It's tough to keep your wits with team of so many ifs

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 21, 2010 

Should you apply a literary bent to Kentucky Wildcats basketball, this is the spring of Rudyard Kipling.

Everything comes with an If.

The late Wednesday decision by Terrence Jones, the multi-skilled power forward from Portland, to renege on his verbal commitment to Washington and cast his lot with UK should make the 2010-2011 Wildcats a legitimate Top 10 team.

Without Jones, I saw Kentucky as deserving of something closer to a No. 20 ranking.

Yet in this spring of Cats suspense, everything seems to carry some degree of an If.

Let us count the Ifs.

This week brought reports that the basketball power broker William Wesley — the ubiquitous Worldwide Wes — is working back channels to NBA teams to package free agent LeBron James with UK Coach John Calipari.

If this talk proves to be smoke, not fire (which I believe), then you can count on next season's Kentucky roster to be robust.

That is, if Jones sticks to a college choice this time.

The forward did not sign a binding national letter of intent with Kentucky. Instead, he inked "financial aid" documents, which means he could still opt to go elsewhere if he so chooses.

Jones told his hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, he was "95 percent certain" he would be playing for UK next year.

He was leaving himself an out, Jones said, in case the Calipari to NBA talk proves true.

At some point in any decision process, you have to "stick." Jones seems to me to be a guy who wanted to go to Kentucky all along.

Still, fact is, he's no more obligated to UK now than he was to Washington after his indecisive choice of the UW baseball cap at his "signing" ceremony.

So there's at least a small if remaining

Which is also true of Brandon Knight. The lavishly praised point guard from Florida also signed financial aid documents with UK, not a letter of intent.

If Calipari stays, there's no reason to think Knight won't come to Lexington. But he does have the option to change his mind.

If Knight were to do so, there would be no scholarship point guard on the Kentucky roster.

If Cal stays, if Jones and Knight come, much of Kentucky's success next season nevertheless could depend on the eligibility of Enes Kanter.

Before coming to the U.S., the Turkish product played in Europe on a pro team while not, he says, being paid himself.

If the NCAA takes a lenient view of that situation, UK could have the skilled 6-foot-10 big man for all or most of the 2010-11 season.

From what little I saw on the high school all-star game circuit, Kanter is the best player joining Kentucky for 2010-11.

If Cal stays, if Jones and Knight come, if Kanter is eligible, Kentucky can focus on stuff like this:

If this year's returning players — Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Jon Hood etc. — will again prove willing to defer to a ballyhooed freshmen class.

If so, Kentucky could field a cohesive team that belies a roster heavy with newcomers.

Whether UK's few returning vets will defer may depend on the question that will amplify the rest of the summer discussion of Kentucky hoops: If this year's freshman class is anywhere close to as good as last year's.

According to Rivals, the average rating of the five freshmen slated to join Kentucky in 2010-11 is 15.2. (Kanter No. 3; Knight No. 6; Jones No. 13; Doron Lamb No. 21; Stacey Poole No. 33).

A year ago, the average Rivals rating for incoming UK freshmen was 17.6 (No. 1 John Wall; No. 2 DeMarcus Cousins; No. 22 Daniel Orton; No. 23 Eric Bledsoe; No. 40 Jon Hood).

Which class is better?

It's entirely possible Kentucky will never again have two players as talented as Wall and Cousins at the same time.

The third and fourth best recruits (Orton and Bledsoe) from a year ago turned out to be one-and-done players who both are currently expected to be first-round NBA draft picks.

For my two cents, I don't think the current freshmen class is as talented nor is it likely to produce multiple one-and-dones.

Which would not be a bad thing. It would probably enhance UK's NCAA title aspirations long term to have a class of good players who stay in the program for multiple years to build an experienced nucleus.

In Kentucky basketball's Kipling period, keeping one's head amid some degree of uncertainty figures to be this summer's test for the Kingdom of the Blue.

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