In Jeff Sheppard’s recent controversial comments about the “one and done era” at Kentucky, one thing that the UK legend said that stood out to me and is likely agreeable among many UK fans is that the 2012 team is the model in today’s climate to win a National Championship. The 2012 championship team featured superstar freshmen who led the team on and off the court, a great veteran role player in Darius Miller and a pair of talented “two-and-dones” who returned for their sophomore season. However, I take exception to the notion that UK should not recruit the best talent or that there should be less of a focus or celebration of NBA draft picks. The 2012 team couldn’t have accomplished what they did without freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Marquis Teague, nor could they have won it all without Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Each player was an important piece of the puzzle.
So how exactly do you recruit in order to have that perfect mix of talent and experience that we saw in 2012? What level of a player, according to Rivals recruiting rankings, could we reasonably expect a chance for that player to return for multiple seasons at Kentucky?
Let’s take a look at each scholarship player in Calipari’s first four recruiting classes who have played or will play more than one season at UK, with Rivals’ rankings in parentheses:
(walk-ons and incoming transfers not included)
Alex Poythress (No. 2 PF, No. 8 overall): entering sophomore season
Wille Cauley-Stein (No. 9 C, No. 40 overall): entering sophomore season
Kyle Wiltjer (No. 7 PF, No. 22 overall): transferred to Gonzaga after two seasons
Terrence Jones (No. 4 PF, No. 13 overall): entered NBA Draft after two seasons
Doron Lamb (No. 3 SG, No. 21 overall): entered NBA Draft after two seasons
Stacey Poole (No. 4 SF, No. 33 overall): transferred to Georgia Tech midway through second season
Jon Hood (No. 11 SG, No. 40 overall): entering senior season
Generally speaking, players ranked in the overall top ten of Rivals’ recruiting classes are typically prepared to enter the draft after their freshman seasons at UK under Calipari. Alex Poythress, ranked 8th overall in his class, is the highest-ranked Calipari recruit to return for a sophomore season. Only three players have entered the draft after their freshman seasons that were not ranked in Rivals’ overall top ten. These outliers are Eric Bledsoe (No. 3 PG, No. 23 overall), Daniel Orton (No. 4 C, No. 22 overall) and Archie Goodwin (No. 5 SG, No. 14 overall). Given these results after Calipari’s first four years at UK, what does it possibly tell us about the incoming recruiting class? Will Kentucky be able to duplicate the 2012 formula of mixing talent and experience over the next several years?
Marcus Lee (No. 8 PF, No. 19 overall) is ranked lower overall than both Alex Poythress and Terrence Jones, so one could guess that there is a reasonable chance of Lee playing at UK beyond next season but he may also very well go pro (see Bledsoe and Orton). Two other possible returnees for 2014-15 could be James Young (No. 3 SF, No. 11 overall) and Dakari Johnson (No. 2 C, No. 9 overall). Young and Johnson have similar ratings as returnees Jones and Poythress did, but each will likely have options to declare if they so choose. It should be noted that Jones’ decision to return was influenced by falling short in the Final Four in his freshman season. If the Cats win No. 9 this season, the likelihood of Young or Johnson declaring would probably increase. And if Poythress and Cauley-Stein have successful sophomore seasons, they will be in a position to declare as Jones and Lamb were after their second year.
Recruiting in the “one-and-done” era is an inexact science, but when you pair up the most talented freshman in the country with “two-and-done” players like you see listed above, along with a veteran role player, you have a very similar formula as we had in winning the 2012 National Championship. Calipari is attempting to recruit the way that Jeff Sheppard and many of us think is the ideal way in the modern era. He’s recruited players at UK that were expected to be role players over a three or four-year span, but these guys didn’t all pan out exactly as planned or some were in a position to leave earlier than anyone thought (Orton, Bledsoe). Here’s to hoping Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis or possibly even the walk-on E.J. Floreal all stay at Kentucky and contribute over the long haul as Kyle Wiltjer, Stacey Poole, Darnell Dodson and others were expected to (a post on some of these guys is soon to come).
In Cal we trust.