This is an argument that probably has no correct answer but just for the sake of argument, lets try and compare the current 2009 UK recruiting class to that of the great ones in modern college basketball history (post 1980’s). And the only reasonable way I can figure to compare the classes is breaking them down player-by-player, and pitting the best player from each class against each other, then the second best players against each other and so on. All rankings courtesy of rivals.com:
1991 Michigan: Chris Webber (#1 Overall)
2002 North Carolina: Raymond Felton (#1 Overall)
2006 North Carolina: Brandan Wright (#3 Overall)
2006 Ohio State: Greg Oden (#1 Overall)
2009 Kentucky: John Wall (#1 Overall)
Advantage: 1991 Michigan, Webber basically came into college and became the second best player in the nation behind a Duke player I can’t remember. And he stayed 2 years, while Wright and Oden only stayed one and Felton wasn’t as good as Webber. Wall will likely have the impact Webber will, but will also probably stay one year, so I think Michigan holds onto top spot.
1991 Michigan: Juwan Howard (#5 Overall)
2002 North Carolina: Rashad McCants (#2 Overall)
2006 North Carolina: Wayne Ellington (#8 Overall)
2006 Ohio State: Dequan Cook (#13 Overall)
2009 Kentucky: Demarcus Cousins (#2 Overall)
Advantage: 2009 Kentucky, Cousins SHOULD step in the starting lineup immediatly and contribute big. Howard and McCants both had great careers, although McCants was a knucklehead. Ellington had his ups and downs but became an All-ACC player and Cook was good not great at Ohio St. but still is in the NBA. But Cousins should have the most IMMEDIATE impact of anyone in this group, with Howard a close second.
1991 Michigan: Jalen Rose (#8 Overall)
2002 North Carolina: Sean May (#22 Overall)
2006 North Carolina: Ty Lawson (#9 Overall)
2006 Ohio State: Mike Conley (#18 Overall)
2009 Kentucky: Daniel Orton (#22 Overall)
Advantage: 2006 North Carolina, This is a tough call between Rose and Lawson but I am going to give it to Lawson because he was probably more of a game-changer than Rose, and his team won a national title. But thats not meant to down Rose at all, because he was a badass too. If Orton has the career that Sean May had at UNC, then I think UK fans will be just fine with him, but I doubt he will be as great as Rose or Lawson. And Mike Conley was very good, but is clearly 4th or 5th on this list.
1991 Michigan: Jimmy King (#18 Overall)
2002 North Carolina: Damion Grant (#118 Overall)
2006 North Carolina: Alex Stephenson (#41 Overall)
2006 Ohio State: David Lighty (#36 Overall)
2009 Kentucky: Eric Bledsoe (#23 Overall)
Advantage: 2009 Kentucky, This group will be known as the “Underrated” group. All these players are/will be overshadowed by their more highly touted classmates, but most of them were actually really good college players. Jimmy King is often forgotten, but he was a damn good college player. And David Lighty proved to be a capable player at OSU. Alex Stephenson showed signs of great play at UNC but transferred and I honestly have never heard Damion Grant, but I am sure he is real. Bledsoe is the pick here because he is likely to be the starting point guard at UK for 2-3 years and starting next year will be option 1A-B for the Cats. Look for a big career from Bledsoe.
1991 Michigan: Ray Jackson (#48 Overall)
2002 North Carolina: Byron Sanders (#304 Overall)
2006 North Carolina: Deon Thompson (#72 Overall)
2006 Ohio State: Othello Hunter (Unranked)
2009: Kentucky: Jon Hood (#40 Overall)
Advantage: 2006 North Carolina, Incredibly tough here, but I am going with Thompson. He is a legitimate big man who will be a big time player with UNC next year. He has had the unfortunate job of playing behind Lawson, Ellington, Hansborough, and Wright his entire career. But you wait and see, this guy will be a good pro. Ray Jackson was clearly the 5th guy on the Fab Five, and Hunter had a mediocre career at Ohio St. And Byron Sanders I think played for UNC but who cares. Hood is a HUGE wildcard in this group. I have a feeling he won’t be as impactful as Thompson will be, but I truly don’t know. For now, I am giving it to Deon.
1991 Michigan: 2 National Runners-up, 2 Final Fours
2002 North Carolina: 1 National Championship, 1 Final Four
2006 North Carolina: 1 National Championship, 2 Final Fours
2006 Ohio State: 1 National Runner-Up, 1 Final Four
2009 Kentucky: Unknown
Advantage: 2006 North Carolina, Obviously you dont know how this UK class will finish up, BUT it is likely at least 2 of these guys are gone after one year, so it would be impossible to match what ’06 UNC did. What Michigan did might be most impressive because their recruiting class was the entire starting lineup both years. The ’02 UNC squad actually went to an NIT, which eliminates them and the ’06 Ohio State class wasn’t together long enough to matter.
1991 Michigan: 25 points
2009 Kentucky: 21 Points
2006 North Carolina: 20 points
2006 Ohio State: 13 points
2002 North Carolina: 12 points
The ways UK could leapfrog Michigan: Win a national title, John Wall becomes an All-American, Orton has a better career than Sean May, and Jon Hood plays better than I am giving him credit for. It is going to be AWFULLY HARD to recreate the impact that the 1991 Michigan class had on college basketball (both on and off the floor), but their glaring weakness is no national title. If UK can pull that off next season, I think they probably have a LEGIT argument to be the best class ever.