LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari and his Kentucky basketball program haven’t had any success in the NCAA transfer portal market this offseason as they try to fill out their 2023-24 roster.
The latest miss came Saturday when forward Keshad Johnson, formerly of San Diego State, committed to Arizona over Kentucky.
UK was also a finalist for former Michigan star Hunter Dickinson, who picked Kansas. Johnson and Dickinson aren’t the only ones. The Wildcats contacted more than a dozen players who committed to other schools, including:
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The transfer portal misses come on the heels of four UK players who decided to transfer following the 2022-23 season: guards Sahvir Wheeler (committed to Washington) and CJ Fredrick (Cincinnati) along with forwards Lance Ware (Villanova) and Daimion Collins (uncommitted).
UK only has seven players officially set for next season’s roster: its incoming five-man signing class (guards Robert Dillingham, Reed Sheppard and DJ Wagner, wing Justin Edwards and 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw), rising sophomore forward Ugonna Onyenso and former walk-on Brennan Canada. Rising sophomore guard Adou Thiero has not announced his return, but the deadline to enter the transfer portal and maintain eligibility for next season was May 11.
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Kentucky basketball roster 2023-24: Where do Wildcats go from here?
Roster construction for the 2023-24 campaign is a three-front battle for the Wildcats.
One is waiting for pending decisions from three members of last season’s roster: forwards Chris Livingston and Oscar Tshiebwe and guard Antonio Reeves. The trio entered the NBA draft but maintained their college eligibility. Livingston and Tshiebwe both participated in last week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. After not receiving a combine invite, Reeves is expected to be back in Lexington next season, but he has yet to reveal his future intentions.
The deadline for players to remove their names from draft consideration and maintain college eligibility is May 31 at 11:59 p.m.
Kentucky will also monitor players from other schools who withdraw from the draft.
Former Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua is one player to watch. Nkamhoua averaged 10.8 points (on 51.3% shooting) and five rebounds per game last season. He powered Tennessee to a win over Duke in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament, scoring a game-high 27 points. Nkamhoua will reportedly visit West Virginia this week, according to West Virginia Sports Now’s Ethan Bock.
Another potential option for the Wildcats is North Dakota State’s Grant Nelson, who also participated in the NBA draft combine. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward averaged 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last season. Nelson is considered one of the top players to enter the transfer portal this offseason, ranked No. 3 by 247Sports, No. 6 by On3 and No. 16 by ESPN. Nelson is No. 2 in The Athletic’s roundup of best transfers still available.
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The Wildcats also will continue to mine the transfer portal for players not entered in the NBA draft.
Cam Spencer, a grad transfer from Rutgers, has heard from the Wildcats, according to college basketball reporter Adam Zagoria. Spencer led the Scarlet Knights in scoring (13.2 points per game) last season and was a knock-down shooter, hitting 43.4% (72 for 166) of his 3-point attempts and 89.4% of his free throws.
Kentucky has also been in contact with former N.C. State center Isaiah Miranda, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS. Calipari recruited the 2022 four-star recruit out of high school. Miranda did not play as a freshman with the Wolfpacks after joining the team in December.
Per The Athletic, the five best players still in the transfer portal — aside from Nelson and Nkamhoua — are Arthur Kaluma (6-7 wing from Creighton), Julian Phillips (6-7 forward, Tennessee) and Ernest Udeh Jr. (6-11 center, Kansas).
If Livingston and Tshiebwe keep their names in the draft, landing Nelson, Udeh or another big in the transfer portal becomes vital for UK’s front court, which has only Onyenso and Bradshaw in the fold for next season.
Former North Carolina guard Caleb Love also is back on the market after previously committing to Michigan. If Reeves moves on, Love could provide leadership and experience for a youthful, underclassmen-centric backcourt.
Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.