NCAA Basketball: Noel, Muhammad, Bennett and More Coming to Kentucky Next Year?
On Wednesday, University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari told ESPN.com he was staying put in Lexington next year.
"Kentucky is the best job in basketball coaching," Calipari said. "Why would I leave? We just won the national title. We're chasing UCLA."
And why would he leave? With seven of the top 18 ESPNU 2012 Top 100 high school recruits possibly playing for his Wildcats next year—including No. 1 Nerlens Noel and No. 2 Shabazz Muhammad—Calipari would be absolutely nuts right now to head to the pro ranks.
And if everything goes right recruiting-wise, and it has for Kentucky the last couple of years, next year’s roster may just be as impressive as this year’s version which beat Kansas for the NCAA championship Monday night in New Orleans.
Here’s the perfect storm scenario for Coach Calipari and Kentucky hoops fans.
10. Several Key Bench Role Players Return for 2012-13
It looks as if between four to six of Kentucky’s top players will be NBA-bound including Naismith Player of the Year Anthony Davis (freshman), Doron Lamb (sophomore),Terrence Jones (junior) and senior Darius Miller.
Freshmen Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remain question marks, but even if they leave, the returning cast and expected recruits may make the Wildcats the team to beat again in 2013.
Two guys who should definitely be back on campus are freshman Kyle Wiltjer and junior Jon Hood. Both would be standouts on most other squads but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.
Wiltjer, a 6’9” forward, was the Wildcats seventh man this past season and the McDonald’s All-American showed his sharp-shooting skills hitting 43.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range. Wiltjer is a nice player to build around.
Hood, a 6’7” guard, is a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball (2009) whose father played in Canada and a talent who got little playing time with the incredible depth of the 2011-12 team.
Another player who could play a big role in the Wildcats’ success next season is Ryan Harrow, a 6’2”, 175-pound point guard from Marietta, Ga. who transferred in from North Carolina State and a guy who may actually fight with Teague for a starting spot.
"Ryan should be in the best position of any point guard I have ever coached because he's got a year to be tutored without the pressure of having to play,” Calipari said of Harrow.
“Ryan has major college experience, quickness and an ability to score that you can't teach, but he needs to use this season to take his game to another level physically. If he does that, he should be in a great position when he's eligible next year."
9. Point Guard Marquis Teague May Return
The player that ran the offense so well this championship season, Marquis Teague, may be staying at Kentucky to run the floor again next season.
The 6’2” Teague will just be a sophomore next season and averaged 10 points and a team-leading 4.8 assists per game and for the Wildcats who had six players with scoring averages in double figures, a first in school history.
Teague was ranked the No. 7 prep player by ESPNU last year while at Pike High School In Indianapolis, was a McDonald’s All-American and along with current teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was a member of the gold medal-winning FIBA U-17 team in the world championships held in Hamburg, Germany.
Teague, whose brother Jeff plays for the Atlanta Hawks, may not be fulfilled after just one year in Lexington and may be able to improve his draft stock by getting out of the long shadow cast by Davis, Jones, Lamb and Miller.
8. Amile Jefferson May Commit to Kentucky
The No. 18-ranked high school hoopster on ESPNU's Top 100 list, Amile Jefferson, a McDonald's All-American, played for Philadelphia’s Friends Central High School and would be a nice power forward (6'7", 190 pounds) to join the Wildcats fold should Jones turn pro.
Jefferson’s long list of potential schools includes North Carolina State, Memphis, Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgia and Georgetown, as well as Kentucky, and we’ll know in the next month if the pride of the City of Brotherly Love decides to take his game to the Bluegrass State.
7. Willie Cauley Has Committed to Kentucky
A player who has already signed as commitment to attend Kentucky is ESPNU's No. 40-ranked player, Willie Cauley, a 6’10”, 215-pound four-star center from Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kan.
And if the nation’s top-ranked player, Noel, does commit to the Wildcats a week from today (April 11), then Calipari will possibly have the best 1-2 center combination—both freshmen—in NCAA history.
Starting to see why Calipari stayed?
6. Archie Goodwin Is Headed to Lexington
Archie Goodwin, a 6’5”,181-pound shooting guard who played for Sylvan Hills High School in Little Rock, Ark., has also decided to take his talents to Kentucky and would be a great replacement at the position should Lamb head to the NBA.
Goodwin, another McDonald's All-American, is the No. 15 player on ESPNU's Top 100 list and will give the Wildcats some scoring from the perimeter for the 2012-13 season.
5. Alex Poythress Has Also Decided to Join the Wildcats
The third top 20 player in ESPNU’s ranking to commit to Kentucky, small forward Alex Poythress (6’7”, 215 pounds) is a great replacement for Kidd-Gilchrist should the freshman decide to cash in at the pro level.
Poythress, yet another McDonald's All-American, is ranked No. 16 in ESPNU's Top 100 and played his prep ball at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn.
4. Anthony Bennett Has Kentucky on His Shortlist
An aggressive 6’8”, 230-pound power forward who played for NHSI champions Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, the No. 2-ranked high school team in the nation by ESPNU, Anthony Bennett would be a major coup should the Wildcats get him.
The No. 7-ranked player on ESPNU's Top 100 list, Bennet has Kentucky, Washington, Florida, Oregon and UNLV on his short list and is a native of Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Bennett seems to have three of those schools in focus. A fellow Canadian, UNLV’s Khem Birch is pushing hard for Bennett to stay in Las Vegas and play for the Runnin’ Rebels while much of the Twitterverse—including Bennett’s now former Findlay Prep teammate and Oregon-commit Dominic Artis—seems to be pushing hard for the McDonald’s All-American to head to Eugene and play with him for the Ducks this fall.
But a guy that could turn any college program around and a fellow Las Vegan, Muhammad, is reportedly (via timesfreepress.com) trying to get Bennett to join him should the former decide to play for Calipari.
Still, if you could play for UNLV, Oregon or the national champion Wildcats with other high school stars and an almost guaranteed ticket to the NBA, who would you choose? Exactly.
3. Shabazz Muhammad Has Kentucky on His Mind
The No. 2 player on ESPNU's Top 100 list, Shabazz Muhammad, a 6’6”, 215-pound small forward from Nevada 4A state champion Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas recently moved his announcement forward a day to have it televised on ESPNU.
The McDonald’s All-American, Morgan Wooten Award winner and brother of women’s tennis pro player Asia Muhammad, Shabazz—who broke everyone’s hearts here in Las Vegas last week when he rejected UNLV and narrowed his final three choices down to Kentucky, UCLA and Duke—makes no bones about it on his Twitter account that this will be a very hard decision:
shabazz muhammad @phenom15balla
Man signing day is coming up and this decision is getting harder and harder wish I could go to all 3 schools!!!!😢😨😣
As I wrote about for Bleacher Report last month, I firmly believe Muhammad—who is reportedly good friends with Kidd-Gilchrist—has already made up his mind and will be heading to Kentucky and the one-and-done program that will get him the most attention and ultimately the biggest NBA payday for himself and his family.
2. High School’s Top Player Nerlens Noel Has UK in His Final Three
As if all this wasn’t enough for Calipari & Co., the No. 1-ranked player in ESPNU's Top 100 list, Nerlens Noel, a 6’10”, 215-pound center from The Tilton School in Everett, Mass., also has the Wildcats in his final three.
Georgetown and Syracuse are also in hot pursuit of the No. 1 high school player in the nation, and Noel is announcing his choice on the same day as Muhammad, April 11—one day after his 18th birthday—on ESPNU.
And Kentucky fans need to pay close attention to this. On his blog on Wednesday, Nerlins had some really nice things to say about potentially playing for Kentucky:
“Kentucky had the big win Monday night and I had a good time watching that game. I was really liking how Anthony Davis continued to be effective even without scoring the ball. I know how it feels to not be able to get it going on the offensive end at times, and that makes you just want to go even harder defensively. I loved that he got Most Outstanding Player, too.
Just seeing him have all the success that he’s had this year definitely makes me think a lot about what I could be doing there. That’s really appealing to me.
His IQ on the court is crazy. I talked to him a lot while I was down there and he told me all about how much better he’d gotten since he got there. He told me that I’d have to be ready when I got there because it was going to be a lot of hard work.
I’d definitely say it makes me think about Kentucky more, and with them winning with all of those freshmen was very attractive. Just seeing that it doesn’t matter how young you are, you can win a national title.
I talked to (Kentucky assistant) coach Orlando (Antigua) after they won and he was really happy, of course. He said that all he could think about was me being a part of something like that next season.
I wouldn’t say that all of that stuff gives Kentucky an advantage, though. It’s just something I think about a lot. “
To me, sentences like “Just seeing that it doesn’t matter how young you are, you can win a national title,” “Just seeing him have all the success that he’s (Davis) had this year definitely makes me think a lot about what I could be doing there,” and “That’s really appealing to me” reveal much about the young man’s current mindset.
I really believe he, Muhammad and maybe even Bennett are all headed to Lexington this fall.
1. Although No One Believes Him, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Says He’s Returning
A guy who, according to NBADraft.net's mock 2012 NBA Draft, would be the No. 2 overall pick this June, Kidd-Gilchrist has actually said he’s returning to Kentucky and has publicly pooh-poohed a report by ESPN's Chad Ford saying he’s already decided to leave for the big leagues.
Kidd-Gilchrist, who is said to be close with Muhammad, has come flat out and said in a story by Kyle Tucker in The Louisville Courier-Journal: “I’m graduating here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying at Kentucky. I’m dead serious. I don’t know why y’all laughing.”
Whether or not Kidd-Gilchrist is serious or not, it’s something to consider. And if true, Kentucky fans will be again be foaming at the mouth again this fall with one of the best rosters in school history when Midnight Madness comes around in October.
So what a nice problem for Calipari should this perfect storm blow through Lexington.
A starting five of Noel, Kidd-Gilchrist, Bennett, Muhammad and Teague with studs like Wiltjer, Goodwin, Jefferson, Poythress, Harrow, Cauley and Hood all on the bench? Wow.
And guys like guards Brian Long, Sam Malone, Twany Beckham and Jarrod Polson on your third team? Seems hardly fair.
But, there’s only one ball to play with and time will tell—right about a week from now—how scary Kentucky v2.0 is going to be.
So will the rich keep getting richer?
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinStott11
Kevin Stott has written sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s View Newspapers and Gaming Today in Las Vegas and Suburban Life Newspapers and Press Publications in Chicago and bleeds Chelsea blue when he's not busy bleeding UNLV scarlet and gray.