Kentucky Wildcat fans got the news they had been hoping for for nearly two months earlier this week as big men Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery both announced they were pulling their names from the NBA Draft and returning to college for another season.
Richards, a 6' 11" 240 lb. junior, and Montgomery, a 6' 10" 215 lb. sophomore, both flirted with turning pro as they went through workouts and received feedback from the NBA for the past month but ultimately they decided to return to Kentucky for at least one more season.
Their return was key for the future of Kentucky and coach John Calipari as they only had one player locked in for next seasons roster at 6'7" or taller and that was Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina.
Now the Wildcats have a loaded roster from top to bottom potentially going two players deep at every position with still enough room to add another player, whether it be another grad transfer or a class of 2020 recruit reclassifying to 2019.
The return of Montgomery was maybe more important than the return of Richards because he is a valuable player on both ends of the floor.
E.J. was a top-ten recruit coming into Kentucky and he showed flashes why last season in limited playing time behind bigs P.J. Washington and Reid Travis.
Montgomery has a smooth game on the offensive end for a big-man and can extend his jump shot beyond the three-point arc. He showed last season that he can grab a rebound on the defensive end and lead the break with above average passing skill for a player his size.
He could potentially make the biggest leap of any Kentucky player returning and potentially play his way into a lottery pick following his sophomore season, much like P.J. Washington did this past season.
The return of Richards should not be overlooked however as he still has the size and athleticism to impact a game on any given night.
The junior has started in over 30 games during his Kentucky career and will provide the Cats with experience in the frontcourt.
Richards, who came to UK as a five-star recruit, was expected to be a one-and-done guy coming out of high school but has struggled with inconsistent play during his time in Lexington and just does not possess the same skill set on the offensive end as Montgomery.
Still yet, he showed flashes of the game changing talent he possesses on both ends of the floor at times a season ago and will be a key piece on the Wildcats roster next season.
Looking at UK's roster as it stands from top to bottom, they have 10 scholarship players including eight five-star recruits, one four-star recruit, and a grad-transfer with room still yet to add another player.
Point guard Ashton Hagans announced back in April that he would return for his sophomore season after being rumored as a potential second round draft pick.
Hagans will become only the second point guard, with Andrew Harrison being the other, to start multiple seasons as Calipari's point guard at Kentucky and he will also be joined back on campus by sophomore combo guard Immanuel Quickley.
Couple the returning pieces with incoming high school All-Americans Tyrese Maxey, Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, and Dontaie Allen and Kentucky should once again be the favorite in the SEC and challenge for their 18th appearance in the final 4.
If coach Calipari can pull a rabbit out of his hat and add the No. 1 grad transfer in Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear, who also pulled his name out of the NBA draft on Wednesday night, the Wildcats will be scary good once again. Kentucky is among the favorites to land Blackshear along with SEC foes Florida and Texas A&M.
But I will warn Kentucky fans, don't fall into the preseason hype once you see this team ranked in the top 5 before the start of season and expect them to cake-walk through the schedule only losing a couple of games.
Almost every Kentucky team under Calipari, minus three in 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2014-15, has had several bumps along the way from the start of the season until March.
The one thing the three of those teams had in common that this Kentucky team and several others didn't have is the future No. 1 NBA draft choice on their roster. The highest rated Wildcat currently in the 2020 mock draft is Maxey at No. 12 while Whitney is also expected to be a top 20 pick.
It will take time for Calipari to get this new team to buy in, gel, and be on the same page. Losses will come, and likely in a couple of games that many don't expect to lose.
But one thing is for certain, the Wildcats will be loaded with talent from top to bottom and you can bet coach John Calipari and his club will be right in the mix of things come March Madness.
Jarrid McCormick is a sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.