When Kentucky brought in a class that featured the likes of the Harrison twins, Julius Randle, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to complement returners Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, one thing seemed certain: this was a make-or-break year for the Cats. It seemed that at least four freshman were destined to leave after one year, and that the departures of Cauley-Stein and Poythress were eminent. Coming off of an NIT season that put a huge dent in the monumental momentum of Kentucky basketball, and with a more “normal” recruiting class coming in next year, it looked as if it was a “championship or bust” type of season for Kentucky (as stupid as that sounds).
Then the Wildcats struggled. Questions about Calipari’s system arose. The Harrison twins were out of whack, Julius Randle couldn’t finish a basket, and Willie was more inconsistent than Kanye West’s behavior. After UK’s embarrassing loss in Gainesville, Calipari told the world about a mysterious “tweak” that supposedly changed everything. Predictably it was met with an abundance of skepticism, and yet with a tiny bit of optimism. The Cats then crushed LSU and Georgia in the SEC tournament before taking the best team in the country to the wire before falling (literally) by one. All of a sudden, Kentucky fans were back in good spirits and were again excited for UK basketball. Even after UK was hit with a surprising number-8 seed in the bracket’s toughest region, UK fans remained optimistic and, well, the rest is history. And even though the Cats lost a heartbreaker in the championship game, the momentum of Kentucky basketball may be as high as it has ever been.
And now, after the rollercoaster ride of a season that UK just went through, things are only looking up for the Cats. The return of Marcus Lee was expected, but when the world received word that Willie Cauley-Stein was coming back, it was a game changer. All season long it looked as if Willie was gone, but after the big fella’s injury in the Sweet 16, he felt like he had some unfinished business and decided to give it another go. James Young and (presumably) Julius Randle are gone. Now we wait on the decisions of four players that could shape Kentucky basketball not just for next year, but for years to come.
With all due respect to Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress, though, the decision of the Harrison twins is by far the most important. Here’s why:
By all accounts incoming freshmen Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are both fantastic players, but many experts and pundits project them to be more of program players than immediate game changers. Neither player is listed in Draft Express’ 2015 Mock Draft, whereas Karl-Anthony Towns is projected to go 4th and Trey Lyles is considered by many to be our top prospect. Even so, both big men will be joining an already stacked front court of WCS and Lee, and perhaps Poythress and Johnson. That leaves UK with just Ulis, Booker and Hawkins in the backcourt and, like I said, these freshmen may take more of a “normal” progression.
If the twins decide to bolt to the NBA I still think Kentucky will be a top-5 team next season. If the twins return next season I believe that not only would UK be next year’s clear-cut number 1 team, but their return would almost ensure great success for at least the season after and possibly longer.
Calipari said after the unsuccessful 2012-2013 season that one of the Kentucky’s biggest issues was that there wasn’t enough competition in practice. If the twins return, however, they would be taking on two talented players in practice in Ulis and Booker everyday and that’s something that they weren’t able to even do this year. Obviously, this would make all parties better so that when Ulis and Booker take the reigns in the 2015-2016 season they are able to work with Charles Matthews and whatever point guard decides to commit to Kentucky (or even Dominque Hawkins if he keeps improving) and. I know this is looking pretty far out into the uncertain world that is college basketball, but Kentucky’s biggest flaw the last few years has been that although they had a stable of big men, the depth at guard was a little weak. Even this year the Cats at times were forced to play Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood for extended minutes. If the twins were to return this would enable Kentucky to have the depth at guard that fans have been endlessly chomping at the bit for the past few seasons.
For the last few years many fans have been clamoring for stability within the program because as successful as Calipari has been, when you bring in an entirely different roster every season you are putting yourself at risk for seasons like the 12-13 season where a single injury can crush your entire campaign. Think about this: since getting to Kentucky, Calipari hasn’t had a single starting guard play for a second season (Lamb was 6th man his freshman year). Imagine what Cal could do if he gets both of his starting guards back. If the twins were to return it could potentially create a cycle where we have 10-uber talented guys instead of 6 (like his first few years) each year where at least 3-4 would return the next season to complement the incoming studs.
So c’mon Andrew and Aaron, make the call.