INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Big, blue lockers provided fitting shelter for Kentucky players stunned after leaving the court.
Guard Tyler Ulis cried. Center Dakari Johnson stared blankly ahead. Talk was barely above a whisper. Now wasn’t the right time to start discussing the future.
They could barely discuss the present.
Saturday night’s 71-64 Final Four loss to Wisconsin was a stunning end for the Wildcats (38-1), who came up two games short of the unbeaten championship season that could have established their place in college basketball history.
The big question is how many Wildcats will stay. Up to seven are projected to enter the NBA draft. That reality made their last game together hard to accept, especially since they expected to play at least one more time.
“You know, we’ll never be on the same team like this again,” junior 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein said when asked what he’ll remember most about this season. “That’s going to set in. We got a month of school left with each other, and that’s it. I mean, that’s what you’ll remember.”
Cauley-Stein is almost certain to turn pro and is expected to be part of the NBA draft lottery despite a two-point, five-rebound effort in his likely final college game. He nonetheless had a memorable season in being named Southeastern Conference tournament MVP and being a finalist for The Associated Press’ All-American national player of the year award.
Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison are also expected to declare for the draft after raising their games as sophomores. They combined for 25 points against Wisconsin, the last being Aaron Harrison’s three-point play with 56 seconds left that was Kentucky’s lone basket in the final six minutes.
Neither offered any hints about their futures, and Andrew Harrison generated more notoriety for uttering an obscenity and racial slur about Badgers center Frank Kaminsky in the postgame news conference. He apologized on Twitter early Sunday morning; team spokesman Eric Lindsey said the matter has been addressed internally and that there would be no more comment.
Aaron Harrison just tried to comprehend the loss before talking about whether he’d leave school.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” he said. “I think I’ve got to take some time because you can’t make the right decision from emotion.”
Other players took the same wait-and-see attitude as well.
Freshmen forwards Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles have also been mentioned as first-round picks with Towns even projected as the No. 1 overall selection. Both were also non-committal about their futures after the loss, saying they had to discuss the matter with their families.
“Those are decisions I haven’t even thought about,” Lyles said.
Ditto for freshman backup guards Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, also mentioned as pro prospects. Center Dakari Johnson and forward Marcus Lee, both sophomores, are expected to return for another year of development.
As players mulled whether to take the next step, coach John Calipari found consolation in taking Kentucky to its third Final Four in four years and fourth in his six-season tenure. Though it didn’t end with a school-record winning streak, the Wildcats still had one of the best seasons in college basketball history.
They’ll be hard pressed to match that even with another blue-chip recruiting class expected this fall, which is why the coach wanted to savor this season’s incredible journey rather than its sudden, painful end.
“They took us on an absolute ride as a coach, our staff, this university, our state,” he said. “You’re not going to take it away. They’re hurting right now, but when they look back on this time, they’ve all improved, they all learned to be a servant leader. …
“We would have loved to have been 40-0. Let’s see if we can take another stab at it. But 38 (wins), what these guys did in a row, incredible stuff.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
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