When he signed with the University of Kentucky and reclassified into the class of 2020, Devin Askew was originally seen as a developmental piece designed to keep things steady in year one alongside (supposed) superstars BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke before blossoming into a surefire college star as a sophomore.
Instead, both Boston and Clarke struggled and dealt with injury, placing a larger spotlight on Askew’s play as the primary ball-handler. As a result, the former five-star prospect’s flaws were magnified and criticism came early and often.
In short, the immediate and long-term goals with Askew both failed, as the freshman has now decided to transfer from the program after just one season in Lexington.
“I am thankful for the opportunity I had to play basketball at the University of Kentucky,” Askew said. “I am also thankful for the coaching staff as they provided an experience that contributed to my development in this game I love. My teammates will be my friends forever and I appreciate how they pushed me day in and day out to get better.
“With that being said, it will be part of my growth in this game to explore a new opportunity and enter the transfer portal.”
Askew leaves the program after averaging 6.9 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 turnovers in 29.0 minutes per contest as a freshman.
“This is the part of the business I hate,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “I wish I could coach every kid for four years, but I have to respect Devin’s decision and I do. I will always be here to help him. My hope – and I told him this – is that he takes the fight he learned here with him wherever he goes. He was a great teammate and improved in so many ways as the season wore on. I will be rooting for Devin as he takes this next step.”
What does Askew’s departure mean for the program?
Wasted development time
Before talking about replacements and the position as a whole, the long-term investment by the program into Askew’s future and the fruits of the guard’s work this season will unfortunately never be seen at Kentucky. Part of the reward for playing a struggling freshman nearly 30 minutes per game in a historically bad season for the program was that Askew would be able to learn from his mistakes and develop within the system for another one to three years. You take the bad early in hopes of gradual and consistent growth in the future.
With Askew leaving the program, there is no long-term reward for the short-term struggles. The staff recruited him to be a winner, fierce competitor, floor general and leader down the road, traits we rarely got to see in year one. At this point, it is what it is and was what it was.
Kentucky will now have to start from scratch at the point guard position while Askew continues to grow as a player elsewhere.
Askew was being recruited over
Now that we got that out of the way, are we so sure Calipari and the UK coaching staff don’t want to start from scratch at the position?
To open the offseason, the staff has gone out of their way to recruit plug-and-play starters at point guard and extend interest to other potential role players in the backcourt. Reaching out to the likes of Auburn’s Justin Powell – who ultimately committed to Tennessee – Minnesota’s Marcus Carr, Missouri’s Xavier Pinson, Western Carolina’s Mason Faulkner and high school recruits in TyTy Washington and Tamar Bates, along with signing Davidson guard Kellan Grady and pushing to bring back graduate transfer Davion Mintz, Kentucky certainly isn’t shying away from a complete reset in the backcourt.
As conference play ramped up, Calipari stressed that the team’s play at point guard wasn’t good enough and slid Askew over to an off-ball guard role, adding that the freshman out of Sacramento simply wasn’t “effective” with the ball in his hands.
“Here’s how I want Devin to play so you all know: I don’t want him to have a lot of dribbles,” the UK head coach said in January. “I want him to get it up and get away from the ball. The reason I like that is because away from the ball, he can make plays and he can make shots. On the ball where everyone is watching him, he’s not effective. He’s just not.
“… Less dribbles, get rid of the ball, go away from the ball and when it comes to you, make plays. Again, he’s a respectful kid, I just don’t know if he’s hearing what we’re trying to get him to do.”
Actively looking to recruit ball-handlers and lead guards with experience at this level, was the off-ball shift for Askew going to be a permanent one going into next season?
If you’re in Askew’s shoes, the writing is (and has been) on the wall that Calipari wanted serious growth and change at the position. There may have been a roster spot and scholarship available for him next season, but he would have to return knowing his role would be taking a significant hit going into 2021-22. And for that, you can’t blame him for wanting to explore his options.
Is a replacement imminent?
Speaking of replacements, the timing of Askew’s decision to enter the portal is certainly something to keep a close eye on. It comes just one week after Kellan Grady announced his commitment to UK, in the midst of Davion Mintz making his final decision on going pro or returning to Kentucky, and while contact ramps up with other standout guards in the transfer portal and at the high school level.
Does Calipari have a replacement in mind? The conversation between parties had to start somewhere, and as of today, there isn’t a sure-fire starter to take Askew’s place in the lineup. Think of how quiet UK moved with Grady just last week, or Mintz and Olivier Sarr last offseason, or Reid Travis before that. Wheels are always in motion even if it sometimes feels nothing is happening behind the scenes.
The public speculation with Marcus Carr (among other guard options) has grown in recent days, and new names are being added to the portal daily. And through back channels, it’s easy to gauge early interest on both sides, something that happens constantly throughout the college basketball world.
Askew’s departure was a significant domino to fall in Kentucky’s roster plans for next season, a hole in the rotation the staff will look to quickly replace with a high-level transfer. But does Calipari already have a specific player in mind? And just how far along in the process are they?
Maybe it’s time to call it quits on recruiting West Coast talent?
Back on March 31, 2020, Askew told KSR that he refused to be Kentucky’s next recruit from the West Coast to transfer out of the program, claiming to be “different” than the likes of Johnny Juzang, Jemarl Baker, Marcus Lee and Kyle Wiltjer, former UK signees under Calipari who ultimately decided to transfer.
“I’m different. I’m way different,” Askew told KSR at the time. “I live on the West Coast, but I don’t play like a West Coast player at all. Nope. I play like an East Coast kid. I like to be physical, that’s just my game.
“Even though those are all great players, all the players you named are great players and they all had fun while they were at Kentucky, they just wanted to do something that was better for them. But I’m different.”
Askew promised to stick around the program no matter how his freshman campaign unfolded.
“I know I’m going to fight through adversity,” Askew continued. “If I don’t get out after one year [to the NBA], I’m staying at Kentucky. I’m going to grind it out for sure.”
Fast forward just over a year, and Askew is officially in the transfer portal, leaving the program after one season. It’d be silly to hold off on signing a can’t-miss superstar no matter where they lived, but it’s worth noting that Calipari’s track record with West Coast talent hasn’t been the greatest over the years.