NBA Draft prospect Shaedon Sharpe former Kentucky Wildcat

The NBA Draft will commence Thursday night from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and at some point in the first round, perhaps very early in the first round, we will hear Shaedon Sharpe’s name be called.

The 6-foot-6 guard will probably be identified as being from the University of Kentucky.

But should he be identified in such a manner? After all, Sharpe never played for the University of Kentucky. For the second half of the 2021-22 season, he practiced with the Wildcats. He went to meetings. He participated in workouts. He completed weight training sessions. He never participated in a game, however. Not one.

So is Shaedon Sharpe a former Wildcat?

There is a bit of a “none-and-done” precedent here in the case of Enes Kanter, or Enes Freedom as is now officially his name. Before he was a professional basketball player/activist, the 6-11 Kanter arrived at UK from Turkey for the 2010-11 season only to have his eligibility struck down by the NCAA over money he received in his home country. Kanter spent the season practicing — “Free Enes!” — with the Wildcats, who would reach the Final Four, but he never played in a collegiate game before being taken by the Utah Jazz with the third pick overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Kanter’s Wikipedia page lists “Education: University of Kentucky (2010-11). His Basketball Reference page makes no mention of his time at UK.

There is a major difference in Kanter/Sharpe comparison, however. Kanter could not play basketball at Kentucky, while Sharpe chose not to play basketball at Kentucky.

Sharpe could have played. After re-classifying, the five-star prospect, ranked No. 1 in his class, enrolled at UK in January. The plan was for him to become acclimated to college life while preparing to play in the 2022-23 season. Even when news came Sharpe was actually eligible for the 2022 draft, after all, the parties involved stuck with the plan, even to the point of saying nothing had changed and Sharpe would be a Wildcat next season.

Could Sharpe have helped a 2021-22 Kentucky team that lost to a No. 15 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Of course. Injuries to guards TyTy Washington, Sahvir Wheeler and Kellan Grady helped derail John Calipari’s club down the stretch. And I don’t know a single coach out there who doesn’t want one more really good basketball player.

Instead, Sharpe sat. At season’s end he entered his name into the NBA Draft. His name remained in the draft past the deadline to return to college. Sharpe then raised a few eyebrows last week when during media interviews, he declared, “I see myself as one of the greatest players ever to play the game of basketball.”


(To be honest, it was the first time many of us had heard Sharpe speak.)

Shaedon Sharpe is projected to be drafted Thursday as a lottery pick, possibly as high as the top five. Alex Slitz

Certainly, Sharpe made the right choice to remain in the draft. Though NBA scouts have never seen him play against formidable competition, he is projected to be a lottery pick on Thursday, if not a top-five selection. There was no reason individually for him to return and risk injury or his game be devalued by the scouts. By all accounts, he has a rare combination of skill and athleticism, traits that caused Calipari to take the chance that maybe, perhaps, fingers-crossed, Sharpe would stick around in Lexington for a season.

Still, the whole episode left a sour taste in many a mouth among the Big Blue Nation, and with good reason. It may not be that Sharpe and his connections used UK to his benefit, but it seems probable that not everyone was entirely honest about the situation. This was one instance where a “players-first program” did little for the program.

And it may be that when UK lists its names of former Wildcats now in the NBA, Sharpe’s name will be included. The more the merrier, after all. It might help sell future recruits. His name shouldn’t be included, however. Not really. Sharpe wasn’t a Wildcat for one simple reason. He could have been, but chose not to be.

John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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