LEXINGTON, Ky. – Although Kentucky men’s basketball’s “Graduation Night” – as dubbed by head coach John Calipari – came months later than normal, three more Wildcats heard their names called in the NBA Draft on Wednesday night.
Tyrese Maxey (No. 21, Philadelphia 76ers), Immanuel Quickley (No. 25, Oklahoma City Thunder) and Nick Richards (No. 42, New Orleans Pelicans) were selected during the 2020 NBA Draft, which was done virtually this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 11 seasons with Calipari at the helm, Kentucky has churned out three No. 1 selections, 31 first-rounders, 21 lottery picks and 41 total players in the NBA Draft. The 41 draft picks are 14 more than the next closest school (Duke). With two first-round picks, Kentucky has more first-round selections (41) than any other school in the NBA lottery era (since 1985).
“It’s graduation night. Three guys drafted,” Calipari said. “Ashton (Hagans) and EJ (Montgomery) and Nate (Sestina) are going to have an opportunity with different teams. Maybe two-way contracts. Maybe free agency. But they’re going to have a chance. They’re having their own path.
“You have Tyrese, Philadelphia. You have Immanuel, Knicks. You have big Nick, Charlotte. They’re on a different path. But you know what? At the end of the day, fight for what you want. Take what you want and I’m proud of all of them.”
Maxey was the first Wildcat off the board and the first UK player selected by Philadelphia since Mike Flynn in 1975.
“I just want to show them that I can compete and I know what I can do,” Maxey said during the telecast. “I trust myself. I put the work in and I’m just so excited. I’m so thankful. I learned so much from (Rajon) Rondo (while he trained in LA). He took the time out of his day every morning to teach me the tricks of the trade and I just want to say thank you so much. I thank Philadelphia for this opportunity, and I promise that it won’t be a regret.”
Quickley’s rights are proposed in a trade to the New York Knicks where former UK associated head coach Kenny Payne is now an assistant and former UK players Kevin Knox and Julius Randle are on the roster. Richards’ rights are being proposed in a trade to Charlotte. He would join former Wildcats Malik Monk and PJ Washington with the Hornets.
On being drafted, Quickley -- the 2020 SEC Player of the Year -- said: “For me it was more just staying true to who I am, which is keeping God first, and my grind. (Coach Cal) said I was one of the hardest-working players he’s ever had. And then also just being a great person off the floor. Those three things have really propelled me and gave me confidence on and off the floor. I feel like that was how I was able to lead and be a leader on last year’s team. Just putting the work in and my teammates and coaches believed in me.”
The Wildcats have had more top-10 picks, more lottery selections and more first-round picks in the Calipari era than any other team in the country. UK has had multiple first-round selections in every draft during Calipari’s tenure.
Kentucky has had 132 players drafted 134 times in its illustrious history with 55 players selected in the opening round.
It is the 11th consecutive NBA Draft that Kentucky was represented by multiple players in the first round of the draft. UK is the only program since the draft went to two rounds in 1989 to have multiple players selected in the first round in 11 straight years. Calipari is the only coach to have multiple players selected in 13 consecutive NBA Drafts, dating back to his time at Memphis. This marked the first time the Wildcats did not have a lottery pick in the Calipari era. The Wildcats previously had at least one lottery pick in 10 straight drafts and multiple lottery selections seven times. Calipari’s streak of first-round picks dated back 12 seasons to his time at Memphis.
The Wildcats’ three total picks tied Arizona and Duke for the most selections in the 2020 NBA Draft.
By the way, as an undrafted free agent, sophomore Ashton Hagans inked a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves where he would play with former UK star Karl-Anthony Towns. Sophomore EJ Montgomery and graduate transfer Nate Sestina also went undrafted. They are expected to have an opportunity to sign a free-agent deal.