Kentucky's slow recruiting start could transform into fast finish

Many top recruits plan to wait until spring to pick, analyst cautions

broberts@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2011 

The University of Kentucky men's basketball team took a first step toward what eventually could be a fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class when top-50 prospect Willie Cauley signed a national letter of intent Wednesday, the first day of a weeklong signing period.

Top-20 prospect Archie Goodwin plans to formally sign with UK on Tuesday, his high school coach said.

Compared to the sonic booms UK caused the past three recruiting years, these signings seem like pop guns.

Things didn't get any better Wednesday night when top-25 shooting guard Gary Harris committed to Michigan State.

Harris picked the Spartans over Kentucky, Indiana and Purdue.

The Cats entered into his recruitment later than the other schools involved, but the Indianapolis native made an official visit to Lexington the week after Big Blue Madness and left impressed with Calipari's dribble-drive offense.

Still, analyst Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com noted that enough prospects remain available for Kentucky to make plenty of noise this recruiting year.

"Theoretically and literally to No. 1," Meyer said of what's possible for Kentucky. "What fans have to remember is, when you're recruiting to the No. 1-in-the-country level, a majority of the activity will be in the spring."

Shabazz Muhammad, the top-rated player in the high school class of 2012, has indicated he will wait until the spring to make a college choice. So will two other top-10 prospects: Anthony Bennett and Devonta Pollard.

Kentucky is after all three.

Meyer said Muhammad is still scheduled to visit Duke at some point. UCLA has long been perceived as the favorite.

Bennett has not made a visit, and reportedly is considering nine schools.

Pollard set basketball recruiting aside as he played high school football this fall, Meyer said.

Another top-25 prospect, power forward Alex Poythress, is expected to announce his college choice on Thursday. UK, Vanderbilt and Memphis are considered the front runners. Vandy has been in pursuit the longest.

After signing with Kentucky on Wednesday, Cauley told the Courier-Journal, "I want to play for the championship. It was the right place for me."

Cauley, a 6-foot-10 prospect from Kansas, noted a genuineness in the Kentucky coaches.

"Everywhere else I went, except maybe one other place, the coaches were overly nice," he said. "I could tell that's not how they really were when they are not trying to sell their school. I just felt like the coaches at Kentucky were being real all the time. They were not trying to BS me. They were really telling me the truth and the way it is at Kentucky."

Cauley echoed his comments earlier this fall when he noted the appeal of Calipari's record of producing NBA players.

"He's putting guys in the pros, and that's a big thing we look at," Cauley said. "Plus, you don't have to worry because you know you are going to the tournament every year. I want to be on a championship team, and I don't necessarily want to have to be there four years to get where I want to be. So it was the place for me. I'm excited."

In Cauley and Goodwin, Kentucky added prospects with "tremendous upsides," Meyer said.

Neither is seen as a so-called one-and-done player, the analyst said. Each could be All-League players as soon as their sophomore seasons.

Given Kentucky's recruiting hauls the past three years, Cauley and Goodwin might not excite. But Meyer cautioned against a feeling of disappointment with UK's recruiting efforts.

"Way, way, way premature," the analyst said. "I understand uneasiness. There might be uneasiness in the Kentucky basketball office, as there is in every coach's office. You're dealing with teenagers.

"I'm not saying everything is going to be peachy with Kentucky. But it's way too early (to say)."

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