"After consulting with my coaches at Kentucky and those involved with my process, I have weighed the pros and cons, and I would like to renounce my college eligibility in order to enter the 2018 NBA Draft," Gilgeous-Alexander told ESPN via text. "I would firstly like to thank God, who made all of this possible and has covered me in his mercies from day one. I have worked really hard to get to this point, and because of the sacrifices and support of others, I am closer to my dreams."
Gilgeous-Alexander came into the season as the ninth-highest rated player on Kentucky's roster, in terms of high school recruiting rankings, the lowest among eventual rotational players. Despite not coming into college with significant accolades, he developed into the most productive and important player on the roster, winning SEC Tournament MVP honors last month. He's now the No. 12 prospect in the ESPN 100.
"This was a very difficult decision," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "I've loved every moment at Kentucky with my coaches and support staff. Big Blue Nation provides the best support on the planet, and of course my brothers that I've been blessed to learn and grow with. I could not have been placed in a better situation. It's hard to think about what I'd be leaving behind at UK. I love my BBN! They are the best you can ask for."
Gilgeous-Alexander's coach, John Calipari, posted a series of tweets on Monday to praise the freshman.
.@shaiglalex's development is a story I'll tell our players for the rest of my career. When we talk about building your own confidence and conquering yourself, Shai is the perfect example. https://t.co/OJECZyNkf4— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) April 9, 2018
Gilgeous-Alexander has made significant strides since emerging on the NBA radar two years ago at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Toronto during All-Star Weekend. He was raw back then, with a wiry frame, rudimentary ball skills and no jump shot to speak of, but he caught NBA scouts' eyes due to his impressive combination of size, length, feel and defensive versatility.
A late bloomer physically, Gilgeous-Alexander stood just 5-foot-6 as an eighth grader but grew 12 inches over the following four years to 6-foot-6, helping solidify his NBA stock. He measured a 7-foot wingspan in October at the Kentucky combine, which lines up fairly well with other measurements conducted in previous settings. There is not a point guard in the NBA today with a wingspan of more than 6-foot-11, with the closest physical comparison being Shaun Livingston, the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft.
Along with his basketball IQ, Gilgeous-Alexander's length is one of his most coveted traits, as he should be able to capably defend anywhere from point guards to small forwards at the NBA level and possibly even some power forwards as his body fills out. By all accounts, Gilgeous-Alexander developed into a lottery-level prospect due to his strong work ethic and intangibles, which bodes well for his potential development as a shooter, considered one of the biggest keys in his evolution as an NBA player.
The fact that he possesses solid shooting mechanics, albeit a slow release, should help him develop that part of his game in time. He shot 40 percent from 3 and 82 percent from the free throw line in his lone season at Kentucky but did so in a limited number of attempts (1.5 3s per game). He showed improvement as the season moved on and has proven capable in other settings. In the Nike EYBL during the spring and summer of 2016, he shot 45 percent from 3 and 89 percent from the free throw line, yet again in a small number of attempts.
"I decided to enter the NBA draft because I believe I am ready for this next step," Gilgeous-Alexander told ESPN. "I've worked hard, weighed the pros and cons, conducted my research, and I'm ready. I am and will continue to work hard at my craft every day, and I'm ready for the challenge of the NBA."