Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: Meet Wildcats' 2014 Class
Kentucky's class of 2014-15 is all but set in stone, with the only question being what players return from this year's squad to help round out the incoming freshmen.
Of the seven players who have to make the decision of whether to leave for the NBA or stay in Lexington, we know two are coming back for sure. Marcus Lee and Willie Cauley-Stein both announced their intent to play for Kentucky another year in an effort to win a national championship.
The recruiting class is nothing out of the norm for Kentucky and its head coach, John Calipari, as the Wildcats are bringing in four McDonald's All-Americans, all of whom have the possibility to leave after a year or two under Calipari's tutelage.
What could be outside of the norm is if Kentucky takes a look at bringing a transfer in who is eligible to play right away. This might have to be an option if the Harrison twins and James Young all declare for the NBA. If they decide to leave, the Wildcats are short in the backcourt, with just Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Dominique Hawkins. Kentucky already explored this option, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, by taking a look at Bryce Dejean-Jones, who decided instead to transfer from UNLV to Iowa State.
This slideshow will introduce Big Blue Nation to the four players who make up the class of 2014, taking a look at their strengths, weaknesses and what to expect from them during their freshman campaign.
Tyler Ulis: The Next Great Point Guard
When you think of point guards who played collegiate ball under John Calipari, the image of a big, tall guard with the ability to attack the rim comes to mind. Players like Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Andrew Harrison all excelled under Calipari.
Tyler Ulis is not like those players, at least in stature. Ulis stands at just 5'9" and weighs a measly 150 pounds.
Ulis is like those players because despite his size, he's a McDonald's All-American and has all the makings to be the next great point guard to play for John Calipari.
He exploded onto the scene last summer during the Peach Jam Tournament in Atlanta when he went toe-to-toe against Tyus Jones, one of the top-rated players in the country. Ulis scored 22 points and dished out 17 assists in that game in front of major college head coaches, including Calipari, who clearly loved what he saw.
After top-rated point guard Emmanuel Mudiay spurned Kentucky to sign with SMU, Kentucky offered Ulis and the diminutive point guard committed back in September, picking Kentucky over Michigan State and Iowa.
Ulis is a little bit of a throwback player, in the sense that he's a pass-first point guard similar to that of Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash. He is a strong enough shooter to keep defenders honest, but his real strength is distributing the ball to those in scoring positions.
Devin Booker: A Pure Shooter
Devin Booker is the prototypical shooting guard and should fit in perfectly with Calipari's dribble-drive offense. Booker is 6'5" with one of the smoothest jumpers in the class of 2014. ESPN has him ranked as the No. 18 overall recruit and third-best shooting guard in the country.
Booker also has incredibly high basketball IQ, thanks in part to being the son of a great college player. His father, Melvin, was a standout player at Missouri and his tutelage to his son shows on the court now. Booker has incredible vision, with the ability to pass like a point guard from the shooting guard position.
When Scout.com broke down Bookers' game, it said his game goes as his jumper does, something that isn't shocking for a player like Booker. While Scout also praised his basketball IQ, it stressed the shooting ability of Booker. Look for the Mississippi native to attempt most of his shots from the wing, but don't be surprised to see him take a shot off the dribble.
Booker has great size for his position, so Kentucky shouldn't have to worry about other guards trying to post him up. However, he's not as quick as most guards, something that could haunt him on the defensive side of the ball.
Trey Lyles: The Important Recruit
Trey Lyles is arguably the biggest commit in the class of 2014 for Kentucky because of what the opposite result would have been. Lyles, who hails from Indianapolis, picked the Wildcats over archrival Louisville, something that wouldn't have sat well with Big Blue Nation.
Lyles, like the others who will be his future teammates, is a McDonald's All-American and a Jordan Brand player. The 6'10", 255-pound Lyles is the sixth overall player according to ESPN and the No. 2 power forward.
He is a phenomenal scorer with a wide array of post moves and has the ability to step out and hit a jumper from 15-18 feet. Most importantly, though, he has what coaches desire in big guys because it's something they can't teach. As Scout.com puts it, he has exceptional coordination and great hands to catch those passes from Ulis and Booker.
Similar to Booker, his athleticism isn't the strongest for his size and position. However, he uses every other attribute to overcome that one weakness. Lyles is a strong rebounder due to his size and ability to gain position.
Expect Lyles to challenge for the starting power forward position and on top of that, look for him to lead the team in scoring next season.
Karl Towns: Mr. Do-It-All
Karl Towns isn't the highest-rated player in the country or even the highest-rated Kentucky commit. However, he's the gem of the class thanks in part to his ability to do a little bit of everything combined with his size.
Towns is 7'0" and can play both the center and power forward position thanks to his ability to step out, play facing the basket and hit shots from all over the floor. He'll be a unique addition to play next to Cauley-Stein, Lee and possibly Dakari Johnson, all of whom play with their back to the basket.
Towns has the ability to stretch the defense, similar to what Terrence Jones did when playing alongside Anthony Davis. This combined with his experience should allow him to step into a starting spot almost right away. Towns has played against NBA talent as part of the Dominican Republic national team.
Recently, Towns was named the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 21.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.4 blocks per game en route to leading his St. Joseph's team to a state title. One NBA scout already has said he's a top-five player in the class, while another thinks he needs to get stronger and develop a better inside game during his freshman year, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.
While Lyles should lead the 2014-15 Kentucky team in scoring, expect Towns to be the go-to guy when a play needs to be made. He'll have one of the most balanced statistical lines and will be the next great shot-blocker following the likes of Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.