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The Ones That Got Away: Checking In On The Recruits Calipari’s Missed On Over The Years


Earlier this week, a KSR caller gave us a great research topic: the recruits that John Calipari wanted but didn’t get. I spent the past few days making a list of the top recruits Cal’s coveted and missed on, and what they’re doing now. Join me as we take a stroll down memory lane…

2009: Xavier Henry


Then: Chose Kansas over Kentucky and Memphis

Calipari brought most of his Memphis recruits with him to Kentucky in 2009, but not Xavier Henry, the second best shooting guard in the 2009 class that was committed to Cal at Memphis but reopened his recruitment once he left. After a lot of drama (including a potential last minute change of heart), Henry decided to follow in his father’s footsteps at Kansas.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Oklahoma City Blue in the D-League

Henry left Kansas after one season, during which he averaged 13.4 points. He was drafted 12th in the 2010 Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. Since then, he’s spent time on the New Orleans Hornets, the Los Angeles Lakers, and their respective D-League squads. A torn Achilles set him back in 2014, and since then, he’s struggled to find a spot on an NBA roster. He spent this past season playing alongside Dakari Johnson for the Oklahoma City Blue in the D-League.

2010: Josh Selby


Then: Chose Kansas over Kentucky, Arizona, UConn, and Tennessee

Selby decommitted from Tennessee in July 2009 and became one of Calipari’s top targets at point guard along with Brandon Knight. In what would be a blessing in disguise, Selby picked Kansas while Knight chose Kentucky.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays overseas in Israel 

The NCAA suspended Selby for the first nine games of the season due to his relationship with Carmelo Anthony’s business manager, Robert “Bay” Frazier. Selby struggled in his one year at Kansas, and apparently, stopped going to class after the season was over, moving to Vegas to prepare for the draft. He was drafted 49th by the Grizzlies and was assigned to the D-League after a few months. He stayed in the D-League until taking his game overseas in 2013. He’s now with Maccabi Kiryat Gat in Israel.

2010: CJ Leslie


Then: Chose NC State over Kentucky and UConn

Power forward and aspiring poet CJ Leslie played alongside John Wall at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, but unlike Wall, Calipari was unable to persuade him to leave his home state.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Raptors 905 in the D-League

Leslie played for NC State for three years before going undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. Since then, he’s been in and out of the D-League and played overseas for a few years before landing with the Raptors’ D-League team, the Raptors 905.

2011: Andre Drummond


Then: Chose UConn over Kentucky, Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia

Drummond could have been the best big man in the 2012 class and gone straight to the NBA because of his age, but stunned everyone at the last minute by reclassifying to 2011 and enrolling at UConn. In the 2011 class, he was considered the best player behind Anthony Davis.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Detroit Pistons

After a year at UConn, Drummond was drafted 9th overall by the Detroit Pistons and has been there ever since. He was voted an All-Star in 2016 and played for the US in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

2011: Quincy Miller


Then: Chose Baylor over Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, and Oklahoma

Miller was a top 10 player in the 2011 class and even though he enjoyed doing the John Wall dance, passed on an offer from Kentucky in part because they wouldn’t offer his close friend, Deuce Bello. Also courted by Louisville, Miller was so bitter that Bello didn’t get an offer that he flashed the Louisville “L” at the UK Football team and stared down Calipari while on a recruiting visit to the UK/UofL football game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in September 2010. Ultimately, both Miller and Bello ended up at Baylor.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays overseas in Israel

After one year at Baylor, Miller was drafted 38th by the Denver Nuggets and was in and out of the D-League until he was waived in 2014. After stints with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings, and Detroit Pistons, he moved overseas, where he now plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

2012: Shabazz Muhammed


Then: Chose UCLA over Kentucky and Duke

Shabazz and Nerlens Noel were considered the best two players in the 2012 class and buzz was that both would land at Kentucky; however, Shabazz elected to stay on the west coast and chose UCLA over Kentucky and Duke.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Timberwolves

Oh boy, where to begin with Shabazz? Muhammed’s year at UCLA was mired in scandal, from his suspension for the first three games of the season for receiving illegal benefits during his recruitment to his father lying about how old he was to pouting when his teammate hit a game-winning shot. Shabazz was drafted 14th by the Utah Jazz and quickly traded to the Timberwolves. After being sent home from the NBA rookie transition program, Muhammed spent time in the D-League before returning to Minnesota, where he’s been ever since.

2012: Alex Oriakhi (transfer)


Then: Chose to transfer from UConn to Missouri over Kentucky

With UConn facing a postseason ban in the 2012-13 season, Alex Oriakhi decided to transfer for his senior season to be able to play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. With most of the 2012 National Championship team out the door, Calipari was in hot pursuit, but the day before he was scheduled to visit Lexington, Oriakhi decided to go to Missouri instead.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Playing overseas in Spain

Oriakhi did get to play in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers lost in the first round to Colorado State. He was drafted 57th in the 2013 Draft by the Phoenix Suns, fizzled on their Summer League team and rotated between overseas pro teams and the D-League. He’s now with Vaqueros de Bayamón in Spain.

2013: Andrew Wiggins


Then: Chose Kansas over Kentucky, Florida State, and North Carolina

Ah, the recruiting saga to end all recruiting sagas. Kentucky was considered the favorite for Wiggins for most of his recruitment along with Florida State, but he surprised us all by picking Kansas. Did landing Julius Randle scare him off?

KSR headlines at the time included:

If you’re curious, 812 posts have been written about Andrew Wiggins on KSR, which has to be a record. Bamba’s recruitment is nothing compared to his.

Now: Plays for the Timberwolves

After a year at Kansas, Wiggins was drafted first in the 2014 Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and traded two months later to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s one of the Timberwolves’ young stars alongside our own Karl Towns, with whom he actually shared a room at the Nike Hoop Summit back in 2013.

2013: Aaron Gordon


Then: Chose Arizona over Kentucky, Washington, and Oregon

Gordon was one of Kentucky’s top targets in the 2013 class along with Wiggins, but like many West Coast recruits, couldn’t tear himself away from that side of the country, not even for Calipari.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Orlando Magic

After a season at Arizona, Gordon was drafted fourth in the 2014 Draft by the Orlando Magic, whom he’s been with ever since.

2014: Emmanuel Mudiay


Then: Chose SMU over Kentucky, Kansas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.

Emmanuel Mudiay was poised to be the next great Calipari point guard, but surprised everyone when he picked SMU.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Then: Chose China because of eligibility problems

In many ways, not getting Mudiay was a blessing in surprise. Eligibility problems forced him to forgo his college career and play in China for a season. Meanwhile, Kentucky went after Tyler Ulis, now considered one of the greatest point guards in school history.

Now: Plays for the Denver Nuggets

After earning over a million dollars playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China, Mudiay was drafted seventh in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. Now, he’s the backup behind Jameer Nelson, and is losing minutes to another Wildcat, Jamal Murray.

2014: Cliff Alexander


Then: Chose Kansas over Illinois and DePaul

Kentucky was high on Alexander early on, but backed off once they got a commitment from Trey Lyles. From there, Alexander cut the Cats from his list and committed to Kansas, making his dad the happiest person in the world:

Confession: That video is the only reason I kept Alexander on the list.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays in the D-League

Alexander averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in his freshman year at Kansas until he was suspended in late February over an NCAA investigation. After claiming he “got dealt a bad deck of cards” at Kansas, Alexander entered the 2015 NBA Draft and was undrafted. He signed a training camp deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, but struggled due to injury and was waived. Since then, he’s been in the D-League.

2015: Stephen Zimmerman


Then: Chose UNLV over Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, and Arizona

2015 was a tough recruiting year for Calipari because many of the players he wanted most decided to stay home instead of coming to Lexington. Stephen Zimmerman was one of those players. Calipari made it clear Zimmerman was one his top targets, but Zimmerman couldn’t bring himself to leave Las Vegas, choosing UNLV instead.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Orlando Magic

After one year at UNLV, Zimmerman was drafted 41st by the Orlando Magic in the 2016 NBA Draft. He was in and out of the D-League in his rookie season.

2015: Malik Newman


Then: Chose Mississippi State over Kentucky and Kansas

Kentucky was considered the favorite for the top point guard in the 2015 class for most of his recruitment, but Newman shocked everyone by choosing to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Then: Transferred to Kansas

Newman’s decision to stay home and play for Mississippi State came back to bite him. After averaging 11.3 points in his freshman year, he tried to go pro but discovered his stock wasn’t high enough, so he withdrew his name and returned to school. Unfortunately, he had a bad habit of skipping classes, so he wasn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms, so he decided to transfer.

Now: Plays for Kansas

Newman had to sit out the 2016-17 season, but will suit up for the Jayhawks this fall.

2015: Antonio Blakeney


Then: Chose LSU over Kentucky and Missouri

Blakeney was one of the top shooting guards in the 2015 class and in September 2014, committed to Louisville only to decommit eleven days later. We didn’t know it at the time, but that’s because UofL tried to woo him with prostitutes, which you know, is pretty disgusting, so after the grossness of it all sunk in, he got the heck outta there. From there, it looked like he would come to Kentucky, but he elected to join Ben Simmons at LSU instead.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Preparing for the 2017 Draft

Blakeney’s freshman year at LSU with Ben Simmons didn’t exactly go as planned (JUST LIKE THAT RECRUITING VISIT TO LOUISVILLE, AMIRITE), with the Tigers failing to make the NCAA Tournament and turning down the NIT. It didn’t get any better in his sophomore year, with the Tigers finishing 13th in the SEC behind Missouri. Now, he’s signed with an agent for the 2017 Draft even though he’s barely in Draft Express’ ranking of Top 100 prospects.

…However, he did help expose the Louisville sex scandal and for that reason, will forever be in our hearts.

2015: Cheick Diallo


Then: Chose Kansas over Kentucky

Diallo was one of the best power forwards in the 2015 class, and in one of many recruiting showdowns with Kansas, chose the Jayhawks over the Wildcats.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the New Orleans Pelicans

The NCAA suspended Diallo for his first five games at Kansas for receiving impermissible benefits. After averaging only 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.5 minutes per game in his freshman year, he declared for the 2016 NBA Draft and was drafted 33rd by the Los Angeles Clippers. He was quickly traded to the New Orleans Pelicans and spent most of the season in the D-League.

2015: Carlton Bragg


Then: Chose Kansas over Kentucky

Kentucky was high on Bragg from the start, but cooled on him as his decision approached. Bragg chose Kansas over Kentucky…even if he messed up and said Kentucky during his commitment:

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Transferring from Kansas

What a year for Bragg. He averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over two years at Kansas, but was arrested twice and suspended for four games this past season. The first arrest was for misdemeanor battery after he was accused of shoving his girlfriend at a party, although those charges were dropped once surveillance footage showed he was acting in self defense. In late January, he was arrested again for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, and was suspended for the Kentucky game. Now, he’s looking for a fresh start elsewhere, with Xavier, Cincinnati, Illinois, NC State, and Arizona State on his list.

2015: Jaylen Brown


Then: Chose Cal over Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas, and North Carolina

Brown stunned everyone when he chose Cuonzo Martin and Cal over the perceived frontrunners, Kentucky, Kansas, and Michigan. Why did Kentucky miss on so many targets in the 2015 class? The platoon system, which UK used to great effect during the 2014-15 season became an easy target for opposing coaches on the recruiting trail. In turn, many kids Kentucky led for decided to go elsewhere to avoid sharing minutes. Another reason Brown, an introvert, decided to avoid Kentucky? The media spotlight. As Cal says, this place isn’t for everyone.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for the Boston Celtics

Brown lived up to the hype in his one year at Cal, averaging 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. He was drafted third by the Boston Celtics in the 2016 Draft and is averaging 6.6 points in 17.2 minutes per game in his rookie season.

2016: Marques Bolden


Then: Chose Duke over Kentucky

Bolden is the classic example of, whatever Mama wants, Mama gets. Even though Bolden came close to committing to Kentucky during the McDonald’s All-American Game, he delayed his decision and ultimately chose Duke, much to his mother’s delight.

KSR headlines at the time included:

Now: Plays for Duke

In what was a topsy-turvy year for Duke, Bolden barely got off the bench, averaging only 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds in 6.5 minutes per game. After the season ended, there were rumors Bolden would transfer, but his mother he decided at the last minute to stay at Duke.

There you go, an exhaustive look at the recruits that got away. While some are on their way to being superstars (Andre Drummond, Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Jaylen Brown), most have found themselves on a more difficult path. Is that because they turned Kentucky and John Calipari down? Not necessarily. But, as we obsess over the decisions of two more high school stars in Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox, it’s a nice reminder that even when Calipari misses, the guys he does are ahead of the curve with their success.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

29 Comments for The Ones That Got Away: Checking In On The Recruits Calipari’s Missed On Over The Years

  1. nicky
    7:44 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Nice rundown TT….proof positive that half these guys made the wrong choice

  2. Ridge Runner
    7:45 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Good or should I say bad reminders.. ha

    I truly wanted Wiggins the most I remember. Not that the others were ok to not pick us but that hurt

  3. Sarahvah
    8:02 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Bolden has the chance to pan out for the better but boy did Zimmerman make the biggest mistake of his life

  4. 4everblue
    8:30 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Good job Mrs TT!

  5. Earned Not Given
    8:35 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Nice Post. Thought Anthony Bennet would’ve made the list too, but maybe not?

    Also, interesting that it’s not Duke and K that gets the best of Cal; it seems like it’s Kansas and Self.

  6. timewilltell
    8:37 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Great research TT. Reading these names brings back memories. I too really wanted Wiggins. Disappointed we did not land Bolden but will always believe a certain Blue Devil assistant told momma that Cal was/is Pro- Minded!!!!

  7. CincyKY
    8:41 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    I feel like there’s a lot of “Chose Kansas over Kentucky,” followed by “suspended for five games.” Moral of the lesson, don’t choose Kansas over Kentucky.

    …or perhaps we dodged many bullets.

    • RealCatsFan
      9:27 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

      Great point Cincy. I think it also makes Self and Kansas look pretty shady, yet the shit always seems to slide right off of Teflon Bill.

    • bigtaters6957
      11:02 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

      I only read the comments to see if anyone else noticed this? Kansas since Bill Self has been there, has been as big of a cesspool as UofL. Very little research will show that the NCAA has let them skate by, much like they have UNC.

  8. rosquirto
    10:08 pm April 27, 2017 Permalink

    Met cj Leslie at Malones on gates creek by chance when he was here on a recruiting visit. Nice young man and left thinking he was a lock to come to U.K. Shows you what I know

  9. TonyMontana
    12:04 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    It would be very interesting to take a look at average draft positions for similar recruits. For example players that are rated the same and play the same position… where do they ultimately end up getting drafted. I have a theory that players who attend UK are automatically moved up in the draft by many spots. For instance if Bam went to another school he most likely wouldn’t be projected near as high as he is now. And Humphries probably wouldn’t even be on the board at all.

    For example Diamond Stone and Stephen Zimmerman went 40th and 41st in the 2016 draft. They were both top 10 prospects. Also in that draft was Skal who had a very unimpressive year and was picked 28th. If either of those players went to Kentucky you have got to imagine they would’ve been drafted in a higher position. This is a just a quick recent reference, I’m sure we could dig up many more instances…. it’s just always intrigued me.

  10. WaterVerve14
    12:50 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    I guess it never occurred to me how many of our sloppy seconds went to Kansas. Explains their more than stellar NCAA tourney outcomes over Self

  11. Kevin C
    3:53 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Kansas is the UofL football of NCAA men’s basketball : they gladly take the garbage everyone else has thrown out. Next season they’ll have Newman and the Lawson bros., all with sketchy, controversial pasts. This after the fiascos with Alexander, Selby, Bragg and Jackson.

  12. catsarerunnin
    6:57 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    This is a must read. Great article Mrs. TT.

  13. Angelo
    7:57 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Cam Johnson? Any news?

  14. LongRoad2017
    8:10 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Pretty diverse group. Lol.

    This proves my point that Cal can not, and will not, recruit white players. He simply can’t coach them. Coach K he is not.

    • symphonist41169
      8:57 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

      “This proves my point that Cal can not, and will not, recruit white players.”

      Seriously? Zimmerman is as lily-white as it gets. Derek Willis would disagree with you also.

    • Booby Petrino
      9:39 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

      congrats on the dumbest comment award! that’s saying a lot in these parts. Kyle Wiltjer, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, and Steven Zimmerman would all disagree. Coach K can keep his sissy boy trippers.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:41 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

      Preposterous statement.

  15. Al B. Frank
    8:22 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Very interesting. You always hear those Cal haters saying, “So-and-so would’ve been a top draft pick and a star in the NBA WITHOUT Calipari.” Seems that’s not the case. Looks to me to be a lot of wasted potential that possibly could’ve gone a completely different way had these players gone to UK. Although, I can’t say I’m disappointed missing out on several of these players, given the suspensions and missed games that many of them ended up facing. Looks like things worked out best for UK, not so much for some of these players.

  16. za
    8:29 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Really cool read. I concur that Wiggins is really the only one I wish didn’t get away. Can’t cry over spilled milk, though.

  17. Willis Wolf Tattoo
    9:52 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Any word on Jai Lucas?

    • ClutchCargo
      10:43 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

      Never heard of her.

    • CatBlue in LR
      10:56 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

      Pre-Cal, iirc.

  18. CatBlue in LR
    10:59 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Nice work, Mrs. T. This has inspired me to take the same title — “The Ones that Got Away” — and do a similar roundup of the women in my life. I won’t share it here, but, needless to say, the results aren’t as favorable to the home team. 🙁

  19. Duuuuuude
    11:08 am April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Hey, you did not mention Stanley Johnson who went to AZ in 2014 who now plays for the pistons. He was from out west, but Cal really wanted him.

  20. Willis Wolf Tattoo
    2:37 pm April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Trevor Lacey, Caleb Swanigan, and Luke Kennard were close misses as well

  21. Bobbum Man
    4:20 pm April 28, 2017 Permalink

    Ahh the Wiggins recruitment… I’d never read so much BS in the comment sections lol, I still remember Lenny I think it was, with his grand stories of how he raised Wiggins and took him under his wing

  22. StuckinLville
    5:28 pm April 29, 2017 Permalink

    Trevor Lacy and James Blackmon also come to mind. Every recruit should read this article. I’m like most, Wiggins hurt the most but many of these were blessings in disguise. The rest, a message to recruits to come to UK. Also, it is funny about Kansas. That’s three players suspended and players underachieving.