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Three of UK's potential first-rounders leaning toward returning

POSTED: Mar 20, 2013 12:46 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Three University of Kentucky prospects with a strong chance to be drafted in the first round in June, and perhaps be picked late in the lottery, all strongly indicated Tuesday night after the Wildcats' season ended in stunning fashion that they will stay in school rather than jump to the NBA.

The disclaimer is that Andre Drummond said the same thing last season at Connecticut, though closer to midseason, and ended up leaving, another reason front offices put little stock in what college players say in emotional moments. But if the comments from center Willie Cauley-Stein, forward Alex Poythress and guard Archie Goodwin hold up when the time comes to make an official decision, Kentucky will be positioned for a major recovery in 2013-14 after ending this season with a loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

The future of the Wildcats' top NBA prospect, Nerlens Noel, is less clear. The defensive presence at power forward tore a ligament in his left knee Feb. 12 at Florida and had surgery March 12 before a recovery Kentucky said will last six to eight months, but he has offered no indication of his future. Many executives say he will go in the top five on June 27 despite the serious injury and possibly even the top three, with no one ruling out No. 1 overall because of the scarcity of big men and an underwhelming talent pool overall.

Tuesday night, after Kentucky went from winning the NCAA title in 2012 behind NBA-bound Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to losing to Robert Morris in the NIT, Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal reported heavy leanings from the three active Wildcats about returning to school.

"I don't know if it's a question whether I'm going [to the NBA] or not," Goodwin said. "I don't think I'm ready to go. It's no reason why I think any of our guys should really leave. We should come back next year ... and just try to do better than what we did this year. Because the expectations we had for ourselves this year, we didn't meet them at all. We didn't come close. So I think think that's what says we should all come back."

And asked about teammates saying they are also not ready for the NBA, Goodwin replied: "If any of us were saying we think we should leave, then we'd all be delusional. None of us need to leave. So I just feel that's going to help us in the long run because next year we have a strong group coming in and we're going to continue to get better.... I think it'll work out for us in the end, like it did last year. If you recall, the only one that left [after 2011] was Brandon Knight -- and Enes Kanter, but he didn't play. The other guys came back and they got a championship. Hopefully we can do the same thing with this group."

Poythress was asked whether he thinks he will stay in school: "Yeah, I do. I don't think I'm ready [for the NBA]. I don't even think I'm ready for -- you've just got to get used to it. You've just gotta come back and be focused on the offseason. That's when you get better and just continue to regroup and come back and maybe next year we can have a better year. We'll have a lot of leadership, a lot of veteran players. This year we had a couple...."

Cauley-Stein was less definitive, noting he will "absolutely" weigh his NBA stock. But he added that "I really want a ring before I leave college" and when asked about Goodwin's comment that the Wildcat prospects are not ready for the pros, Cauley-Stein said: "I have no idea. I can't speak for anybody else. I'm not. I feel like I left something out. Something's missing. I've got this empty feeling in my gut and I want to fill it."

While NBA executives will be happy to hear players wanting to improve before turning pro, Cauley-Stein, Goodwin and Poythress back at Kentucky will be another blow to an already-weak draft.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him and follow him on Twitter.

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