UK Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best Recruiting Classes in Wildcats' History
Kentucky has been the headquarters for the best high school basketball players the last couple of years. With John Calipari bringing in recruits like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Julius Randle and John Wall, just to name a few, the question has to be asked.
What is the best recruiting class in the history of the storied Kentucky program?
Not all of the great recruiting classes work out, such as this past year. But, this list will take a look at both on paper and on the court.
As always let your voice be heard, whether you agree or disagree with the list, in the comment section.
Honorable Mention: The Unforgettables
The Unforgettables—Sean Woods, Deron Feldhaus, Richie Farmer and John Pelphrey—will always be linked to Kentucky for playing in the greatest game ever played when they lost to Duke in the 1992 East Regional Final.
However, they were one of the most influential recruiting classes in Kentucky's history. They helped bring pride back to the program when it was at its lowest point after receiving massive sanctions.
The other major factor with the 1988 recruiting class is three of the four came from Kentucky. Pelphrey, Feldhaus and Farmer were all born and raised in the Commonwealth.
One person can make a recruiting class. In fact Jamal Mashburn is the most important recruit in Kentucky's history.
Mashburn solidified Kentucky's roster and became the first great recruit for Rick Pitino in Lexington.
Mashburn scored over 1,800 points in just three seasons at Kentucky and meshed with the Unforgettables to help lead Kentucky's resurgence back to basketball dominance.
It's hard to believe a program like Kentucky had one player turn its program around but that's exactly what Mashburn did. He made the Wildcats a program recruits looked at from a national standpoint again instead of a program known for its scandal.
This was supposed to be a special team. The No. 1 recruiting class in the nation with three top-25 recruits. Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford were supposed to lead Kentucky to its eighth national championship.
At the time Rivals.com said Tubby Smith pulled out one of the most impressive late signing periods in the history of recruiting. During that time is when he got Morris, Rondo and Crawford. This recruiting class also had four-star Ramel Bradley and transfer Patrick Sparks.
For whatever reason however, this team never gelled and the furthest they made it was to the Elite Eight in 2004, where they lost to Michigan State.
It could be said that the lack of success for this class eventually cost Tubby Smith his job at Kentucky. Instead of having that second championship to his name, and the first with the players he recruited, Smith was looked at as a failure for not making it to the Final Four.
Highlighted by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the 2011 recruiting class brought Kentucky its elusive eighth national championship.
Joining Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were fellow McDonald's All-Americans Kyle Wiltjer and Marquis Teague. It was the first time in Calipari's reign at Kentucky that four All-Americans committed in the same class to Lexington.
Besides winning a championship, this team became beloved by Big Blue Nation because they were able to put their egos to the side and play team ball and truly cared about each other on the court. There was no drama between players or any squabbles.
Instead this team became not only one of the best recruiting classes in Kentucky's history, but one of the most favorite teams in Lexington.
On top of that, it also proved that Calipari's recruiting method of signing the one-and-done players does work and you can win a championship with a young team.
The 2009 class is like your first significant other. You always remember them and their memory always remains.
They were the first for Calipari and Kentucky.
John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Jon Hood and Darnell Dodson made up Calipari's first No. 1 recruiting class in Lexington.
They were the team that showed Big Blue Nation that Calipari's system works, especially at a powerhouse like Kentucky. The signing of Wall and Cousins also gave Calipari credibility in the coming years.
He was able to develop and recruit the best big man and point guard in the nation that year. In the coming years that helped Calipari land the likes of Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.
More importantly this team set the tone for Kentucky basketball under Calipari. After tumultuous years with Billy Gillispie, the Wildcats returned to their winning ways. They won the SEC and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before they were upset in the Elite Eight by West Virginia.
On paper this is the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball. An unprecedented six McDonald's All-Americans and six of the top 18 recruits signed with Kentucky.
The rich got richer as three-star Dominique Hawkins, Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, signed with the Wildcats.
This class will face the pressure of both the 2009 and 2011 classes when they take the floor this fall. After this past year resulted in a first round exit in the NIT, it will be up to this class to bring pride back to Kentucky. A trip back to the Final Four is not only wanted but expected.
It will also face the same thing 2011 did in that they will have to gel and not let personal feelings get in their way of getting Kentucky a ninth championship. The players will have to sacrifice scoring 20 points a game each contest in order to win as a team.
If the pressure of the two best classes in Kentucky's history isn't enough, this class also has to deal with playing the year after Louisville won the title.
Much like Mashburn brought Kentucky back after sanctions and Wall and Cousins made Kentucky dominant again, it will be up to this class to make the Wildcats immortal.