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Kentucky on the Brink of History

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With little in the way of news actually taking place this weekend, it seemed like a good time to confront a reality that I dont think most fans completely comprehend. Since the hiring of Coach Calipari, there has been a great deal of excitement about what the future holds for Kentucky basketball….as well there should be. Many fans have future banners in their minds and a return to the top of the basketball mountain in their eyes. But I dont think fans realize just how soon history can come. If John Calipari is able to get a commitment from John Wall and Xavier Henry, then Kentucky will have the greatest recruiting class in HISTORY this season. Read that last sentence again. I know it sounds like a statement encased in hyperbole, but it really is not. For if Kentucky is able to close out this class, they will have produced the greatest 5 man collection of basketball recruits that I think we have ever seen in college basketball….and Calipari will have done it in four months. That my friends is impressive.

As with any statement, it needs to be made in the context of actual facts. Lets look at the Rivals recruiting rankings of the last two “Superstar” classes, the famous Fab Five for Michigan and the Ohio State group just a few years ago:

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Now as you can see by that list, both sets of recruits involved getting five guys, each of which were towards the top of their recruiting classes. Prior to the Ohio State haul, it was nearly universally agreed that the best class of all time was the Fab 5 and even though the Ohio State group isnt often associated in the same context, the numbers show their class was right there as well. Now lets look at the Rivals rankings for the possible UK class:

#1 John Wall
#2 Demarcus Cousins
#8 Xavier Henry
#22 Daniel Orton
#40 Jon Hood

As you can see, the class compares very favorably to the Fab 5….both included the #1 and #8 ranked players in the class, but while the Fab 5 had #5, the UK class has #2. The Fab 5’s fourth player is ranked a bit higher than UK’s fourth (18 vs 22) but UK’s fifth player is higher than the Fab 5’s fifth (40 vs 48). Thus strictly by numbers, UK is right there with the Fab 5, nearly every step of the way.

The same is true when you break down the class by “star power” coming out of high school. The Fab 5 had three guys that were guaranteed pros….Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose. The same is true for Kentucky as this class would have three guaranteed pros for the Cats, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Xavier Henry. However, I think UK’s class surpasses Michigan’s at the fourth spot. While Jimmy King was considered to have pro potential, the 1991 class was not as deep as the 2009 class. Daniel Orton at #22 is regarded by nearly every scout as a likely pro and his upside is much higher than that of King. Both Jon Hood and Ray Jackson have similar accolades out of high school, but it is Orton’s ranking over King that to me gives UK the potential for the better overall class.

Now of course as with all bold proclamations, it must be remembered that as of today, the UK players have accomplished nothing in college. Both the Fab 5 and the Ohio State class found their way to the NCAA Championship in their Freshman seasons….an astounding accomplishment. But when it comes to high school honors, the UK class is either even, or potentially above BOTH classes. From a rankings standpoint, they are situated a bit higher and are part of a class that overall is much deeper. And like those classes, they are spread out at every position, so that they have the potential to all immediately come in and make an impact and change the overall fortunes of their programs.

None of this is to say that success is guaranteed for this group. But fans need to realize that here in his first year, Kentucky could end up with a class that is literally the best of all time. Some of that is due to the work of Gillispie, which should not be forgotten, but most of that is due to Calipari. In just five weeks he has set Kentucky up to literally rewrite the history books in recruiting. And if these two classes above are any indication, such high-level recruiting often ends up in surprising success. Those two classes ended up staying together a total of three years in the two programs. Their record:

1992 Michigan — NCAA Runner Up
1993 Michigan — NCAA Runner Up
2007 Ohio State — NCAA Runner Up

With Wall and Henry, UK’s class is as highly acclaimed, if not higher, than those classes. Does that not get you a bit excited about next year?

Article written by Matt Jones