College basketball’s recruiting season isn’t over yet, but with Kentucky having missed out on Stanley Johnson, the Wildcats may well be done adding to their 2014 class. Next year’s group of freshmen certainly isn’t in the same historic league as the current UK first-years, but there’s still a lot to like about the group John Calipari has put together so far.
One feature of the class that does echo this season’s freshmen is that it features a lot of length. 7’1” center Karl Towns Jr. isn’t even the best of the future NBA big men among Kentucky’s four commits.
Read on for more, both positive and negative, on the Wildcats’ freshman class of 2014 as it stands right now.
North Carolina, one of Kentucky's top recruiting competitors, has a built-in problem with its star-studded class. The Tar Heels' two best prospects, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, play the same position (small forward) with largely the same skill set.
That’s an issue Kentucky won’t have next season, with diversity being the most obvious characteristic of John Calipari’s quartet of freshmen-to-be.
He’s got a jump-shooting big man and a post-up big man, a penetrating guard and a jump-shooting guard, a playmaker and a scorer in the backcourt, and no reason not to put all four of this year's recruits on the court at the same time.
Rupp Arena has gotten used to dunkfests from the NBA-bound stars in John Calipari’s recruiting classes. The fans won’t be completely bereft next season, but the quality of the finishers among the 2014 freshmen is a few notches below what Kentucky has had lately.
SG Devin Booker and C Karl Towns Jr. would both prefer to stroke jumpers from the outside rather than attacking the paint, and 5’9” PG Tyler Ulis (a fine penetrator) just doesn’t have the height to be a weapon at the rim.
PF Trey Lyles hews closer to Kentucky’s usual mold, but even he has more skill than explosiveness in him.
It says a lot about John Calipari that Josh Harrelson (at 6’10”) is the shortest starting center he’s had at Kentucky. That trend will continue next year with the addition of 7’1” Karl Towns Jr. to play the pivot.
Towns is joined inside by 6’10” Trey Lyles, while 6’5” Devin Booker takes care of one of the wing positions.
The one exception here is a glaring one—PG Tyler Ulis stands just 5’9”—but on balance, Kentucky will be creating matchup problems for shorter teams well into the foreseeable future.
Whatever Tyler Ulis’ virtues, nobody is going to send the young point guard out to win any wrestling matches. At 150 pounds on a 5’9” frame, Ulis will get pushed around by any starter in the SEC.
He’s not alone, either, because Karl Towns Jr.—with his high center of gravity at 7’1”—is highly vulnerable to shorter, stronger forwards in the paint.
Trey Lyles is the obvious exception to this problem, but on the whole, Kentucky’s next crop of freshmen are badly in need of a trip to a collegiate weight room.
Despite his size (7’1”) and position (center, nominally), Karl Towns Jr. is as deadly a three-point shooter as any 2014 recruit in the country.
With that kind of start to the incoming class, it’s no surprise that the group as a whole has turned out to bring a long-range game that would be the envy of the current Wildcats roster.
Shooting guard Devin Booker is another top-tier marksman, and even power forward Trey Lyles (the best overall scorer of the bunch) has a strong mid-range game to go with his low-post artistry.
The odd man out is PG Tyler Ulis, a good but not great perimeter weapon who’s happy to spend his time setting up the guys who can knock down shots from anywhere.
It’s been a while since John Calipari has even had to think much about defense.
His last three starting centers have been Anthony Davis (the best shot-blocker in school history), Nerlens Noel (the best in the country before he got hurt) and Willie Cauley-Stein (who was blocking two shots a game while playing with Noel).
However, Trey Lyles is the only one of this year’s four recruits who’s an impact player on the defensive end of the floor.
Devin Booker is fine but nothing special, Tyler Ulis gives up as much in size as he adds in quickness, and Karl Towns Jr. is well below par defensively (especially for a center with his length).
Lyles alone will help keep next year’s Wildcats respectable, but this class doesn’t have nearly the shutdown potential Kentucky fans have become accustomed to.