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Five of the biggest Kentucky basketball recruiting misses

A week after asking “what if?” Kentucky Sports Radio will explore a version of the what if question by examining some of the biggest whiffs on the recruiting trail. How could a few added signatures from top targets have changed the John Calipari era in Lexington? Would the Wildcats have won more titles? Were they better off with their replacements?

1. Xavier Henry

Once seen as a simple miss under Calipari, we learned just a few weeks ago just how massive Xavier Henry’s commitment elsewhere meant for the program.

At one point, it appeared Kentucky was set to land the consensus top-ten prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. In a recent interview with 247Sports, former UK superstar John Wall revealed he would have committed to Miami (FL) had Henry signed with Kentucky.

After playing alongside Henry at the Nike Hoop Summit, he knew they couldn’t coexist in Lexington.

“I was playing with Xavier [Henry] and Xavier was a talented player but he was just shooting the ball so much, so mad he wasn’t getting the ball, I called Cal up and was like, ‘‘Cal when you switch to Kentucky, if he’s coming, I promise I won’t go,’” Wall told 247Sports. “I told him that straight up. I told him I can’t go because I was like me, DeMarcus, E-Bled [Eric Bledsoe] and all of these guys are about to sacrifice and he has to sacrifice, we’re not going to get a lot of shots. We all are used to averaging over 25 or more on our team and we’re not about to be like that and I don’t think he could buy into that.”

Wall went on to average 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per contest, leading Kentucky to an Elite Eight finish in the NCAA Tournament before being selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft. Meanwhile, Henry averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game in his lone season at Kansas, with the Jayhawks falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to 9-seed Northern Iowa.

Kentucky’s recruiting miss would wind up being arguably the biggest blessing in disguise of the Calipari era.

2. Zion Williamson

At the time of Zion Williamson’s commitment, the sting wasn’t so much his decision to turn down Kentucky, but rather, the final destination.

Leading up to the announcement, Clemson led the way in his Crystal Ball with 87 percent of picks, with Kentucky and South Carolina seen as the secondary options for the top-five prospect. Many national recruiting analysts didn’t even see the Blue Devils as a legitimate possibility at the time.

Had he signed with Clemson or South Carolina, Williamson would have spent eight months on campus dominating the competition, but playing for a school unlikely to compete for a title. UK fans had grown content with either of those possibilities had he turned down Calipari and the Kentucky program.

Instead, Williamson signed with UK’s direct competition in their pursuit for a national championship and became college basketball’s can’t-miss sensation en route to a No. 1 overall selection in the NBA Draft.

From both a production and branding perspective, Williamson would have been one of the top talents of the Calipari era, neck-and-neck with the likes of Wall and Anthony Davis.

3. James Wiseman

For the majority of James Wiseman’s recruitment, the general consensus was that No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2019 would ultimately sign with Kentucky.

The second Penny Hardaway was hired at Memphis, though, it became apparent that the UK coaching staff would be working at a disadvantage from that point forward. And then eight months later, that momentum shift became official, with the 7-foot-center signing with Memphis in November of 2019.

From a recruiting perspective, Wiseman’s commitment to the Wildcats was a gut punch to the program, as it marked the fourth consecutive year UK had failed to sign a top-five prospect. Investing so much time in Wiseman also put them behind with the likes of Isaiah Stewart and Oscar Tshiebwe, leaving the program scrambling in the spring to find help in the frontcourt.

From an on-court perspective, the biggest question with Wiseman is whether or not he would have avoided eligibility issues with the NCAA at Kentucky. Would Hardaway have still been at Memphis? Would the NCAA have cared that Hardaway previously paid for the five-star center’s moving expenses? Would it have even come up?

In a perfect world, he comes to UK, faces no eligibility issues, and dominates in a loaded frontcourt alongside Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, and Nate Sestina. Wiseman is then selected No. 1 overall in the draft and added to UK’s trophy case of high-profile frontcourt talent.

Instead, Penny Hardaway threw a wrench into those plans.

4. Andrew Wiggins

On paper, Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class is seen as the most impressive in college basketball history, with the program signing the No. 1 point guard, shooting guard, power forward, and center, along with the No. 3 small forward and No. 9 power forward in the nation that year.

With Andrew Wiggins’ addition, Kentucky would have not only added the No. 1 prospect in high school basketball, but managed a clean sweep of the top-ranked player at all five positions. Replicating that level of recruiting success ever again would be almost impossible.

While Kentucky still managed to put together a ridiculous tournament run to the national title game, Wiggins – who averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in his lone season at Kansas – very well could have been the difference-maker in UK winning it all.

At the very least, Wiggins would have been the icing on the cake of a never-to-be-done-again recruiting class.

5. Jaylen Brown

Remember that stretch where it seemed, for whatever reason, Kentucky simply couldn’t land a talented, athletic wing on the recruiting trail?

Jaylen Brown was at the heart of that conversation when the former five-star small forward turned down UK in favor of California, Berkeley back in 2015.

In 2015-16, Kentucky had one of the most dynamic guard duos in school history in Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, but beyond that, the roster was in desperate need of star power.

Skal Labissiere underwhelmed as the surefire top-three incoming prospect he was hyped up to be, while Alex Poythress, Isaiah Briscoe, Marcus Lee, and Derek Willis were all serviceable talents. The team had a solid core, but missed one final star piece on the roster.

That factor was a solid contributor in Kentucky falling in the Round of 32 to five-seed Indiana, the program’s second-worst finish under Calipari.

Would Brown have been enough to spark a Final Four run for UK?


  • Josh Selby (Kansas)
  • Marques Bolden (Duke)
  • Cheick Diallo (Kansas)
  • Andre Drummond (UCONN)
  • Quincy Miller (Baylor)
  • Alex Oriakhi (Missouri)
  • Emmanuel Mudiay (SMU)
  • Aaron Gordon (Arizona)
  • Cliff Alexander (Kansas)
  • Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV)
  • CJ Leslie (NC State)

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

37 Comments for Five of the biggest Kentucky basketball recruiting misses

  1. chris43
    9:38 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Hmmm 3 of the 5 have issues be it attitude, pay to play, or ineligible due to taking benefits.

    • mashburnfan1
      10:34 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

      Yea because we have never paid tor a player right. Recruiting is, and has been for decades, one of the dirtiest businesses around. All cheat from K to Self to Cal to name any coach. Keep in mind of all the coaches who UK fans claim cheat, NONE have had wins vacated at 2 prior Universities like our own has.

    • Catsfan1715
      10:51 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

      Have coach cal or kp ever been caught on wire tap discussing paying players ? And wasn’t cal cleared and any and all wrongdoing in both scenarios you’re referring ? And did those incidents occur at Umass and Memphis – not at top conference, blue-blood schools? The same schools who can fake classes, get caught on wire taps, and who’s coaches are definitively linked to corrupt recruiting and receive no punishment whatsoever. In fact, their schools back then up 100% bc they know the ncaa won’t do shit.

    • chris43
      12:30 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Just curious…why are you even on this site?

    • 4everUKBlue
      10:50 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

      mashbum still telling half truths. You really should get K’s nuts outta your mouth. If we paid players we would not be outbid by dook or anyone else. Cal’s wins were vacated despite zero proof of a direct connection, meanwhile I could name 5 or 6 caught redhanded and no punishment, including your BFF K. If anyone would know about dirty business it would be you.

  2. Fitz
    9:44 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    I can live with those whiffs, considering there is more to come about Williamson.

  3. Scavengers Bar
    10:01 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Aaron Gordon is the only one I regret. Once again – Cal knows best. We back away from many – with reason.

  4. greginky
    10:06 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    #1 to me was Darryl Dawkins who skipped us for the NBA

  5. zoupman
    10:09 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Cal knows what he is doing.

  6. bigblue98
    10:15 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Know it’s not during Cal era but biggest miss of all time is Sampson – Cats win in 84 if not multiple with him here.

    • Not Dan Issel
      5:48 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Without a doubt. Wife and I spent a couple of weeks in St, Croix last fall. Ralph Sampson and his “significant other” were next door to us and we spent some time together while we were there. Very nice guy, and he readily admits that not going to UK was a big mistake that he regrets to this day. Turpin, Bowie and Sampson . . . imagine that front line.

    • CahillsCrossingNT
      5:52 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      bigblue98 Sampson finished at college in 83. He wouldn’t have been on the 84 team without redshirting. Without the injures Bowie would’ve been class of 83 as well. I do believe Sampson is the biggest miss of my lifetime though.

  7. UKgrad80
    10:56 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Written by a young person they know nothing beyond the Cal years.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      8:24 am June 1, 2020 Permalink

      The opening paragraph acknowledges that it is from the Calipari Era.Do you know of anyone that could write an article of all the U.K. recruiting misses from the beginning of the program until present day with equal knowledge of all those time periods?

  8. bbn606
    11:14 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Wow, how quickly we forget Ralph Sampson and not even an honorable mention. Don’t you just love clueless writers?

    • T-Town Cat
      11:33 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

      Well, UK Basketball DID start in 2009. Sampson would have bee nice to have as would have Wes Unseld, to go back even further. A lot of people would also include Chris Lofton and Tracy McGrady.

    • Jack Pilgrim
      11:59 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

      Two sentences in, clearly states this is specifically highlighting the Calipari era. Take the time to actually read next time.

    • T-Town Cat
      12:05 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Nice business model – insulting your customers. See how that builds readership.

    • World Wide Wes
      8:24 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      1. Dirk Nowitzki
      2. T Mac
      3. Draymond Green

    • tncatrn
      7:20 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Jack has a right to defend himself against ignorance and pettiness. If you dont like it just type another aite into the address bar. Jack has ALWAYS been on top of the game around here for accuracy and honesty to what. BBN606 is an idiot obviously and UKgrad1880 is stuck in his own century…sick of people bashing articles on here but still taking the time to have an account and use it to post BS replies…morons.

    • Trevor
      10:08 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      I completely agree with tncatrn. The article clearly stated “Calipari Era” from the start. Great job Jack. Keep it up.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      8:27 am June 1, 2020 Permalink

      Why are so many people complaining about the time period when the opening paragraph is clear? T-Town complains, is told his complaining is unwarranted, complains again. Probably sits around and complains about the younger generation not being grateful.

  9. UKCatAttack
    11:48 pm May 30, 2020 Permalink

    Shabazz Muhammad should be on the list. Had he chose UK over UCLA we don’t got to a NIT the year after winning a title. That team could’ve looked awfully good with a scoring wing like Muhammad with Nerlens down low. Who knows maybe Nerlens doesn’t get injured and we go back to back NCAA Championships. One can dream right?

    • Park
      12:28 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t know, I seem to recall him walking off the court sulking after his team won but he didn’t get to take the last shot. I was glad he didn’t come here after seeing that.

    • 4everUKBlue
      6:54 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Not getting Shabazz was a blessing, not a miss.

  10. Skooms
    1:01 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

    Wow…. “How could a few added signatures from top targets have changed the John Calipari era in Lexington?” Some of you guys really need to learn how to read an article. I mean, how do you miss that entire sentence??

  11. dan1965
    8:42 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

    First off,I always appreciate your articles Jack,and others as well,if anyone doesn’t like them,DONT READ !
    Secondly ,mashburnfan isn’t a Kentucky fan he’s a troll,all I’ve ever seen him post is bashing. And to his comment as someone else said Calipari didn’t do anything wrong in the former instances,the NCAA put nothing against him.
    Is Kentucky cheating as he says? Absolutely not ! Sandy Bell makes sure the university is incomplete compliance, if anything even more steps are taken in many instances !
    Sure I believe Kentucky gets some help from shoe companies sponsor, but so do other schools, and again though Kentucky is in compliance with the NCAA. I absolutely don’t believe Kentucky is paying for recruits, if we were there would be a lot less that went elsewhere !
    They come to Kentucky because of name,a chance to win the title, John Calipari and a staff who know how to push and develop them for the nba, national tv exposure on games consistently, an opportunity to practice against tough competition in practice which will make them better, a chance to play against top teams throughout the year, and a chance to build there brand through a huge BBN following that stay with them to the NBA ! So I’m sick of hearing that Kentucky pays players !

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:00 am May 31, 2020 Permalink

      Thank you dan, you nailed it on all counts. mashbum is a clown who likes act like he knows something about sports. He never passes on an opportunity to bash Cal, the players and the program, even makes excuses for the teams we beat while making excuses for the football program and coaches just as regularly. In short, he’s a POS troll who hates his life and tries to drag everyone down with him.

  12. mcp157
    12:15 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

    Ralph Sampson

  13. mcp157
    12:17 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

    Wes Unseld, Butch Beard

  14. Aar
    2:33 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

    Given all the noise around them, do you really think Williamson and Wiseman were misses? Were they really non-public scholarship offer withdraws along with Henry? Don’t know a darn thing about Brown. So, IMHO, this is a list of 1 and I think Wiggins would have been a game changer in Cal’s system for his one year at the college level. I also think Wiggins would have learned enough under Cal to have been a much more successful NBA talent. Not that he hasn’t earned ample bank as it is but Cal could have helped him realize the All-Star, max contract talent he held as a recruit.

  15. dan1965
    8:32 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

    I agree 4everukblue, that’s all I’ve ever heard mashburn do is bash Kentucky. If that’s a fan, then please stop being a fan !

  16. BlueByYou
    9:25 pm May 31, 2020 Permalink

    Great article Jack. Don’t worry about insulting the part of your readership who can’t read. Of course, some are quick to lash out, but hesitant to apologize for being morons. You know who you are!

  17. factsoptional
    8:45 am June 1, 2020 Permalink

    Ask coach cal, and I guarantee he will say Shabazz.

  18. 4everUKBlue
    7:32 am June 2, 2020 Permalink

    It’s quite offensive to see a picture of Zion putting on a dook cap on the front page every time I come to this site, so I just won’t come here until it’s gone.