve on moving forward before the draft …
“I need to get more explosive and defend better. In the Wisconsin game there were a lot of mismatches where I was getting scored on, but that just comes along with getting stronger and that’s what I’m going to work on over the summer.”

On his time at UK and how it feels leaving …
“We all wanted a national championship, but I feel like we made a lot of history here, did a lot of great things. These are memories that I’ll never forget. People always ask what my hardest decision was, and it’s the decision to leave Kentucky, not to come here. That was the easy decision, to come here and be a part of this program. (A) Great fan base. That was an easy decision and leaving all of that will be the hardest.”

Willie Cauley-Stein, forward

On his decision process …
“Probably from the get-go. I was going to leave last year, but I broke my ankle. I didn’t get a chance to play in the Final Four so that was my whole motive coming back. This year I got a chance to play in it. I’m healthy, and my whole thing coming back is if I stayed healthy I was out. There is no reason to come back, if you are healthy and you can go, you should go.”

On Alex Poythress’ decision …
“It could go both ways. He can think about it like how I thought about it which is, if I come back I am doing something that has never been done. I am trying to make my name and I feel like I did that. If I’m coming back it’s for a purpose, and to be better than what everyone thought I was going to be. If he is going to come back that has got to be the motive. I came back and took this year like it was my rookie year.”

On starting a new life outside of UK …
“I am excited. It’s a chance to start your life. There’s going to be a lot of speed bumps along the way. You know those are going to be the things that make you who you are. It’s going to build your character so I’m excited to take a leap of faith and if I fall the pick-up is going to make your name so you have to fall sometime. Whatever you do to pick it up, that’s your name and I hope mines big.”

Aaron Harrison, guard

On his decision to enter the NBA Draft …
“It was just time for me to go to the next level. I think I’m ready for the next level. I haven’t really heard much with draft projections, but I feel like I’m one of the best No. 2 guards. I had an up- and-down season, but I still think I’m one of the best No. 2 guards in the draft. I just have to go out there and prove it.”

On the most memorable part of this season …
“The fun that we had this last run. There was electricity around Lexington. We made a deep run in the tournament and were just at the top of college basketball. It’s one of the best feelings ever.”

On if there was ever a chance, when it came to him and his brother, of one staying and one entering the draft …
“No. We made the decision together. We’re pretty much in the same boat with this.”

On if it scares him that he won’t be with his brother next year …
“I wouldn’t say it’s scary. I think we’re excited to break apart and live our own lives. Of course I’ll miss him a little bit, but I don’t think it will affect us.”

On the toughness of his decision to enter the NBA Draft …
“It was pretty tough. Just being somewhere where you’re loved and treated really well. I love Lexington, but it was just time to chase my dream.”

On how Kentucky will be in the future …
“They’re in great hands. Tyler (Ulis) is a great point guard and is definitely a great leader. I think they’ll be a good team next year with the returning guys and the freshmen coming in. They’ll have a great season.”

Andrew Harrison, guard

On being able to declare for the NBA Draft …
“It’s really cool, but it’s just now beginning. Like they say, you’ve got to fight for what you want and don’t worry about what anybody says about you and just fight and believe in your talent. Obviously, we are all pretty talented in our own rights and it was fun. This was the best experience of my life playing basketball here at the University of Kentucky, and I’m so thankful for them for having me here these past two years.”

On what he wants to show NBA teams before the draft …
“I want to show them how big I am, how fast I am, how athletic I am.”

On the possibility of separating with Aaron Harrison
“We are prepared for that. We are not even together all of the time here, so it’s not that bad. We’ll be alright.”

On the feedback he has received from NBA teams …
“I didn’t really get a lot of feedback, my parents got it – and mostly my dad. They said that you can’t really worry about mock drafts and things like that. They just said that you have to show them in the workouts, show them in the combines and in the team workouts. I think it will be fine. I’m not worried about it.”

On the mock drafts and what he has learned from them …
“People try and act like they don’t pay attention to them, but don’t let all the freshmen fool you. They pay attention to them. Myself, I’m not worried about it. I feel like I’m the best player on there, so it doesn’t matter.”

Dakari Johnson, center

On his decision process …
“I just feel like it’s my time. Growing up as a kid, you always wait for this moment. I just think I’m prepared. These last two years here have been great. When you go up against people every day that are going to be pros one day, I think it just made me mentally stronger, and stronger as a player and person. After the meeting me and my mom had with Coach Cal yesterday, I just told my mom I’ll call her this morning and tell her my decision. Last night, I just prayed on it. God told me it’s my time.”

On whether making the decision was scary …
“Growing up as a kid, it’s just been my dream. I don’t think I’m really scared. I’m confident in my ability. I’m just ready to compete, and go out there and just try to reach my goals and live my dream.”

On the tipping point in his decision …
“Everybody was just saying either way I’ll be fine. Coach Cal said either way I would go is fine. He has a lot of confidence in me. Yesterday, I just did a lot of thinking with my mom and stuff like that, and just prayed on it.”

On evaluating the past season …
“It was a lot of ups-and-downs, but I still learned a lot. I was just happy to be around this group of guys, and we had a great season.”

On the meeting with Coach Cal …
“If I came back it would be great. But either way, I would be fine. He just wanted me to know that either way, I’m going to have to go and work hard. He thinks I’m a great person, and just making sure that I’m built for this. I think I am.”

On the difference between last year’s decision and this one …
“Last year, I felt like my body just wasn’t all the way there. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that step. I think I got older. I’m more mature now, so I just feel like I’m ready to just go out there and just get better as a player.”

Trey Lyles, forward

On his assets as a potential NBA player ...
"Being an all-around good player offensively and defensively."

On his process deciding to enter the NBA Draft ...
"It was a really tough decision. The bonds that I built with a lot of coaches and teammates here makes it hard to say goodbye, but I know this is the next step for me to reach my goal. It’s been my dream since I was 7 years old, and now that it’s time for me to make that move, it’s crazy for me to think about. I would shoot in the driveway or mimic game-winning shots at the park and it’s just crazy to think about the fact that it’s happening now."

On considering coming back for another season ...
"The bonds I built here had a big effect on me, but I had to make the right decision for myself and this was the right one."

Karl-Anthony Towns, center

On the day feeling surreal …
“It’s surreal. You never think of this moment. You never think of this moment; you dream of this moment when you’re young, when you’re playing on the court and you just think about these moments, like the one today – like hopefully I could be in the same league as the greats like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. All these great players, you just want to be a part of the fraternity that they are a part of.”

On being No. 1 in some mock drafts and whether it is important to be drafted No. 1 …
“The one thing I worry about is what I can control. Work hard every day, and get my game better every day and be the best player I can be. That’s all it’s about, and that’s all I’m really worried about and I’m just so happy with this moment not just for myself. It’s not even how happy I am for myself but how happy I am for all the other ones that get to chase their dreams also.”

On what he brings to the table as a potential professional…
“Just, play my game. Just trying to be a versatile big man who could block shots, rebound, also can shoot the J even though I didn’t shoot much, but I was very effective inside so I’ll take that.”

On the type of bond he will have his teammates five years down the road after one season together …
“Lifelong, lifelong. We’ll be having dinners 30 years from now together just joking and just having fun remembering the times we had this year. You know it’s a blessing we have the group of guys like I was able to have, the group of brothers and family I was able to make here. These bonds will never be broken. In other words they’re deep in our blood.”