Kentucky trio to test draft waters

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky freshmen

Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and junior DeAndre Liggins are heading to

the NBA. Maybe.

The school announced Wednesday all three

players have declared for the NBA draft but will not sign with an

agent, clearing the way for them to return to school next fall if they

change their mind by May 8.

Jones and Knight are considered

mid-to-high first-round picks while Liggins is a defensive stopper who

hopes to play his way into the first round after being evaluated by

scouts.

The trio helped the Wildcats to their

first Final Four appearance in 13 years this spring. Kentucky fell to

Connecticut in the national semifinals.

Knight averaged 17.3 points at point

guard and proved to be one of the best clutch performers in the country.

The 6-foot-3 Knight hit a pair of game-winning shots during the team’s

NCAA tournament run. His driving lay-up helped Kentucky escape an upset

bid by Princeton in the second round and his pull-up jumper with 5

seconds left allowed the Wildcats to knock off top-seeded Ohio State in

the regional semifinals.

“Playing in the NBA has always been a

dream of mine and this is the next step,” Knight said. “All season long

coach has been tutoring me on the fine points of being a point guard,

and now I have an opportunity to put my game on display in front of NBA

scouts as a result of my hard work.”

Knight’s 657 points were the most by a

Kentucky freshman and he also broke the school’s freshman 3-point record

by knocking down 87 3s.

Jones averaged 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds

and 1.9 blocks and set a Kentucky freshman record by pouring in 35

points in a victory over Auburn in January. He was chosen SEC Newcomer

of the Year by The Associated Press.

The 6-8 power forward volunteered to

take on a slightly lesser role during the postseason to allow his

teammates to get more involved, a move coach John Calipari said was key

to the team’s postseason success.

Liggins will have the most to prove. He

blossomed into one of the country’s top defenders but remains limited

offensively. He averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds while leading the

team with 46 steals.

“Growing up in a tough environment in

Chicago, it’s a pleasure to have an opportunity to do something

special,” said Liggins, who welcomed his first child during the season.

“This is another challenge I’m looking forward to, to have my game

evaluated by pro scouts and see how I rank against some of the top

players in the world.”

Calipari encouraged all three players

to test their prospects but added he would “would love the opportunity

to continue to coach them again next season.”

The coach told reporters last week the

unstable NBA labor situation could throw a wrench into his players’

plans to leave early.

The collective bargaining agreement

between the NBA Players Association and the owners expires June 30. If a

new deal can’t be reached, there’s a chance league owners could lock

out the players.

“The lockout really kind of screws

everything up because a lot of kids are pulling their names because what

if the lockout goes the whole year?” Calipari said. “What kind of

mistake did you make?”

The announcement comes one day after

freshman guard Doron Lamb said he would return next fall. Lamb pointed

to the Final Four loss and another talented freshman class next season

as the main reasons for his decision.

Lamb’s return guarantees at least one

high-profile freshman will be back, one more than a year ago when

Kentucky lost John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton

to the pros after just one season on campus.

Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight

criticized Kentucky for promoting the “one-and-done” culture over the

weekend but backed off his statements Tuesday.

Knight said in a brief statement

released by ESPN: “My overall point is that ‘one-and-dones’ are not

healthy for college basketball. I should not have made it personal to

Kentucky and its players and I apologize.”