Mo Bamba is not coming to Kentucky. Arguably the most sought after recruit in John Calipari’s 2017 class will head to the Big 12 instead of the Bluegrass. A few hours after the decision, Calipari announced the addition of the three spring signees — Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox and Jemarl Baker — essentially calling it quits on the 2017 class.
Coach Cal did not finish the offseason recruiting season with a new Top Two player, but he’ll be just fine. After all, he’s been here before. Let me take you back to 2013.
All of the McDonald’s All-Americans
Entering the month of May 2013, John Calipari already had stacked the Kentucky roster with a record six McDonald’s All-Americans. The No. 1 recruiting class in America, it was touted as one of the greatest classes ever, drawing “40-0” considerations early and often. You can understand why:
- Julius Randle — 6’9″ 250 lbs., No. 2 player overall
- Andrew Harrison — 6’4″ 200 lbs., No. 3
- Aaron Harrison — 6’4″ 200 lbs., No. 5
- Dakari Johnson — 6’10” 250 lbs., No. 8
- James Young — 6’6″ 200 lbs., No. 10
- Marcus Lee –6’9″ 215 lbs., No. 14
- Derek Willis — 6’9″ 200 lbs., No. 58
- Dominique Hawkins — 6’1 170 lbs., No. 151
Four years later, John Calipari has the No. 1 class in the nation, but it’s received exponentially less hype, even drawing concerns from some fans. Still, Calipari has five McDonald’s All-Americans ranked in the Top 20 of the recruiting class (and maybe even tenth-ranked Hamidou Diallo?).
- Jarred Vanderbilt — 6’9″ 213 bs., No. 8 player overall
- Nick Richards — 7’0 240 lbs., No. 14
- Kevin Knox — 6’9″ 206 lbs., No. 17
- P.J. Washington — 6’8″ 230 lbs., No. 18
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — 6’6″ 175 lbs., No. 19
- Quade Green — 6’1″ 175 lbs., No. 30
- Jemarl Baker — 6’4″ 185 lbs, No. 83
Just like in mid-May of 2013, it was an impressive class that still had room to grow, with one top-ranked player at forefront near the end of the spring signing period.
On May 14, 2013, Matt Jones spent two hours on Kentucky Sports Radio calling every famous person in his cell phone to ask: “Where’s Wiggins going?” Choosing between Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and his parents’ school, Florida State, the Commonwealth was buzzing like never before for a recruit’s decision.
The future No. 1 pick turned down the Cats and his parents to take his talents to the land of the Big 12 in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, while Kentucky went to the National Title.
Today on May 18, 2017, Calipari’s class “ended” with a whimper when the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick* opted for Texas. Bamba and Wiggins are much different players, but their unbelievable impact on the game is comparable.
Stability at Center
When Calipari didn’t add a highlight-maker at the end of the 2013 class, the Cats were covered with McDonald’s All-American James Young ready to step in at the wing in Wiggins’ place. In the post, he had an incoming McDonald’s All-American seven-footer, Dakari Johnson. His raw offensive talent is not unlike this year’s McDonald’s All-American center, Nick Richards.
To ensure Johnson did not need to step in to play right away, returning sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein was ready to either temporarily fill the void, or take his game to the next level. This year’s hyphenated returning sophomore finds himself at a similar crossroad. Sacha Killeya-Jones wowed during summer practices, drawing comparisons to the former unanimous All-American, but he could never get comfortable during his freshman season, unable to find significant time on the floor.
By all indications, SKJ is prepared to take a Cauley-Stein-sized step up in 2017-18.
Keep sleeping on me.. I love it
— SKJ (@The_SKJ) May 16, 2017
An Enormous Roster
I made it a point to list the heights for each of the two recruiting classes. The first Harrison Twin team to reach the title didn’t have two-platoons with three guys over 6’10,” but they still had the kind of size rarely seen in college basketball.
As the game shifts toward perimeter-oriented style, Calipari’s 2017-18 team will look like his lengthy teams from the past. Excluding Green and Baker, the rest of the team is at least 6’6,” with the ability to play a lineup ( with Kevin Knox at the wing) featuring four players taller than 6’8.”
Losing Bamba hurts, but there’s more than enough reasons to remain optimistic about next season based on Calipari’s proven ability to cater his style to his players. Additionally, he’ll have extra time this summer to coach most of his new players for Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Cairo.
Any time there is extreme turnover, there’s a significant adjustment period, but if the team that didn’t get Bamba turns out anything like the team that didn’t get Wiggins, hold on, it’s about to be a wild ride.