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2024 NBA Draft: Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard, faculty basketball’s nationwide freshman of the yr, leaving for execs

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Reed Sheppard, probably the greatest freshmen in Kentucky historical past, is declaring for the NBA Draft after a standout debut season with the Wildcats, he advised CBS Sports activities on Thursday. Sheppard is forgoing any return to school and is totally dedicated to his subsequent chapter within the NBA. He is signed with Artistic Artists Company (CAA) for skilled illustration and has begun his coaching in Los Angeles within the lead-up to the draft on June 26.

“I simply love the sport of basketball,” Sheppard advised CBS Sports activities. “God has given me a present to play ball. I am grateful. Simply making an attempt to maintain working and studying to prepare for the NBA.”

Sheppard is a projected lottery choice and has obtained top-five-pick buzz courting again to late February. 

His faculty profession is over after a surprisingly excellent one-and-done yr beneath John Calipari. Sheppard was the lowest-ranked prospect — but nonetheless a four-star recruit — in Kentucky’s No. 1 class final season. Getting into final season, the expectation was that Sheppard would steadily develop right into a three- or four-year participant on the identical faculty the place his mom Stacey and father Jeff as soon as starred. 

As a substitute, he grew to become a revelation

“Kentucky is a particular place. School basketball is a particular place. The choice was bittersweet for certain,” Sheppard advised CBS Sports activities. “I like Coach Cal. I like Kentucky.” 

Although he was ranked because the No. 79 participant within the 2023 class by 247Sports, Sheppard shortly emerged as a two-way celebrity. He averaged 12.5. factors, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and a pair of.5 steals whereas taking part in 28.9 minutes — and doing so coming off the bench. At 6-foot-3, Sheppard earned Freshman of the 12 months honors from CBS Sports activities, the US Basketball Writers Affiliation and different retailers. He additionally took house the SEC Rookie of the 12 months award.

He’s the ultra-rare participant to earn nationwide accolades and awards regardless of not being a full-time starter. Sheppard began simply 5 of his 33 video games as a Wildcat. 

Along with capturing a scorching 52.1% from 3-point vary on 4.4 makes an attempt per recreation, Sheppard proved his worth by persistently making the proper play on a Kentucky workforce that was higher from 3 than any workforce ever earlier than beneath Calipari. A few Sheppard’s largest performances got here on the highway towards high-level defenses; Sheppard poured in 32 factors at Mississippi State and 27 at Tennessee in late-season victories for the Wildcats.

It wasn’t all rosy, after all. A Kentucky workforce stacked with expertise completed 23-10 and ended its season with a thud, falling to Oakland within the NCAA Match’s first spherical. That ultimately triggered Calipari’s exit from this system; he is now at Arkansas. However Sheppard was a constant vivid spot on this workforce, as CBS Sports activities featured earlier this season.

Reed Sheppard’s NBA Draft projection

Some basic managers might balk at spending a top-five or -10 choose on a participant with restricted measurement and common bodily instruments. Skeptics may additionally use his lackluster efficiency in Kentucky’s first-round NCAA Match loss to No. 14 seed Oakland to bolster their arguments towards Sheppard as an early choice. In UK’s loss to the Golden Grizzlies on March 21, he had simply three factors in 26 minutes alongside 4 assists, three fouls, two steals and two turnovers. 

However sources stated some groups choosing within the prime 10 have already confirmed real curiosity in Sheppard’s upside. Plus, dismissing him primarily based on his play in a single NCAA Match recreation can be to disregard an overwhelmingly spectacular physique of labor at school basketball’s highest degree.

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In an period when age and expertise rule the day in faculty basketball, Sheppard made a large constructive influence on each ends of the ground for the Wildcats. Contemplate: Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Brunson, Derrick White and Fred VanVleet are examples of high-level NBA gamers who’re all 6-4 or shorter. None had been chosen within the prime 20 of their respective drafts however can be taken a lot increased if franchises may return in time.

Sheppard was pegged at No. 4 in a mock draft from CBS Sports activities NBA Draft professional Kyle Boone previous to the NCAA Match. He ranks No. 5 general in CBS’ 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings.

“Nonetheless good you assume Sheppard is, simply know you are most likely mistaken and underrating him,” Boone wrote. “He is having an traditionally nice freshman season at Kentucky as arguably one of the best shooter in faculty basketball, and he is a defensive playmaker with the smarts to be a two-way star.”

His window to be picked is a transferring goal, however indications at this stage have him as a lock lottery choice. 

Affect on Kentucky

Kentucky would usually harbor no hope of getting a projected lottery choose again, particularly beneath these circumstances (with Calipari leaving for the Arkansas job). However there was briefly a touch of optimism that Sheppard may very well be an exception given new coach Mark Pope’s longstanding friendship with former teammate Jeff Sheppard (Reed’s father). As an in-state prospect and the son of two former Kentucky stars, Sheppard entered UK with the expectation of being a three- or four-year standout in Lexington. 

As a substitute, what transpired was a Bluegrass State folks story. 

“Actually a dream come true,” Sheppard advised CBS Sports activities. “Just some years in the past, I used to be the child that I am now taking pictures with. Carrying the Kentucky jersey is simply particular. Representing the individuals of Kentucky was an honor.” 

He shortly emerged onto the radar of scouts with a surprisingly efficient all-around recreation in one among faculty basketball’s hardest conferences, the SEC. His stats and effectivity had been too spectacular to go on his accelerated NBA timeline. In constructing out a household lineage at UK, Sheppard put his identify alongside the likes of John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Cities as probably the greatest one-year gamers in class historical past.  

Had Sheppard returned for a sophomore season, hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in NIL endorsements awaited him. However in going to the NBA, hundreds of thousands extra are coming along with his first contract. 

Regardless of the temptation to return to Kentucky and grow to be one of many faces of the game, Sheppard’s inventory is just too excessive proper now — significantly in a comparatively weak 2024 draft class — to return again. Underneath Pope, the Wildcats shall be a brand new workforce in a brand new period. Sheppard represents the ultimate part of Kentucky beneath Calipari. His one-year legacy shall be immense there but additionally comes with a what-if feeling over not attending to see him develop in a UK uniform over a number of years. However, the Sheppard identify will stay beloved in his house state endlessly. 

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