Throughout the season, one common denominator that has brought together all the fans is a belief that things will be better for the Cats once Billy Clyde gets his players here. Thus recruiting has taken on an even greater importance and has become the focus of fans even more so than in previous years. Yet, the information out there simply isnt what it once was. Part of that is because Gillispie hasnt been here long enough to create the long-term relationships that help you realize which players he is focusing on and part of that is simply because this staff doesnt do leaks like the previous one. In past years, you knew what coach was going where to see what kid fairly quickly and with little effort. This group keeps things much closer to the vest and knowing whether they will zig or zag is never clear.
Thus knowing what players will be part of the Class of 2008 is somewhat of a mystery. Very few top quality members of the class are still out there and of the ones that are, it doesnt seem UK is a big player for most of them. Thus we are left with speculation and “sleepers,” something that can leave some fans a bit worried. Here then is a breakdown of where the Cats are and what the next couple of months of recruiting may look like.
DEPARTURES: At the end of the season, the Cats will lose two of their more polarizing players in recent years, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. With their loss, the Cats will lose the two most potent one-on-one scorers on the team and a great deal of the team’s offense, especially late in the game. However it does open up two scholarships for recruiting purposes to be filled by the 2008 class. In addition, this season Mark Coury (who came to UK as a walk-on) was given a scholarship, and it too can be returned (along with shipping and handling) to UK, giving another spot for the class. At this point I forsee at least one transfer from the class, bringing the likely number of scholarships available up to 4. Often you will hear fans say that Billy Clyde should “run off” some players to open up scholarships but I am not sure what exactly that would accomplish. A guy like the Big Black Member (who the coaches are high on and believe will contribute before he leaves UK) would leave, but with the scarcity of resources out there, you might get a player that is very similar coming in. At this point four scholarships looks to be the number the Cats can work with and will likely focus in on.
PERIMETER AND WINGS: As you certainly by now know, the two additions to the class so far have been Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, both players in the athletic wing mold who can play the 2/3 and in Liggins’ case, potentially the point. Their addition to the team will provide a different look for the Cats. In the short term, Miller and Liggins will not provide the scoring that Bradley and Crawford are able to bring. Miller is a guy who can put it in the basket with his athleticism and outside shooting, but will not be the producer of the two seniors, at least early on. Liggins is an athletic creator, but is not a great shooter and not a huge scorer, rather doing other tasks to help the team, a la Derrick Jasper. Both guys will however help on defense as both have the athleticism and length to succeed in Billy Clyde’s defensive philosophies. Thus a team with Liggins/Miller rather than Crawford/Bradley may have more of a problem generating points, but will be much better at stopping them. These two represent the two scholarships currently accounted for and likely will be the totality of this position. One note however….if one of the current perimeter players were to leave, UK might look at yet another player in this mold, something they appeared to do at some points with Scotty Hopson. But for now, the Cats might be content to stand pat.
POINT GUARD: Many observers believed that Kentucky has filled its need for a point guard with the recruitment of DeAndre Liggins. However I have always questioned Liggins’ future there as his role in high school is more of a point forward, a position that may translate better to the 3 at UK. This seems to be the belief of the UK staff as well as they are still recruiting for a point guard in this class. Tyrone Appelton is a JUCO player who has visited campus and is considered one of the top 5 point guards in the junior college ranks. Kentucky has offered him a scholarship and he is expected to decide by March. In addition, I have been told that another JUCO PG will be coming to visit in the next two weeks, although I have yet to find out a name. (Internet hounds may be able to weed it out). There are no great 2008 high school points remaining, and it is likely that as far as high school point guards go, the Cats are content to try and recruit John Wall from North Carolina or go with current 2009 commitment GJ Vilarino.
BIG MEN: The $64,000 question for this 2008 class, as it has been for the past three of four classes, is will Kentucky get a big man? If we are to assume that Patrick Patterson does not go pro (and I think it is 98% likely that he does not), then the front line will still be Patterson, Coury, Stevenson, Williams next season…..a proposition that doesnt send chills of joy down the spine. UK has actively pursued a number of big men and has not had success….much to my surprise. At this point, there are a number of directions UK can go and they are leaving their options open. Washington DC big man Maurice Sutton (pictured above, who was in town this weekend in Lexington) has been followed by this staff for sometime and is an option for the 2008 class. As of last week, UK hasnt yet offered, but Sutton has been holding out, hoping for an offer from the Cats or another top school. Sutton is long and very lean, 6’11” and 200 pounds. But he can score and has decent hands. UK has been courting Sutton since Gillispie arrived but hasnt quite pulled the trigger….and it likely could have him if they did, which makes me wonder if an offer is coming. In addition, we have told you of Wesley Witherspoon, the kid out of Georgia who is around 6’7″, but is long and would be a Chris Singleton-type undersized, athletic big man. He claimed on our show to have an offer from UK, but others suggest that isnt the case. UK however is following him and continuing to show interest and contact him regularly. He may represent the best high school “big” man available to UK and thus he may get a final offer very soon.
In addition to these high school players, it is also clear that UK is farming the JUCO land for a big man who can contribute next year. I have been told in the past week that 3 big guys have been on campus that havent been reported and at least one is a JUCO guy they are looking at for next season. Once again, with this group names are very hard to follow, and in the JUCO world it becomes even more difficult. We have heard talk about Marvin Jefferson from California, but no one has ever confirmed an offer at this point. There have also been rumors of a “foreign big man”, which seem to pop up every year and never materialize. However Gillispie has a history of going this route, once at Texas A&M and once at UTEP, so it could actually occur this year. Either way, I expect at least one big man to come to UK from a non-high school source…..and my guess is we wont know the name until the day the commitment breaks.
So that is where UK is at this point. 2 scholarships to give….one likely to a point guard who can contribute next year (JUCO?) and at least one to a big man who can do the same. A perfect haul might be Appleton, Witherspoon and a JUCO big if another scholarship comes open. Sutton is a possibility, and you always have the outside chance of a Scotty Hopson rekindling if he continues to tear it up. What is clear is that UK is scrambling a bit to fill up the class with players who can contribute right away. Long term, adding Liggins and Miller will be GREAT gets for the program. But in the short term, the team needs a couple more impact pick-ups in order to ensure that next year’s team will be an improvement over this one.