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Kentucky fans who have been conditioned to look for

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    May 27, 2019
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    When most people East of the Mississippi were asleep, the folks in
    Kentucky were losing. There are some hard ways to lose a recruit, but
    for Jaden McDaniels to choose Washington over the Wildcats at 1 a.m. ET
    had to be brutal.

    Except, it only matters if it matters.

    Because the most important recruits for the UK frontcourt are
    effectively on the UK roster freshman power forward EJ Montgomery and
    sophomore center Nick Richards. That was true before McDaniels made his
    decision, and that is underscored now.

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    As PJ Washington showed in returning to Kentucky for his sophomore
    season, the value of a talented player with experience is going to
    exceed the value of a talented freshman in all cases but the exceptional
    ones an Anthony Davis or Zion Williamson or DeAndre Ayton or Kevin

    His excellence was the primary reason Kentucky came within a point
    of its fifth Final Four under coach John Calipari. Washington averaged
    15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds and recovered from an injury that forced
    him out of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament to average 22
    points and 62 percent shooting in two NCAA Midwest Regional games in
    Kansas City.

    His experience as a sophomore also can serve as a lesson to Montgomery and Richards, who were his teammates on that day.

    A year ago, Washington was not projected to be a first round pick
    following a freshman season in which he averaged 10.8 points and shot 23
    percent on 3 pointers and 61 percent from the foul line. He improved
    those numbers to 42 percent and 66 percent, respectively, and also made
    enormous strides as a defender and rebounder.

    Now, Sporting News draft analyst Chris Stone projects Washington to
    be the No. 14 player selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, by the Boston
    Celtics. He is No. 10 on SN NBA expert Sean Deveney s Big Board of

    Washington blew away the myth that a prospect can t improve his
    draft stock by improving. Of course he can. We ve seen it scores of
    times over the years, whether it s Mikal Bridges or Donovan Mitchell or
    Buddy Hield.

    Montgomery averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in a reserve role
    that permitted him an average of 15 minutes per game. His productivity
    as a rebounder suggests what is possible. If he were to return to
    Kentucky, he has the potential to produce a monster season. That would
    require his presence on campus, as well as a commitment to improving
    that is similar to what Washington demonstrated last season.

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    As it stands,
    however, he is not expected to be a significant draft pick. ESPN does
    not project him among the 60 players who ll be selected on June 20. And
    with good reason. When Washington was absent for those two NCAA games,
    Montgomery wasn t ready to make an enormous contribution. He got a good
    run in a blowout over 15 seed Abilene Christian, but in a tight second
    round game against Wofford he played 15 minutes and got two rebounds. It
    wasn t his time.

    Richards was stuck behind graduate transfer Reid Travis last season,
    and his contributions were sporadic. He averaged 4 points and 1.3
    blocks. But he was ready for 25 minutes in that Wofford game and was a
    big part of holding the Terriers standout center Cameron Jackson to 4 of
    12 shooting. There should be plenty more opportunities if he returns to
    the Wildcats for his junior season.

    McDaniels Jonny David Jersey,
    who stands 6 9 and weighs 185 pounds, is ranked the No. 8 prospect in
    the 2019 recruiting class by 247Sports. He may well enter college and
    immediately become a dominant player.

    But a year ago Montgomery was the No. 9 prospect in his class. And we saw what he was ready to contribute some,
    but not a lot. Kentucky fans who have been conditioned to look for the
    next big thing ought to remember that retention can be just as important
    as recruitment.