If you are a University of Kentucky fan, May 14, 2007 is a day that you will remember for some time. It began as any Monday does, with the promise of a new work week and the unique anticipation of a week of recruiting news. Then, in the span of five hours, three of Kentucky’s big four targets for the 2007 class decided they were heading to other schools and leaving Kentucky as the bridesmaid yet again. All of a sudden, what once looked to be the question of the hour (“how will Kentucky find the necessary scholarships?”) became a new question (“Will Kentucky sign anybody?”) and much of the optimism creeped out of the Big Blue Nation. Just like the real Black Monday on October 19, 1987, no universal cause can be attributed to explain the total collapse of the day as a whole. Rather, it seems to be the culmination of a number of individual events that simply combined to create a universal negative result.
There is a great deal of hand-wringing going on right now about the Beas Hamga situation and what role if any UK fans might have had in its decision. The Hamga recruitment, while short, was nevertheless one of the more eventful in recent memory. He visits UK with many saying that UK is the leader, only to come home and commit to UNLV. There are reports that the Facebook posts by UK fans may have been the deciding factor (I find that hard to believe), that UK never was really in a good position at any point (also hard to believe) and that Hamga didnt really connect with UK on the visit (most likely). But either way, the Rebels won the war over Kentucky…..an outcome many didnt see coming.
Michael Sanchez picked Arkansas tonight, ending an odd courtship with UK in which the Cats seemed to fluctuate from great interest to no interest and then back again. It was never clear whether Sanchez had an offer from UK and his visit dates continually seemed to be pushed back as the Cats looked for other options. In the end, Sanchez chose his home state school…..a not surprising result, but one that certainly comes as a victory for new coach John Pelphrey. The tough part for UK is that they never got the visit by the young man and were never able to show off the campus to him. But in the end it may not have mattered…..the home state school showed him love with a coach he liked and respected…..and the end result was a commitment.
And then there was Jai Lucas. Unfortunately today’s conclusion was the result of a masterful recruiting performance by Billy Donovan that switched Jai Lucas from a Kentucky lock, with Florida arguably in fifth position to a Florida commitment with Kentucky on the sidelines. For the past year and a half, Lucas was likely headed for the Cats, thanks to a relationship between his father and Tubby Smith that had him convinced he would be the leader of the Wildcat program for the next four years. Even when Greg Swaim at Oklahoma St and the Maryland sites claimed Jai was set to come to their school, his comments about Kentucky never wavered. Then Billy Donovan put Jai in his sights at the same time that Tubby Smith departed for Gopher land. Over those four weeks, Billy D won Jai over, culminating in his final home visit when he sold Jai that he would be the new Taurean Green and the leader of the second Florida dynasty. That recruiting job overshadowed his affinity for the UK program and his personal relationship with Coach Cyprien, and truly shows just how good Billy D is at relating to kids. Jai is now a Gator and one wonders if Patterson is not too far behind.
All in all, a very, very tough day for the Big Blue Nation. All three of these young men at some point either had, or were reported to have Kentucky at the top of their list. Now all three will be headed elsewhere, two to SEC rivals and one to a school that UK usually doesnt lose recruits to in the long run. This is likely the worst 24 hours of recruiting that the UK basketball program has ever had in its long history. Most observers believe, like I do, that this is the nadir before the rise and rebirth of UK recruiting. If so, folks may look at this day as being not all that important in the long run. But there is no doubt that in the here and now….today really sucked.