Recruiting: Kentucky waiting in line at McDonald's

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2012 

  • McDonald's All-American Game events

    At Chicago

    Powerade Jam Fest

    Monday — 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPN3)

    All-American Games

    Girls — Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPNU, ESPN3)

    Boys — Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN3)

The Kentucky basketball program knew exactly where it stood going into last year's McDonald's All-American Game. The Cats had four players in the high school showcase, and the entire group had been signed for months.

This week will be a little different.

While two Kentucky signees will definitely be on the court for Wednesday's game, John Calipari is still awaiting word from three more All-Americans and another super recruit who won't even be in attendance.

Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress will be the duo representing UK. Both players committed to the Cats before the start of their senior seasons and are the building blocks of what Calipari hopes will be his fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class in Lexington.

Before that happens, he'll need a little more help.

The main attraction in Chicago (and main focus of UK fans) will be Shabazz Muhammad, the Las Vegas wing who still has not decided where he will go to school. Muhammad, rated either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country by every major recruiting service, has narrowed his choices to Kentucky, UCLA, UNLV, Duke and Kansas. He's expected to announce his decision April 10.

Also participating in the all-star event will be five-star forwards Anthony Bennett and Devonta Pollard, both UK recruiting targets.

Bennett, who is originally from Canada but plays his high school ball in Nevada, is ranked No. 7 in the country by Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward is down to UK, Florida, UNLV, Oregon and Washington.

Bennett missed much of his senior season at Findlay Prep with injuries, but he is expected to be at full strength for the McDonald's festivities. He has not made official visits to any of the schools on his list or set a specific date for his announcement.

Pollard, a 6-7 forward from De Kalb, Miss., is rated No. 9 in the country by Rivals and No. 25 by Scout. He is considering UK, Mississippi State, Alabama, Texas, Missouri and Georgetown. Pollard has yet to visit Lexington, but said recently that he would like to make the trip before deciding on a school. There is no timetable for his announcement.

The other two undecided McDonald's All-Americans — Tony Parker and Amile Jefferson — were both recruited by Kentucky, but neither seems to be seriously considering the Cats anymore.

Notably absent from this week's events will be Nerlens Noel, the player many services consider to be the top recruit in the country. Noel moved from the class of 2013 to the class of 2012 on the eve of the McDonald's roster announcement, and therefore was not eligible during the selection process.

Once he reclassified, Noel displaced Muhammad as the No. 1 player in the Scout, ESPN and MaxPreps rankings. PrepStars kept Muhammad in front of Noel, and Rivals has yet to update its list.

Last week, Noel and his mother hosted coaches from his final three schools: Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. He has already visited each campus, and his announcement is expected as early as this week.

The 6-foot-10 center is considered the best defensive big man to come out of high school since Greg Oden in 2006. That category includes Anthony Davis, whose blocked shot records at Kentucky could be in immediate jeopardy should Noel join the Cats. Syracuse is seen as a co-favorite, with the Hoyas a dark horse.

UK is No. 2 behind Arizona in most of the current recruiting rankings. The Pac-12 Wildcats are not expected to add any elite players to their class. Two of the players on UK's wish list would likely be enough to give Calipari another top-rated group.

Before the All-Americans face off Wednesday in the United Center, several will participate in Monday's Powerade Jam Fest. The competitors for the dunk contest, three-point shootout and skills challenge are typically not announced until the night of the event. UK freshman Kyle Wiltjer won the three-point contest at last year's Jam Fest.

Thompson in girls' game

For the third year in a row, the UK women will be represented at this year's McDonald's All-American girls' game.

UK signee Janee Thompson, a 5-foot-7 point guard from Chicago, will play for the East team in Wednesday night's game. She is the 35th-rated player and sixth-rated point guard in ESPN's HoopGurlz rankings. Thompson follows Bria Goss (2011) and Jennifer O'Neill (2010) as the third UK recruit to participate.

Hicks coaching East

Scott County head coach Billy Hicks will be in charge of the East team, which includes Poythress, Parker and Jefferson. Hicks just completed his 32nd season as a high school coach and led the Cardinals to an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen title game. He has more than 800 career victories and has coached Scott County to two state championships.

Joining Hicks on the sideline will be Scott County assistants Chris Wilhite and Tim Glenn.

Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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