We woke up Monday morning to a Boom!
EJ Montgomery, 6-foot-10 power forward from Marrietta, Ga., ranked as the 11th best prospect in the class of 2018 by Rivals, announced his commitment to Kentucky basketball.
We woke up Tuesday morning to a Boom!
Ashton Hagans, 6-4 guard from Covington, Ga., ranked as the sixth best prospect in the class of 2019 by 247Sports, announced his commitment to Kentucky basketball.
And just like that, the concerns over John Calipari’s recent recruiting misses, the disappointment over this past season’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 loss and questions about the one-and-done strategy flew out the window with the news of five-star commits in consecutive days.
Duke still has dibs on the top recruiting class of 2018. After all, Mike Krzyzewski has corralled four of Rivals’ top eight prospects in No. 1 R.J. Barrett, No. 2 Cameron Reddish, No. 3 Zion Williamson and No. 8 Tre Jones.
It’s just that Duke’s dominance is no longer the slam dunk it appeared to be, not with Kentucky collecting four of Rivals’ top 35 in No. 11 Montgomery, No. 14 Keldon Johnson, No. 15 Immanuel Quickley and No. 35 Tyler Herro for 2018.
Plus, there exists the possibility Hagans will join the re-classification craze and move up to the class of 2018. The Georgian says he is currently taking the academic steps required to re-classify, though he claims he has yet to make a decision.
And, it should definitely be noted, this all guarantees nothing when it comes to winning championships, something Villanova has done in 2016 and 2018 and North Carolina in 2017 with star upperclassmen and without recruiting-class raves.
If you thought that trend, coupled with Kentucky’s failure to reach the Final Four the past three years, might cause Calipari to adjust — tweak, perhaps — his NBA-centric recruiting philosophy, you would have been mistaken.
First off, Calipari is a competitor. He wants to win. That’s true in everything he does, but maybe even more so in recruiting where his considerable powers of persuasion are put to the test. Calipari not only wants to have the best pitch, he wants to prove he has the best pitch.
One of the more interesting moments of this past season came when Zion Williamson committed to Duke and, at a press conference, Calipari went into a spiel about programs “promising to take care of you for life” and “socialism” and “making it on your own.” He never mentioned Duke. He didn’t have to.
And though Calipari has lamented the difficulty of constantly having young teams, his mode of operation continues to be based on recruiting the best players possible, throwing them together, figuring it out and making a run. The Calipari creed: It is far better to have talent than to not have talent.
Besides, you can argue that it wasn’t an over-reliance on freshmen that hurt UK in 2017-18 as much as not having ridiculously talented freshmen. For the first time in Calipari’s nine seasons as the Kentucky coach, there is a real possibility he will not have a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft.
Talent won’t be a problem next season. (That’s true even if Hamidou Diallo declares for the draft and Hagans sticks with a 2019 arrival.) Neither will depth. Unlike last season, Calipari could easily go 10-deep with holdovers Wenyen Gabriel, Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Jemarl Baker expected to join the freshmen foursome.
There should be a much better mix of experience and youth, as well. Villanova’s run has shown the value of experience, but don’t be fooled into thinking Jay Wright won with mediocre talent. ESPN’s latest mock draft has ’Nova’s Malik Bridges ranked ahead of any UK player.
Besides, during the NCAA Tournament, Wright dismissed the idea he shuns one-and-dones. He pointed to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a New Jersey native who picked UK over Villanova before heading to the pros after winning the 2012 title.
“He’s a good kid and a good student,” Wright said. “He loved Villanova, but John just did a better job at the end.”
Cal’s doing it again.