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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Thursday / September 20.
  • Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headline Kentucky’s 2018 NBA Draft Class

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    By SEAN BOCK

    Kentucky in the John Calipari Era is no stranger to the NBA Draft. For the 11th straight year, dating back to his time at Memphis, Calipari has had a player on his team selected in the first round of the draft.

    Kevin Knox was selected No. 9 overall by the New York Knicks while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was taken No. 11 by the Charlotte Hornets but was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.

    As Knox heard his name called, Knick fans booed in disgust, as they did when Kristaps Porzingis was drafted No. 4 in 2015. In addition to the boos, Knick fans were also chanting ‘Michael Porter Jr,’ something that didn’t seem to bother Knox.

    “That’s just motivation,” Knox said of the Porter Jr. chants. “A lot of people want him to get to the Knicks, but I mean, it’s all good with me. I’m ready to get to work. I’m ready to get to work and ready to prove people in Summer League and prove people in the NBA. They booed Porzingis (on draft night) and look where he is now. That’s the same mindset I’m going to have. They can chant Michael Porter all they want. But they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work, and I’m willing to get better.”

    In his freshman year at Kentucky, Knox averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and shot 45 percent from the field, and his versatility is what makes him an intriguing prospect.

    “I think I can pretty much play all around the floor,” Knox said. “I can handle the pick-and-roll-roll situations, make plays, make passes. I can stretch the floor, shoot the ball, get rebounds, push it coast to coast. So I think that versatility in the league is something that a lot of teams really need, and I think that’s something I can bring to the Knicks right now.”

    A second-team all-SEC selection and SEC Tournament MVP, Gilgeous-Alexander was the sixth-ranked player in Kentucky’s 2017 recruiting class but evolved into the team’s most important player as the season went on and worked his way into the 2018 NBA Draft lottery.

    “He’s a versatile defender. He’s going to be able to guard the one or the two and eventually the three,” ESPN NBA Draft expert Mike Schmitz said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He has an outstanding feel for the game, slithery in the pick and roll, he’s a finesse finisher, he’s what teams are looking in terms of feel, length, and physicality. I really like what he’s become. He’s really a self-made guy and a major win for the Clippers at No. 11.”

    Gilgeous-Alexander played his best basketball towards the end of the season as he averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 assists per game during the SEC and NCAA Tournament compared to 14.4 points an outing during the regular season.

    Boston College guard Jerome Robinson joins Gilgeous-Alexander as the newest members of the Clippers’ backcourt.

    In the second round, Jarred Vanderbilt was drafted No. 41 by the Orlando Magic, but his draft rights were traded to Denver. Vanderbilt’s freshman season was cut short due to injury, and NBA personnel felt if he went back to school and had a solid sophomore campaign, he could become a first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

    Vanderbilt had surgery after the season, which led him to miss the NBA Draft Combine, and he will spend most of the summer rehabbing his foot/ankle.

    “I’m beyond excited to see my dreams come true,” he said. “This is a blessing that my family and I will never forget. Now the real work begins. I’m looking forward to getting to work with the Nuggets. I couldn’t have ended up in a better spot.”

    The Brooklyn Nets picked Hamidou Diallo with the No. 45 pick but the Queens native quickly learned the business side of the NBA as he was first dealt to Charlotte as part of the Dwight Howard and Timofey Mozgov trade and then moved to Oklahoma City.

    “It’s a blessing,” Diallo said. “It’s an honor no matter what pick it is. Only a couple guys get this opportunity in a lifetime. You’ve got to cherish it and stay humble and hungry. That’s the motto I’m living by: I’m humble and hungry and that’s the motto I’m going to keep living by no matter what happens.”

    “He’s a super athlete,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said of Diallo. “The question is will he develop. As an athlete, he’s absolutely worth it. He shot only 60 percent from the free throw line and didn’t really show much effectiveness off the dribble. He’s excellent in transition, but a guy who is an NBA athlete who’s his skill level doesn’t yet match his athletic ability.”

    “He’s got a long way to go from a skill level perspective,” Bilas added.

    Wenyen Gabriel was the lone Kentucky player eligible in this year’s draft that was undrafted, and he’ll have to earn a spot on an NBA roster with an impressive showing during the NBA summer league.

    Calipari said earlier this week on ESPN’s ‘Get Up!’ that after this draft the Kentucky players in the NBA will have contracts worth $1.5 billion.

    P.J. Washington and Nick Richards are two freshmen who tested the NBA draft waters but ultimately decided to return to school for their sophomore season.

    Those two forwards and five-star incoming freshmen E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, and Immanuel Quickley have potential to be first-round picks in the 2019 draft with a strong year.

    Photo: Newsday

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