Calipari starts reloading with two prize recruits

Florida Guard, Turkish big man help fill void; Gilchrist Coming in 2011

jtipton@herald-leader.combroberts@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2010 

As recruiting analysts saw it, Kentucky sent a message to college basketball on Wednesday. Two messages, actually, when arguably the best prospects in the high school junior and senior classes committed to the Cats.

"Sort of a display of strength," analyst Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com called the commitments by senior point guard Brandon Knight and junior forward Michael Gilchrist.

The commitments declared that Kentucky's few years of wandering the basketball wilderness were over. These commitments on the first day of the monthlong spring signing period signaled that no matter the loss of talent, or maybe because of it in this age of so-called one-and-done players, UK could remain an elite program.

"He simply reloads," analyst Brick Oettinger of the Prep Stars service said of UK Coach John Calipari, "by getting the same caliber players he lost."

A severe test came earlier this month when, as expected, UK announced five players, including the four freshman jewels of last year's No. 1-rated recruiting class, would enter their names in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Coincidentally or not, that announcement came the day before a recruiting dead period ended and college coaches, most notably Calipari, could talk to prospects with that fast-track to the pros fresh in mind.

Coincidence?

"When it's John Calipari and recruiting, I don't think there are many coincidences," Meyer said.

Coincidentally or not, Knight and Gilchrist committed on the first day Kentucky looked to restock its roster.

"Momentum is huge in recruiting," Meyer said. "Everybody saw the success John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton had. That's very attractive to prospects."

Knight represented the fourth straight No. 1-rated point guard to commit to Calipari. He's expected to assume Wall's starring role. He follows Wall and Memphis' Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose.

"He's helped them nurture their talents and get better," Knight said of Calipari during his nationally televised news conference at his high school. He liked all the schools on his final list but said, "I feel I can get better at Kentucky."

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard averaged 31.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists this past season for Pine Crest in Florida. He finished his high school career as the state's No. 2 all-time scorer and a two-time Mr. Basketball.

While Evans and Rose both left for the NBA after one season under Calipari at Memphis and Wall looks headed that way after starring at UK as a freshman, Knight doesn't exactly fit the "one-and-done" mold.

His basketball talents aside, Knight also has a history of academic excellence and has regularly emphasized his desire to be a successful college student.

"I try to keep my head on straight," Knight said Wednesday. "It's a privilege to play basketball. Your mind's going to last a lot longer than your legs."

Knight has a 4.3 grade-point average at Pine Crest, and his mother recently said he's on pace to graduate from high school with all A's for his entire academic career.

"He is a student-athlete in every sense of the word," Miami Herald reporter Fabian Lyon told ESPN last week for a story on Knight. "No one's giving him any breaks at that school. He wants to be the best player and the best student.

"I think he'll play for two years and move on to the NBA. I don't see him being a one-and-done guy."

Last month, Knight joined LeBron James and Greg Oden as only the third two-time national Gatorade Player of the Year. In the McDonald's All-American Game on March 31, Knight hit the game-winning three-pointer with just three seconds remaining.

He chose UK over Florida, Kansas, Connecticut and Syracuse, revealing his decision in a nationally televised special on ESPNU.

Knight joins fellow Floridian Stacey Poole Jr., and Turkish phenom Enes Kanter as the third member of UK's 2010 recruiting class.

Kanter, a 6-foot-10 center who set a record with 34 points at last week's Nike Hoop Summit, signed with Kentucky as expected earlier Wednesday. He had committed to the Cats last month.

Kanter's eligibility was in question after he played for a Turkish pro team before coming to the United States last year. But Calipari said he has been assured Kanter was never paid.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Calipari said. "He's been cleared by the clearinghouse."

Calipari is expected to add several more players in the coming days to replace as many as eight departing Wildcats. Knight said Wednesday he would try to assist in that effort this weekend.

He will be playing in Saturday's Jordan Brand Classic in Madison Square Garden with Terrence Jones, Josh Selby, Doron Lamb and C.J. Leslie, all uncommitted seniors with Kentucky listed among their final schools. Selby and Lamb are expected to announce their college decisions at the event, and Leslie could as well. Jones has said he will make a choice no later than April 30.

"They can't say, 'There's too many players at Kentucky, you won't play,'" Calipari said. "We're looking at possibly bringing in five or six more players in this class."

Gilchrist's commitment gave Kentucky a giant step ahead in recruiting the high school class of 2011.

Analyst Clark Francis of The Hoop Scoop service considers Gilchrist the best high school player in any class.

"In the 28-year history of The Hoop Scoop, there have been two players as sophomores I said were the best regardless of class," Francis said. "The other is LeBron James."

Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 16.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and three blocks for St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J.

Gilchrist praised the UK fans after announcing his decision: "They have a lot of energy. It's really crazy there."

It is believed Gilchrist has wanted to play for Calipari since he was in middle school, but the timing of Wednesday's announcement was a bit of a surprise.

At a time when most No. 1 recruits wait until the last minute to reveal their college destinations, Gilchrist committed to the Cats even though he cannot sign until November.

"I see a guy who has a significant ceiling," Scout.com's Dave Telep told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I see a guy who has unmatched desire to win. I see a young kid that has so much more room to get better."

Gilchrist said making the announcement on April 14 had special importance. That's the birthday of his father, who died when Gilchrist was 2 years old. The UK commitment said he would wear No. 14 at UK in his father's honor.

"It's not for me," Gilchrist said. "It's for him."

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