March Madness Gives Kentucky 1-&-Dones Platform To Improve NBA Draft Stock

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's March Madness and that means another batch of Kentucky freshman is expected to go one-and-done.

Freshman forward Keldon Johnson is the projected No. 15 pick in the NBA Draft and freshman Tyler Herro is at No. 20, according to the latest mock draft from from Freshman guard Ashton Hagans is at 41.

Sophomore forward P.J. Washington, who is out with a sprained foot, is projected at No. 13.

Johnson and Herro, in particular, can help their NBA Draft stock if they continue to play well for Kentucky (28-6) beginning with Saturday's game against No. 7 Wofford in a second-round Midwest Regional game here at Veterans Memorial Arena. Wofford (30-4) hasn't lost since Dec. 19, more than three months ago.

Johnson went for 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting on Thursday when Kentucky routed Abilene Christian, 79-44, while Herro had 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

"Both of them [can help themselves]," one NBA executive said. "Johnson can put himself firmly in the lottery conversation and Herro solidly into the first round."

As for Hagans, who reclassified to enroll at Kentucky this year, the executive said, "He needs to stay in school."

Kentucky coach John Calipari has coached 35 NBA Draft picks at the school, including 26 first-rounders. He likes to talk about his former players having NBA contracts worth $1.5 billion. He knows that his players can help themselves and their families long-term by getting drafted into the NBA and isn't afraid to shy away of talk about them helping their stock during March Madness.

"It's not just our guys, it's everybody," Calipari said Friday when I asked him about it. "These kids are all being evaluated this three-week period. Believe me when I tell you, it overrides anything that's happened all [season]."

And don't forget about Wofford, either.

Fletcher Magee broke the all-time NCAA record for Division 1 3-pointers and he's closing in on Steph Curry's season record. He's not considered an NBA draft prospect, though.

"Fletcher is a really good college player but most likely undrafted," the NBA exec said.

Still, Wofford coach Mike Young knows his players appreciate the chance to compete against Kentucky's future draft picks.

"You think Fletcher Magee understands that, embraces that? You're darned right," Young said when I asked, before addressing 6-foot-8 senior forward Cameron Jackson's chances.

"Cameron Jackson is on a lot of people's radar. Size is not ideal. I do think that he'll make a lot of money in Europe, if he chooses to do that, and I think he will.

"I've said before, this is the NCAA Tournament. This is the greatest tournament on earth, and to perform and play against PJ Washington - I hope - Reid Travis, play well and play a good ball game certainly would help those guys immensely."

As for Fletcher, he said he won't get too caught up in what could happen after the tournament because he doesn't want to get distracted.

"I think that that's something that you try to block out and ignore as much as you can," he said. "Getting the chance to go against great competition is always a great chance for you to prove yourself, but you don't want to get out of character and try to do things that you can't do or do things that you're uncomfortable doing just to try to show that you can do something. We want to stay within ourselves, play our game, and we feel that if we do that, we can be right there and we can compete with them."

For Calipari and his latest batch of one-and-dones, their next loss will be their final game before their NBA careers begin.

"We've had players average less than 10 points and go in the lottery," he said at Big Blue Madness last fall. "We've had the No. 1 player in the Draft average 21 minutes per game. We've had a player and I'll mention his name, Devin Booker, come off the bench and be a lottery pick. And not just a lottery pick. He scored 70 points in an NBA game."

Now it's a chance for Johnson, Herro, and Hagans to shine on the big stage and try to take Kentucky deep in the dance — and help their NBA stock as well.

Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who runs and contributes to The New York Times. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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