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Two-And-Done: Calipari’s Key Returnees At Kentucky



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.

Article written by John Wilmhoff

Former beer vendor, college mascot and ESPN editor. This spring, you can also find me blogging about the Reds on Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWilmhoff

13 Comments for Two-And-Done: Calipari’s Key Returnees At Kentucky

    2:16 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    I feel like a lot of kids come here and expect instant success, national glory, and future NBA riches. I don’t think all of them are taking it to heart when Cal says “This isn’t easy. You’re guaranteed nothing.” Stacey Poole and Wiltjer gave up and left. Dodson was a headcase who at the end had no interest in doing things Cal’s way. Orton and Goodwin wanted to be NBA players rather than college players (which I don’t knock them. I completely understand, and in all honesty, if their heart is not in staying at school, then I’d rather them leave to pursue their dreams and career). If Poole had stayed he could’ve been a reserve on a national title team, and come back as a junior with a real shot at good playing time and production, but he bolted for another school after not seeing the floor his freshman year. Wiltjer had his shot last year, blew it, and instead of coming back and competing, he bolted for Gonzaga. The problem is that the guys who buy into Cal’s philosophies and ethics end up having the best results, and subsequently leave because they’re so successful. In the current state of the game, there is no way to keep a player like Davis or Randle, or even Poythress and Jones around for more than a year or two.

  2. Ksu
    2:35 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    Since polson has been on scholarship since he stepped on campus, he has never been a walk on. But I still see he’s under appreciated. He should have started the whole season last season. He is capable of a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, he wont play over the harrisons, but at least he was nice enough to give up his number. Which was bull. He was always better than harrow.

  3. Reality
    2:37 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    The lockout is the reason they came back. Otherwise, they go pro and we don’t win a title.

  4. tltaworl
    2:44 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    Kyle Wiltjer – Can’t blame him. The style exposed him. He really should have never come. But he got a ring out of it.
    Goodwin – proved to be a smart decision.

  5. schwing
    2:45 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    [email protected]

    it’s “two and through.” what is so difficult to understand about this?

  6. Novel Idea
    2:50 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    Let’s not overlook the fact that next year’s draft class is going to be stacked so some who might have gone earlier in weaker years may decide to stay.

  7. Kentucky walk-on
    2:50 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    Not included?! Screw that noise! I got a ring.

  8. Eloy
    2:56 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    No mention of the big guy who was here two years. Didnt do much on the court but was still valuable.

  9. lonnieb
    4:59 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    I am by no means a fan of ryan harrow’s soft game…but in no way shape or form is polson better than harrow….that is just stupid

  10. lonnieb
    5:00 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    And as bad as harrow was last year he had several really big games…..we went nuts when polson got 10 against maryland b/c it was 10 more than expected…..that alone should tell you all we need to know

  11. Burley Jenkins
    5:26 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    I am praying that Hawkins, Willis, and others do NOT stay at UK for four years, but rather that they declare and get drafted well before then based on consistently superior play on and off the court. #NoClunkers

  12. Ksu
    7:10 pm July 29, 2013 Permalink

    Lonnieb, so what makes harrow better? He’s 4 inches shorter, about 40 lbs lighter. He’s NOT I repeat NOT a better athlete. He’s not a better ball handler. He’s not a better shooter. He doesn’t run the team better. Polson was sacrificing his game for the others. But harrow was a higher recruit so he had to play. Or are you making your comment based on skin color?

  13. uksr
    11:48 am July 30, 2013 Permalink

    those look like some cornball brothers right there