Don’t panic yet: Kentucky’s streak of top recruiting classes still in play
While Jayhawk fans celebrated Kelly Oubre’s commitment to Kansas on Tuesday, the announcement left Kentucky and its fans in a situation they are not accustomed to — one in which they are left wondering which recruits are still available. It also comes as the third consecutive major commitment — Andrew Wiggins and Emmanuel Mudiay were the other two — that Kentucky has missed out on, which is a highly unusual development in the Calipari era. Now this is not to say that Big Blue Nation should go into panic mode and their first glimpses of Julius Randle and the Harrison twins next week will certainly help to alleviate any pending anxiety. Still, for the first time since John Calipari rolled into Lexington in 2009, Kentucky is now in danger of not having the top recruiting class in the country.
Of course, Kentucky will be getting its share of incoming stars, but it probably will not be the type of ridiculous haul that Wildcat fans have enjoyed over the past four seasons. Calipari has received commitments from 7-foot-1 Karl Towns, Jr., a top-10 recruit according to nearly every major recruiting service, and Tyler Ulis, a strong point guard prospect despite his 5-9, 150-pound frame. The Wildcats are still in the running for eight more five-star recruits in the class of 2014 — big men Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Trey Lyles, and perimeter prospects Tyus Jones, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker and James Blackmon, Jr. – but a closer look suggests that their prospects of landing each are less promising than they might appear.
Starting at the top with Okafor and Jones, the premier package deal in this year’s class, the four schools that they are considering are Baylor, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. The general consensus among recruiting experts is that both are headed to Duke, a school which they plan to visit together the weekend of Oct. 26. The pair have already separately visited Kentucky and Baylor, and plan on visiting Kansas the weekend before their trip to Durham. There is still a reasonable chance that they might not end up playing for Mike Krzyzewski, but with Calipari having already signed a point guard in Ulis (and in direct competition with Jones), it seems unlikely that the pair will end up at Kentucky. After that, Turner is certainly a possibility, but the 6-11 center has already taken or scheduled three visits and none of those include Lexington. We would never count Calipari out of a recruiting battle in which he is fully invested, but it appears that Turner is probably leaning elsewhere at this point.
The two targets that Wildcat fans will probably be pinning their hopes on are the 6-10, 250-pound Lyles and the 6-6, 220-pound wing Johnson. Lyles, a one-time Indiana commitment, has narrowed his choices down to intrastate rivals Louisville and Kentucky, while Johnson is a bit more open with his list, reportedly considering Arizona, Florida, Oregon and USC along with Kentucky. Johnson, from Fullerton, Calif., has already visited Arizona and has planned visits to Kentucky and Florida, so unless he decides that Andy Enfield’s exciting style of play at USC is worth staying close to home, our money would be on the Gators or one of the two Wildcat squads.
Kentucky’s remaining three targets — Winslow, Booker, and Blackmon — all appear to be up in the air although ESPN.com’s Adam Finkelstein believes Okafor and Jones are trying to convince Winslow to join them as a collegiate trio after playing together on the US Men’s U17 National Team. While this remains a possibility, the fact that none of the three have gone public with this idea suggests that either it is not true and/or perhaps Winslow does not feel as strongly about pairing up with Okafor and Jones as they do about pairing up with each other.
Perhaps the biggest moment left for Kentucky this recruiting season will be on Oct. 18, the night of Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena and also the date that Johnson, Lyles and Blackmon will make their official visits. With that much at stake, you can be sure that Kentucky fans will be doing everything they can to help Calipari deliver another loaded class in 2014. There is a mild chance that several of the current team’s future first round picks could return for another year in Lexington (particularly given the relative strength of the 2014 NBA draft), but Calipari has already said that he expects “six or seven” players to leave next spring. If the personnel losses are as expected and Calipari is somehow unable to work his recruiting magic in the coming weeks, it would be reasonable to say that the 2014-15 season could be the most challenging from a talent perspective that the Wildcats have seen in some time.
What’s even more reasonable than that, though, is to expect Calipari, the greatest recruiter in modern college basketball history, to find a way to get it done, again.
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