- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Kentucky junior Jodie Meeks has informed new Wildcats coach John Calipari that he is staying in the NBA draft and forgoing his senior season.
In a surprising move, Meeks, who made a name for himself when he poured in a school-record 54 points in a win at Tennessee last season, informed Kentucky of the decision on Monday, hours before the 5 p.m. ET deadline for players to withdraw from the draft.
Calipari said he purposely backed off Meeks and didn't pressure him into making a decision for the June 25 draft.
In a statement issued by the school, Meeks said, "I want to thank the fans and the city of Lexington. They have been great and I will always be a Kentucky Wildcat. I feel comfortable with my decision and I'm confident in my ability. My family and I talked over the weekend and decided this was the best decision."
Meeks, a 6-foot-4 guard, led the SEC in scoring at 23.7 points a game and shot an SEC-best 90.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Meeks is projected as a likely second-round pick. There is always a chance he could climb his way into the first round, but the latter part of the first round could be filled with potential foreign selections as teams try to avoid taking on more salaries for next season.
Meeks' decision makes him only the second SEC player to stay in the draft after declaring as an early entry. The other one was Florida's leading scorer Nick Calathes, who signed with a Greek professional team. Meeks' teammate Patrick Patterson decided to come back, as did Tasmin Mitchell (LSU), Devan Downey and Dominique Archie (South Carolina), Tyler Smith (Tennessee), Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State) and Michael Washington (Arkansas).
"We'll be fine,'' Calipari said.
Calipari said Meeks' departure means he may be more likely to play his pair of highly touted incoming point guards, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, together in the backcourt.
Bledsoe signed first but Wall is the more talented player, setting up a potentially dicey situation with playing time. Meeks' departure could help Kentucky avoid that mess.
Calipari said his remaining guard rotation of Wall, Bledsoe, newcomer Darnell Dodson and returnees Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins provides plenty of production possibilities. The Wildcats should be fine inside with Patterson, newcomers DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton and returnee Perry Stevenson.
Meeks' departure could knock Kentucky out of a possible preseason No. 1 perch in the polls. But the Wildcats will have enough talent to make a run at a Final Four appearance in Indianapolis.
With Meeks' departure, Kentucky was nearing finalizing its full scholarship list for 2009-2010. Spokesman DeWayne Peevy said the school was preparing an announcement on that, but it was not ready on Monday. Among the players not returning is Kevin Galloway, who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Calipari had encouraged him to go.
Galloway could be looking for a fourth college team after previously playing for Southern California, Southern Idaho and Kentucky. He averaged 10 minutes and 1.9 points last year for the Wildcats.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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