Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe enters 2022 NBA Draft, but former No. 1 recruit leaves an option to return open

Kentucky freshman and former five-star prospect Shaedon Sharpe announced on Thursday that he is declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft and leaving open the option to return to college basketball next season, although many expect him to remain in the NBA Draft. Once rated as the top recruit for the 2022 class, Sharpe reclassified to 2021 and enrolled at UK at the midyear point in January, but did not see any game time.

Sharpe’s case has been one of considerable interest in recent months because of its significance and impact on the landscape of college hoops and the draft. Despite never playing a minute for the Wildcats this past season, he could be a true difference-maker on their 2022 roster — one with real title hopes — next to five-star signees Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston, as well as returning big man Oscar Tshiebwe. Should he leave for the NBA, though, he’s likely locked in as a top-10 pick with the potential to upend the top of the draft.

Here are a few takeaways from his decision to test the waters and what it means.

Why Sharpe may be leaving UK

For months, Sharpe and his family have maintained publicly that he would return to school in 2022, but the opportunity to be a clear top-10 pick is a pretty appealing one that would not be easy to turn down. There’s upwards mobility here, too, in terms of his draft stock. His game from him, particularly as a scorer and creator, is one that is hard to come by in any draft, much less this one where three bigs are projected as potential top-five prospects.

The 2023 NBA Draft is likely to be even more loaded than this one, so that could also play a factor here in potentially bouncing from college after half a season. Maybe he dominates at UK in 2022-23 and solidifies himself as a clear-cut top-three prospect. Maybe I overtakes Victor Wembanyama at No. 1. But what if he’s just OK and his stock, in a deeper class, takes a tiny dive? The risk/reward proposition here is a tough one. Since there’s a very good chance he’s a top-five prospect in 2022 as it stands now, despite never playing in college, it’s hard to justify the riskier scenario even if the reward is potentially great, which is why most in the industry anticipate he will ultimately leave Lexington having never played a minute for the Wildcats.

Sharpe’s stardom in high school

Sharpe was fabulous in his last competitive environment, averaging 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on the Nike EYBL circuit as a high school senior. Sharpe led the event in points scored and finished in the top five in made 3s. At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds and only 18 years old, his talents and potential of him made him the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class before his reclassification and subsequent UK enrollment. He eventually settled in the recruiting rankings as the third overall prospect behind Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren (the projected No. 1 pick) and Duke’s Paolo Banchero (the projected No. 2 pick).

Here’s what 247Sports’ Eric Bossi said of him last year after evaluating him, which after reading is easy to see why he’ll be one of this year’s most valued prospects:

A product of Canada, Sharpe is an explosive athlete with a nose for the rim. He loves to catch, face and is tough to stop because of an electric first step and his ability to get downhill, into the lane and then finish around the rim. Over the last year, Sharpe has improved tremendously as a ball handler, pull-up jump shooter and shot maker from beyond the three point line. The improved ball handling has allowed him to be much more creative as a scorer and playmaker for others. Sharpe has long arms, moves well laterally and has all of the tools to develop into a player who is just as disruptive on the defensive end of the floor as he is on offense.

Where Sharpe would rank in the 2022 NBA Draft

Because of Sharpe’s consistency in maintaining publicly that he would return to Kentucky, we have refrained from ranking him in the CBS Sports Top 60 NBA Draft Big Board. That will obviously change now.

Sharpe will be slotted fifth overall on our Big Board behind Jaden Ivey, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith, lurking all the while as a real threat to challenge for the long-perceived top four of this class. He’s the biggest X-factor in the 2022 NBA Draft now assuming he keeps his name from him in the draft.

How the draft order unfolds may dictate how high he goes, too. Say, for instance, the Oklahoma City Thunder get the fourth overall pick after the draft lottery — but maybe they really like Chet Holmgren, who goes No. 1, and Jabari Smith, who goes No. 2, but aren’t as bullish on the other top prospects. What then? Sharpe’s sitting there as arguably the most intriguing long-term prospect for OKC’s rebuild. It’s not crazy to think he could sneak into the mix of the elites in this class, and we should keep an open mind here – given his potential of him as a scorer at his size of him – about his chances of him to swoop in and become the top pick.

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