Big man Alexander on Kentucky's 2014 wish list

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 28, 2013 

Cliff Alexander

HAMPTON, Va. — Between the commitment of Karl Towns and the possible return of one or two talented players, Kentucky is expected to have another loaded frontcourt for the 2014-15 season.

That's not stopping John Calipari from trying to add to the wealth. Cliff Alexander — considered the No. 2 big man in the class of 2014 — still has the Cats at the top of his list.

And it sounds like he's at the top of theirs.

"They're coming pretty hard," Alexander said. "I had a home visit with them a couple of days ago. It went well. My parents love Coach Cal."

UK was one of four teams that made the trip to Chicago to visit with Alexander in the past week. Michigan State, Illinois and Kansas were also there.

Alexander acknowledged Saturday that UK, Michigan State and Illinois were on the top tier of his recruitment. "They're recruiting me the hardest," he said.

But just about everyone in the country would like to have him on their squad a year from now. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound post player is rated the No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2014 by Scout.com.

Many sites list Alexander as a center, but he's made it clear that he would rather play the power forward position in college.

Calipari assured him that was possible at Kentucky.

"He said how he was going to move me around — get me to play like a Terrence Jones," Alexander said. "I think that fits me. Shoot the jump shot, pound it a little bit and make good passes."

With AAU teammate Jahlil Okafor — the No. 1 big man in the class — sidelined with an ankle injury, Alexander was the main man in the middle for Mac Irvin Fire over the weekend. In one game, he grabbed 19 rebounds as Calipari, Tom Izzo and several other coaches watched.

One of those coaches was Louisville's Rick Pitino. Alexander got a text message from U of L assistant Kevin Keatts the night before saying that they'd be watching him the next day, and both Pitino and Keatts showed up to see him.

If Louisville stepped up its recruitment, Alexander said he would "most definitely" consider elevating the Cards to the same level as UK, Michigan State and Illinois.

The same rule applies to any other top programs that would like to get involved.

"I'm still open to everybody," he said. "I haven't cut my list down yet. I might cut it down at the end of the summer."

Alexander said he hopes to start taking official visits in the fall, though he doesn't have any specific dates set up just yet. UK would be an obvious candidate to land one of his five officials, even though he's already been in Rupp Arena.

Alexander came to Lexington for this past season's Big Blue Madness, and the experience has stuck with him.

"It was crazy," he said. "The fan base was crazy. The kids loved me. Everybody loved me. They chanted my name. It was love."

Big expectations

Haitian big man Skal Labissiere — the only 2015 prospect with a Kentucky offer — said Saturday that UK and Memphis are the two schools "standing out" in the early stages of his recruitment.

The 6-foot-10 post player moved to Memphis after his home country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Six months after his first meeting with the UK coach, Labissiere is still surprised that John Calipari offered him a scholarship so soon.

"When I heard it, I couldn't say a thing because I was shocked," he said. "He told me that I had the potential to be great."

Since that first encounter, UK has stayed in regular contact. Calipari has been a mainstay in the bleachers at Labissiere's EYBL games this weekend, and Labissiere said his guardian, Gerald Hamilton, talks to Calipari on the phone "a good bit."

Rivals.com considers Labissiere the No. 6 overall player in the class of 2015. Calipari's expectations might be even higher. The UK coach has mentioned three of his former players when discussing Labissiere's possible future at Kentucky.

"He brought up Marcus Camby, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis," Labissiere said.

The big Haitian still has a long way to go before he hits those heights. His game shows versatility — a 6-10 player who can run the floor and shoot from outside — but he acknowledges that he needs to work on getting stronger and refining his moves in the post.

Of course, he still has two years of high school to make those improvements.

Winner gets Mudiay?

Kentucky and Baylor are two schools often mentioned in the recruitment of Emmanuel Mudiay, one of the top five players in the class of 2014 and a major Calipari target.

The two teams are scheduled to face off early next season in Cowboys Stadium. Mudiay, a native of Arlington, Texas, is hoping to be in attendance.

"That's only about 15 minutes away from my house, so I'm definitely going to try to make it to that game," he said. "Cowboys Stadium is crazy. I know it's going to be rowdy in there."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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