AKRON, Ohio — Kentucky Coach John Calipari told one player that he'd love to work with him. Another player said that Calipari told him they could collaborate on a national championship. A third player, who aspires to be another Oscar Robertson, does not include UK on his supposed final list of five college options. But he's open to amending it.
So said three players rated among the nation's top 5 prospects in the high school junior class of 2013. All are attending the LeBron James Skills Academy this week. Talking to them confirms the obvious: Kentucky, which has boasted the No. 1 recruiting classes three years running, will be contending for the crème de la crème in the next class, as well.
Julius Randle, by some estimates the best player in the class and the player who heard Calipari talk about a national championship, voiced surprise that any prospect wouldn't consider Kentucky.
"He gets great players to the league, and he wins," Randle said of Calipari. "How do you not like that?"
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Calipari has not talked to him about a quick prep for the NBA, Randle said before adding, "He just says he wants to win a national championship with me."
Randle, a 6-foot-9 player from McKinney, Texas, shrugged off being designated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013.
"I guess," he said. "Everybody has their opinion. I just try to play hard all the time (and) just outwork everybody."
While acknowledging comparisons to LeBron James, Randle added, "I think I have more of a post to my game."
Not that Randle thinks less of James, who has played informally with prospects here. "He's unreal," Randle said.
Randle lists Kentucky among a large group of possible college options. So far, recruiting has been a fun experience, one he does not expect to end soon with a commitment.
Of the three highly regarded juniors-to-be, the easiest to spot is Nerlens Noel. That's because of the flat-top, box haircut accompanying the thin 6-11, 201-pound frame.
The haircut is in tribute to his favorite actor, Will Smith, circa Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Noel brings a refreshing attention to defense and selfless play.
"I just want to win the game and be a good teammate," he said. "I know defense is one thing people will sleep on, but defense wins championships."
Noel, who cites Kevin Garnett as possessing the intensity he wants to emulate, said he hoped to have a list of 15 schools by the end of the summer. One figures to be Kentucky because Calipari spoke to Noel a few weeks ago.
"He tells me I'm a great player," Noel said. "He'd love to coach me in the future. He gave me the great comparison of Marcus Camby."
Even though Noel was a preschooler when Camby led the Calipari-coached Massachusetts team to the 1996 Final Four, the reference struck home. "It means a lot," said Noel, who, like Camby, is from New England (Everett, Mass.).
According to Rivals.com, Randle and Noel rank second and fifth in the class of 2013. Sandwiched between them is Jabari Parker at No. 4.
Parker, a 6-8 forward from Chicago, said his game is considered "old school," leading to comparisons to Robertson.
"I have a feel for history," said Parker, who embraces the comparison. "Players back then were more skilled. Now, players are more athletic."
Parker's father, Sonny Parker, played for Texas A&M and later was a teammate of Lorenzo Romar with the Golden State Warriors. The latter led to one of Jabari Parker's brothers taking a staff position at Washington, where Romar is head coach.
Parker dismissed speculation that his brother's position means he'll commit to Washington.
Coincidentally, Washington is on Parker's list of supposed final five options. The others are Kansas, Duke, Illinois and Michigan State.
But the list is meaningless, Parker said.
"I never cut it down," he said. "I had a top five because the Web sites ask for it. (Such lists) are really big for Web sites. They were, like, forcing me. It wouldn't look good for them if I didn't have a list."