Having won the national championship behind three starters from the 2011 recruiting class, Kentucky must reload in a hurry. Luckily for the Wildcats, there’s plenty of talent on the way to replace a young starting lineup that’s widely projected to jump to the NBA as a unit this spring.
Coach John Calipari has already signed one of the nation’s most impressive freshman classes, but that may be just a warm-up for the game's most successful recruiter. Three of the top 10 prospects in the country, all undecided as of this writing, are considering joining forward Alex Poythress and the rest of Calipari’s incoming crop.
Herein, a look at the three Wildcats-to-be who are already committed—plus the current status of the even-more-dangerous trio who might be headed to Lexington this fall.
According to both ESPNU and Scout.com, Nerlens Noel is the top-ranked recruit in the country, period.
He’s narrowed the field to three finalists prior to his April 11 decision: Kentucky, Georgetown (which is getting a lot of late buzz in its favor) and Syracuse (the closest thing to a hometown option for the New Hampshire product).
All three schools could be losing top-notch centers, creating an opportunity for the 6’10” Noel to jump in as an immediate starter wherever he goes.
Noel’s shot-blocking ability is so impressive that he would have a chance to live up to inevitable Anthony Davis comparisons in Lexington, a challenge Wildcat fans would be thrilled to see him undertake.
4/11: Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com is reporting that Shabazz Muhammad has committed to UCLA.
Until Nerlens Noel reclassified into the recruiting class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad was the consensus best player available.
According to the International Business Times, Muhammad’s decision (which is expected to come in the next week) is down to two schools: Kentucky or UCLA.
A 6’5” small forward, Muhammad (who led all scorers with 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting at the McDonald’s All-American Game) would be right at home with the other highlight-reel finishers in UK’s recruiting class.
A lot’s going to depend on whether he’d rather help rebuild at UCLA or contend for a title immediately in Lexington.
No relation to Nero Wolfe’s fictional sidekick, Archie Goodwin is currently the prize of Kentucky’s 2012 recruiting class. The 6’4” shooting guard ranks among the country’s Top Five at his position according to ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Goodwin is a lethal penetrator who’s at his best finishing around the rim, though his perimeter shooting is a work in progress.
He’s also an outstanding defender—he grabbed a team-high three steals at the McDonald’s All-American Game to go with his 14 points off the bench—with the athleticism to rebound effectively as a collegian.
The first thing to acknowledge about Willie Cauley is that he’s not going to be Anthony Davis.
Still, stepping into the (presumably NBA-bound) shoes of one of history’s greatest freshmen is a lot easier when you’re a 6’11” center with the athleticism to play wide receiver in high school.
Cauley is the lowest-rated player among John Calipari’s current commits, but he’s still a 4-star prospect ranked as high as No. 32 overall by ESPN.
He’s going to be raw, even for a freshman, but his length and mobility will make up for a lot, as he learns the college game.
Alex Poythress is a 6’7” forward who ranks in the nation’s Top 20 players according to ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Like many Calipari recruits, he’s an athlete first and foremost, but he’s also got the skills to back up his quickness and leaping ability.
Poythress will get most of his minutes at small forward, but he has enough rebounding talent to move up to the 4 as needed.
Valuable as he’ll be on defense, it’s likely his finishing ability that will make the biggest impact: he led the East team at the McDonald’s All-American Game with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
Anthony Bennett could hardly have been pleased with his own showing in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
The 6’7” PF out of Nevada played just 13 minutes (tied for the fewest of anyone on either roster), finishing with a pedestrian nine points and six rebounds.
Nevertheless, Bennett—a 230 lbs bruiser whose strength is a major asset—is ranked seventh in the nation by ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com.
He’d be a fine replacement for likely-to-depart Terrence Jones, provided Kentucky beats out the other four contenders for his services (Florida, Oregon, UNLV and Washington).
As with Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad, Kentucky may not be the decisive frontrunner, but it’s very much in contention to land Bennett.
The truly frightening thought is that the Wildcats might be able to sign all three, a prospect that’s not nearly as far-fetched as the rest of the country would wish.