He was projected as a one-and-done before he ever arrived in Lexington and in fact, that’s what Archie Goodwin will be in just a matter of weeks. It’s just that the time that he would spend during the “one” portion of that equation was supposed to be so spectacular that anyone would understand the “done” part.
After all, we’d seen it before, as recently as last season, when three of the freshmen who helped Kentucky win its eighth national championship heard their names called in the first round of the NBA draft.
This year’s class was supposed to have a similar magical run – maybe not to a national title; but perhaps to the Final Four. At least MAKE the tournament, for crying out loud.
But none of that happened (leaving some members of the Big Blue Nation actually crying out loud).
And still, Goodwin has decided to follow his dream of playing professional basketball. On April 1, he announced he would leave Kentucky and make himself available for the draft, rendering him, in the eyes of some, an April Fool. But it was not an impulsive decision. Goodwin, who initially stated he would return, told me he talked to his coach, talked to his family and looked deep inside himself before making his decision.
“I felt it was time for me to explore and see what I could do at the next level,” Goodwin told me Thursday night on “Big Blue Insider,” heard in Lexington on WLAP-AM. “ I’m confident in myself and I’ve been working really hard. As soon as the season was over, I started working out and staying in great shape. I’ll just take what I learn through these workouts and hopefully, it’ll take me to where I want to go.”
And that is, to a career in pro basketball, which is the end goal of virtually all players at the high Division I level – especially at UK, which seems to be something of a pit stop on the road to pro basketball riches.
Two other members of Goodwin’s signing class – Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress – elected to return to the college game, after the disappointing season. And they’ll compete with an incoming class that already is one of the most highly-touted in the history of the game and will reach legendary proportions if Andrew Wiggins becomes a Wildcat.
Some believe the insanely talented newcomers, on the way to soak up playing time, sparked Goodwin’s decision. He says, no.
“That’s not what it was,” he said. “Realistically speaking, with the class coming in next year, minutes were going to be (scarce). That had nothing to do with my decision. I wouldn’t have had any problem playing with those guys.
“I watched the McDonald’s game last night and I saw the potential those guys have. They’re going to be a great team. I had no problem with those guys, or competing with them. I feel I could have made them better as well. But at the same time, I just felt maybe it was better for me to take the next step.”
The new guys, especially the Harrison twins, already have turned heads with the ferocity they bring to the court, something sadly lacking for much of the season in this Kentucky team. It irked Goodwin, who said he tried to bring it every night.
“One thing I think nobody can question – I try my hardest every game,” he said. “I give it my all. I don’t’ think as a team this year we collectively came with that type of attitude, that we’ll all play with effort, we’ll all play our hearts out. I think that’s the main reason we were in the situation we were in.”
And that was, on the outside of the NCAA bubble, looking in, with a first round loss in the NIT a stain on their resume’. Goodwin said it was maddening, knowing they should have been so much better.
The victory over Florida was Exhibit A.
“It seemed like sometimes when our backs were against the wall, we didn’t push through it the way we needed to,” Goodwin said. “The Florida game… we shut them out for the last seven minutes. Once we did that, I really felt we were about to turn things around.”
But as we all know, they didn’t. And the Gators, like other teams on the UK schedule, not only played in the NCAA tournament, but made a deep run.
“They made it to the Elite Eight this year,” Goodwin said. “They’re a legit team and we held them to no buckets for the last seven minutes. That just speaks to how good we were defensively. If we had done that every game we would probably still be playing right now.”
Goodwin might not even know that UK’s arch rival, Louisville, has made the Final Four. He says he can’t bring himself to watch the tournament on TV, because he knew it would irritate him or make him mad. “We beat these teams,” he said. “How did they get in and we didn’t?”
It’s something that likely will gnaw at him every year when March rolls around. But if all goes as planned, he’ll be busy at that time with his NBA career and won’t have much time to think about it.
Goodwin is the first Calipari-coached player to spurn his coach’s advice and LEAVE school, although Calipari likely will be ripped for sending another youngster in search of NBA riches well ahead of his time.
“He said he thinks I need to come back but whether I go or not, he’s here for me and he loves me and he’s going to try to help me the best he can,” Goodwin said.
And he knows he’s flying in the face of, not just Calipari’s wisdom, but history. “It’s kind of hard with the legacy coach Cal has,” he said. “It’s hard for me to tell him I think otherwise because he’s right about just about everything. He hasn’t proved himself wrong about any players. It was hard for me to tell him I think I should leave. But I went with my heart, and my heart’s telling me to leave.”
Goodwin said he talked it over with his family, who supported his decision. And it’s those same family members he credits for preparing him to step into the real world with confidence.
“That won’t be a problem for me,” he said. “I’m very mature for my age. I’ve always been the type of guy growing up, I’ve done things more maturely than other guys my age. I’ve had to learn what I can and can’t do, how to be smart about situations. That’s due to the way I was raised. By my mom, my dad and my step-dad, and my uncle. They made sure I stayed on the right path. They gave me enough freedom to where I can make my own decisions. Just to build responsibility from that. Thinking in those terms, I think I’ll be fine.”
And, Goodwin said, so will his game – exasperating at times but perhaps better suited for professional basketball.
“I know I make a lot of mistakes, and that’s what I’m working on, as far as me going too fast,” he said. But Goodwin says he’ll do whatever it takes to do the job the way it needs to be done. “I can bring toughness and energy,” he said. “I’m a worker. I work hard all the time. I know it’s all about playing roles. Whatever my role is when I get picked up, that’s the role I’ll play to the best of my abilities.”
He’s hoping that’s how UK fans will remember him – as a guy who left it all on the floor. And he’ll remember the people who supported him as well.
“I appreciate the whole BBN for this year,” said Goodwin. “Great fans - the greatest fans ever, regardless of whatever sport. I love all of you. I love the state of Kentucky.”
(Dick Gabriel is in his 24th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)