Several times this past season, Kentucky coaches lauded Edrice "Bam" Adebayo's eagerness to improve. They spoke with confidence of his skills fully blossoming in some glittery future beyond UK.
On Wednesday, Adebayo took a step toward making that true by announcing he will enter this year's NBA Draft.
The announcement included a note of caution, which befit the prudent persona that Adebayo showed in what might be his one season as a Wildcat. He said he wouldn't hire an agent, a decision that keeps open the option of playing for UK next season.
"I want to be absolutely sure that I'm making the right decision for me and my mom," Adebayo said in a news release. "I'm looking forward to the process, and I appreciate the support of the coaches, my teammates and the fans. No matter what happens, it's been an unbelievable ride."
Adebayo, a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, has until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft, which will be June 22. At the moment, he is projected to be selected in the latter half of the first round. Chad Ford of ESPN has Adebayo taken with the 19th pick, DraftExpress.com the 30th (and last) pick of the first round, NBADraft.net the 20th pick.
His two fellow freshmen who declared their intentions to leave Kentucky -- Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox -- are projected as lottery picks.
Late this past season, UK coach John Calipari scoffed at how Adebayo was no longer considered a lottery pick in various mock drafts. Calipari went so far as to predict that NBA executives who passed up the chance to draft Adebayo could be fired when this grievous mistake became apparent.
In tweets after Adebayo's announcement, Calipari continued the theme by again touting the freshman big man's ability to defend any of the five positions and said he was a more well-rounded player offensively than his back-to-the-basket role for UK suggested.
"Bam has more perimeter skills than people know," Calipari tweeted, "and is someone with size and a physique that immediately translates to that league.
"Bam is a great kid with a ton of upside. Should he decide to stay in the draft, he will be an outstanding four-man in the NBA."
Adebayo averaged 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds. He also led UK with 57 blocks.
A sense of untapped potential marked Adebayo's freshman season. More than once, the UK coaches and players spoke of the need to get him the ball more often. All the while, Adebayo was saluted for not complaining.
This idea of carrying on in a good-natured way reached its zenith Jan. 24 at Tennessee.
"I don't know if you saw me laughing," Calipari said in his postgame news conference. "But he walked up to me and said, 'You may want to tell them to throw me the ball.' And I just had to laugh."
Calipari's halftime rhetoric included an ultimatum. "You either throw him the ball or you're coming out," he said.
In a news release announcing the decision to enter the NBA Draft, Calipari called Adebayo "our hardest worker." But Adebayo could get in his own way by not demanding the ball or being reluctant to impose his will.
"I think (Bam is) too nice and too unselfish," associate coach Kenny Payne said at one point.
Payne even proposed that Adebayo follow the example of a former UK big man who was anything but a shrinking violet: DeMarcus Cousins.
Ultimately, Adebayo can have Cousins-like impact, the UK coaches suggested.
"His best days of basketball are in front of him," assistant coach Tony Barbee said of Adebayo in early January. "I've not seen him take a day off since he's been here. ... It's scary to think where he's going to be in the years to come."
During the season, Payne said Adebayo would complete this Kentucky team by playing more aggressively. This happened down the stretch as Adebayo posted five double-doubles in the last 11 games. He scored 10-plus points in all but one of those games.
During the season, Payne suggested that Adebayo as a basketball player was still in self discovery mode.
"The key to Bam is, Bam doesn't know (how talented he is)," Payne said. "He's innocent like that. He's not like some of the other guys who think 'I'm already there.' And so he's willing to learn, a willing listener, and he wants to be great. It's going to happen, and when it does, it's going to be unbelievable.
"He's come a long way, but we won't see it at Kentucky. He hasn't scratched the surface of how good he can be."
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