While we have expanded a great deal of energy on this blog talking about recruits for the 07 and 08 class who are still out there to be recruited (and if you didnt see the mid-afternoon Post-Christmas update, scroll down and you can catch up), it is very easy to forget those that have already committed to UK. While most were surprised when the Alaskan Assassin Razor Ramon Harris ended up at UK, his recruitment was actually quite quick…..we picked up on his visit, he came, he saw, he committed. He was here on the same weekend as the British sensation Mike Williams, another guy that virtually no one knows and who is, without a doubt, a project (although one that was attracting high level interest from UNC and Maryland at the end). If one were to just look at those guys, the questions about recruiting obviously come up and worry begins to creep into the fans’ minds.
But now, some of this worry has been transformed to the other UK signee, AJ Stewart out of Jacksonville. Folks have been fretting because his points and rebounds have not been through the roof and there have been reports that he looked….well, mediocre in his various holiday tournament appearances. Thus some are questioning whether he too is good enough to wear UK blue and whether his signing may have been another “project” pick that will not pay immediate dividends.
In my view, there is no way AJ Stewart can be described as anything but a great pickup for UK. I have seen AJ play a number of times, and he is a great leaper, a force inside and a kid who has a nose for the ball around the basket. He is a decent (although not great) shooter and will be a player that will contribute from his first day on UK’s campus. What many folks who are just looking at numbers often forget, is that AJ is playing on a GREAT high school team, one that is ranked nationally and generally handles their competition. AJ plays with three high level guards (all would be top 5-10 players in the state of Kentucky, just for reference sake), all of whom take a number of shots and AJ gets most of his points on rebounds and put-backs. This is not a reflection on AJ the player, but rather Arlington Country Day the school, a place that produces lots of Division I players and thus individual talent often takes a back seat.
I became a fan of AJ last year watching his high school team play on two occasions. I saw Stewart absolutely dominate Tennessee forward Wayne Chism, in a game that really helped AJ climb the rankings. Then I saw him this summer, against the best of the best in Indianapolis at the Nike Camp, and he more than held his own…..earning himself a UK, Illinois and Florida State scholarship offer after the camp. In addition, I am not the only one who shares this opinion……Billy Donovan, maybe the best scouter of talent not in the Triangle of North Carolina, tried multiple times to get involves with Stewart, who declined the advances due to some early snubbing by his home state school.
Thus I would take all the reports of his so-called “mediocre talent” with a HUGE grain of salt. Stewart himself admits that these have not been his best games. He has said that his game has been a bit off (even though he went for over 20 points and 18 boards tonight), and that he hopes to improve as the year goes on. But a little struggling does not mean a guy does not have top college potential. Stewart has all the athleticism that a college player needs, has a strong work ethic and is used to playing against top-notch talent…..that is a recipe for college success.
There are reasons to be concerned about the totality of this 07 class. The status of Marshall Moses, while still seemingly favoring UK, is at this point not 100% sure, Jai Lucas and Patrick Patterson are far from sure things, and it is not clear that there are active backups if things dont work out for the above 3. But there is one solid member to the class. AJ Stewart will be a successful UK player….and nothing that happened over the Christmas holidays will change that.