Dorm Report: A different kind of Kentucky offseason

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Updated: 4/29 2:56 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sunday was the last day an eligible college player could declare for the 2014 NBA Draft.

In recent years, that deadline has come with the bulk of Kentucky's roster heading off to the professional ranks and head coach John Calipari left to reload with another stellar recruiting class.

For example, in 2012 after winning the national title, the Wildcats' entire starting lineup, including national player of the year Anthony Davis, who was only a freshman, entered their names into the pool of draft prospects.

While Julius Randle and James Young both decided to follow in their predecessor's footsteps this year, there will be much less roster turnover than in previous seasons in Lexington.

Important contributors to the national title runners-up, such as Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, will still pull on Kentucky uniforms next season.

Why the change?

According to both the Harrisons and Marcus Lee - each a freshman this past season - the loss to Connecticut in the national title game has left them with a craving for redemption.

"I'm coming back for a second season in large part because last year's title run was special, but we still have unfinished business," Aaron Harrison said.

"I'm returning for my sophomore season because I want to win a national title." Andrew Harrison said.

Lee, who made his decision to return a week prior to the Harrisons, had already provided the desire to win a national title as a major reason for his decision to remain in college.

"Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year," Lee said.

Sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who was unable to play in the Final Four due to an injury, was actually the first underclassmen for Kentucky to announce his intentions to return for the next campaign. Obviously, sitting on the sidelines and watching UConn cut down the nets made the choice a simple one for the 7-footer.

"Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough," Cauley-Stein said. "I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation."

With the returning, and now more experienced, talent on Kentucky's roster, the Wildcats would already be an early favorite to take home the national championship in 2015. That is even before the addition of a number of blue chip recruits by Calipari, who has stuck to his part of the "one and done" strategy. In fact, the Wildcats will have nine McDonald's All-Americans in the coming season - more than most NBA squads.

Winning a national title is a great motivator, but there could be some other factors that weighed on the Kentucky players who will continue to call Lexington home for at least one more year.

The 2014 draft class is largely considered one of the deepest in quite a while. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are thought to be future franchise cornerstones, and then there are the host of other talented players who are likely to hear their names called early like Randle, Doug McDermott and Joel Embiid, as well as international prospects like Dante Exum (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia).

What that means for Cauley-Stein and Co. is even more competition for the chance to be drafted in a desirable position, let alone make an NBA roster. The Harrisons would likely have been drafted regardless of the depth of talent, but when they would be picked is another matter entirely. Waiting a year could mean the difference between being a lottery pick and a second-round selection.

For players like Poythress, Lee and Cauley-Stein, the change in roster, especially with Randle moving on, will give them a chance to produce at a more impressive level. Of the three, Cauley-Stein (6.8 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 2.9 blocks per game) was the only one to put forth numbers that would really register with NBA scouts.

"Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine, but I want to make sure that I'm NBA-ready before I make that jump," said Poythress, who averaged just 5.8 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. "By coming back, I'll be so much closer to earning my degree in business and it will give me another year to prepare my game and my body for the next level."

As Poythress mentioned, getting closer to earning a degree also has cropped up as a factor for several of his fellow returning teammates.

Dakari Johnson, another freshman who turned down the chance to enter the draft, echoed many of his teammates' thoughts on the matter when he made his announcement last week.

"Returning to school allows me to build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball strength and conditioning skills," Johnson, who averaged 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds as a freshman, said, before adding, "And have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college."

Whatever the reasons, it is clear Kentucky's "one and done" philosophy is not written in stone. There is plenty of room for adjustment, which must be frightening for the rest of the country.

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