UK Notebook

UK hoops notebook: Cats can reload

Plenty of top prospects within Calipari's reach

Herald-Leader Staff WriterApril 11, 2010 

As the monthlong spring signing period begins this week, Kentucky fans are justifiably anxious about their favorite team's reliance on so-called one-and-done players.

Sure, UK can restock. The Cats are involved with such highly rated prospects as Brandon Knight, Josh Selby, C.J. Leslie and Terrence Jones.

But can Kentucky or any program expect to sign players like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins every year? Are talents that can be named first-team All-Americans by The Associated Press as freshmen to be found only every so often?

"They aren't your typical guys coming out of high school," said Brick Oettinger, who evaluates high school prospects for the Prep Stars recruiting service. "Each was truly an exceptional talent and prospect."

That said, no one is shedding any tears about Kentucky's ability to re-arm for the 2010-11 season.

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, noted that UK Coach John Calipari has a proven record for replacing one seemingly singular talent with another. Derrick Rose begat Tyreke Evans who begat John Wall in three straight seasons.

"There's no indication that he's going to let up in recruiting, so I tend to believe that Kentucky won't be short on talent any time soon," Bilas wrote in an e-mail. "A 35-3 record, an SEC Championship, and a No. 1 ranking every year seems a bit of a stretch. But Kentucky will compete and win at the highest level."

John Greig, who has been retained as Cousins' agent, said that the former UK big man was a rare basketball commodity. "When was the last time a big man with his skill set came into the (NBA)?" Greig said. "It's been awhile, a long while."

It is hard to recall so productive a big man as a freshman for Kentucky.

Yet Oettinger compares the big man committed to UK, Enes Kanter, favorably with Cousins.

"Some people think he's the best kid in the country," Oettinger said of Kanter. "I conservatively put him at No. 13. He maybe should be No. 1. Let's say for sure top five. ...

"He may be every bit as dominating a player as Cousins was."

Then Kentucky could hope to replace Wall with Knight, who some rate as the No. 1 player in the class of 2010. Oettinger suggested Knight was a better scorer than Wall, but Wall a better play-maker.

Judging the recruiting possibilities, UK has shooting guard Stacey Poole Jr., and Kanter in place. The Cats will look to add either Knight or Selby or both in a Wall-Eric Bledsoe combo at point guard, wing Doron Lamb, big forward C.J. Leslie or Terrence Jones.

"If everything broke right, it might not stack up with Wall and Cousins," Oettinger said. "But it could end up being the best recruiting crop in the country again."

Agent touts Cousins

John Greig, the Seattle-based agent retained by DeMarcus Cousins, is touting the former UK big man as a worthy No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft.

"Most people think he's in the top three," said Greig in mildly challenging the conventional wisdom that Cousins' former UK teammate, John Wall, is the obvious choice to be the first pick. "He's deserving to be in that mix, deserving to be No. 1."

Greig also put Ohio State's Evan Turner, who late Friday night won the Wooden Award as college basketball's Player of the Year, in the mix for first player selected.

The agent simply touted his client as a legitimate No. 1 player chosen if the team making the selection feels comfortable with its point guards.

"If you need a 'four' or a 'five' more than a 'one,' you're going to take him," Greig said of Cousins.

Draft dates

With five players expected to enter their names, Kentucky will have a keen interest in this year's NBA Draft. Here are some dates to keep in mind.

The NCAA's earlier deadline for withdrawing from the draft complicates things. Players must withdraw by May 8 to retain the option of returning to their college teams. That means players must withdraw more than a week before the NBA's combine.

The combine, which takes the place of the previous Pre-Draft Camp, will be held May 19-23 in Chicago. Invited players will undergo medical exams, have their vertical leaps measured and go through various drills.

But no five-on-five competition. In other words, the agents won. Agents did not want their clients risking anything in games that did not count.

The draft will be June 24.

'Glorified AAU program'

While a guest on the Washington, D.C.-based Tony Kornheiser Show, longtime college basketball reporter Jim O'Connell spoke of his misgivings about Kentucky's apparent reliance on so-called one-and-done players.

"I don't think it's the right way to do it," said O'Connell, the college basketball editor for The Associated Press for many years. "... That's not what college basketball is supposed to be about."

Then, O'Connell added, "Of course, it's not the pristine sport we (sometimes think it is)."

The overhaul of the roster each season to accommodate players who stay one year in college before turning pro made Kentucky look like a "glorified AAU program," O'Connell said.

To which Kornheiser suggested UK Coach John Calipari was a combination of Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian. Cal was like Smith in that "he understood rule changes, and he's ahead of his colleagues," said Kornheiser, who also noted Tarkanian's skill in creating quality teams in a relatively short amount of time.

UK-Notre Dame

Nostalgic fans will like hearing that UK might again play Notre Dame in Louisville.

Such a game is being discussed as part of a future SEC-Big East challenge. The game would be part of a doubleheader.

Neither league was prepared last week to discuss the particulars of such a game except to acknowledge that discussions were ongoing.

From 1960-61 through 1987-88, Kentucky and Notre Dame played 23 times in Louisville. Since 1987-88, UK has played Notre Dame 13 times in such cities as Lexington, South Bend and Indianapolis. But it was never quite the same.

'Drop all pretense'

One-and-done players. Desire for more money. A college education an afterthought, at best. Louisiana State Coach Trent Johnson recently felt the need to say that college basketball is "not the developmental league for the NBA."

The state of college athletics moved reader Ernie Henninger to send an e-mail message offering his thoughts on a radical reform.

"What's needed is for 48 or 50 or 64 of the major basketball and football programs to drop all pretense of amateur status," he wrote. "They would form one or more super conferences, still based on the university campuses with all the logos, fight songs and such. And with all the recruiting and scheduling and financial operations which they now have, but with players paid reasonable salaries and relieved of any and all academic requirements.

"The players may, as they alone wish, leave for the NFL or NBA at any time. At the other extreme they may attend classes and even work toward a LEGITIMATE graduation at university expense over however many school terms it may take. The pretense of all players being 'student athletes' would, thankfully, be abandoned."

The coaches would share "their obscene salaries with the young men on the field or court who make it all possible," Henninger added.

"This transformation would make no difference to the crazed and not-quite crazed fans, alumni, sports columnists and students. The academic and scholarly activities of the universities would only be enhanced.

"This is all so clean and simple and decent that to continue the current farce is unacceptable."

Henninger, 77, is a self-described "retired old codger" who came to Kentucky from Indiana five years ago. He grew up in Indianapolis and worked as a professor at DePauw University, where, he wrote, "all my experiences with Division III athletics, coaches and players were totally positive."

Henninger wrote that he cheers for Purdue and UK.

"Of the first seven UK football games I attended, Kentucky won all seven!" he wrote, adding, "But even as I pull for Kentucky, I roll my eyes at the crazy excesses."

Basketball villains

During the Final Four, columnist William C. Rhoden of The New York Times wrote about how Duke went from lovable underdogs against UNLV in 1990 to villain against lovable underdog Butler in 2010.

Rhoden asked several Final Four participants to name the team or players that they had perceived as basketball villains.

"For me, UK was the villain." Duke guard Nolan Smith said. "With the Duke-Carolina rivalry, I kind of signed my way into it. With the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry, I was born into it."

Of course, his father, Derek Smith, played for Louisville's 1980 national championship team. He died when Nolan was 8.

Last acts

In comparing season-ending losses in his three seasons for Kentucky, Patrick Patterson noted the disappointment that came his freshman season when the Cats lost to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

His sophomore season?

"Just a tragedy being in the NIT," he said. "You don't want to be there. You want to be in the NCAA."

But Patterson said that the loss to West Virginia in the East Regional finals last month inflicted the most emotional pain.

"Definitely hurt the worst," he said. "We had an opportunity with this team. We had all the right pieces. And we fell short against a team that played harder and outworked us."

PIT

The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament for prospects not assured of being drafted ended Saturday. UK had no players participating.

Through early Saturday afternoon, here are a few PIT stats to chew on:

■ Former South Carolina guard Devan Downey made 11 of 28 shots (zero of five from three-point range) and averaged 12 points through two games.

■ Former Tennessee big man Wayne Chism averaged a double-double through two games, 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.

■ Former Vandy guard Jermaine Beal made only four of 15 shots (one of six from three-point range).

■ Former Cornell shooter Ryan Wittman, the son of former Indiana star Randy Wittman, made eight of 20 shots (one of eight from three-point range).

Wise guy

Here's something I learned at the East Regional in Syracuse: West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins was a two-time Academic All-American when he played for the Mountaineers. He graduated from WVU magna cum laude in 1977.

Happy birthday

To UK basketball icon Kyle Macy. He turned 53 Friday.

Earlier this spring, the Bluegrass Stallions of the American Basketball Association dismissed Macy as coach. "I guess first place in the conference wasn't enough," he quipped.

Actually, Macy understood the move. His coaching contract gave him the right to give his broadcasting duties a higher priority. That's why he missed the Stallions' playoff games.

Now he'll be free to continue his broadcasting career and the Stallions can move on to a new coach.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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