Sports

Hold your ovations for Cal's encore

John Clay
John Clay

With John Calipari, Kentucky basketball doesn't rebuild.

It reloads.

That's the word, and with good reason. Four one-and-doners exit Kentucky's big blue door. Big deal? Enter versatile big man Enes Kanter. Enter point guard Brandon Knight. Enter perimeter popper Doron Lamb, via a televised in-game commitment at the Jordan Brand Classic on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. The trio joins a class already boasting swingman Stacey Poole.

"Calipari's Kentucky 2.0," wrote Chris Littmann on The Sporting Blog.

Not to shoot some seltzer on the parade, but 2.0 has some big Nikes to fill.

Fact is, Calipari's first Kentucky recruiting class was unusual in depth and talent. Since four of the freshman Cats (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton) appear one-and-done, there's the perception this has always been Calipari's case.

That's a negative. Yes, Tyreke Evans went one-and-done at Memphis in 2009, after Derrick Rose went one-and-done for the Tigers in 2008. Before that, however, Calipari had just a pair of one-and-doners. He never had more than one freshman exit in a season. No team has ever had four exit after just a single year.

"I do think it's a unique situation," said Calipari earlier this month when he was in Indianapolis to accept the Rupp Cup for national Coach of the Year. "We weren't expecting this."

With Wall, sure they were. From the time the North Carolina guard signed his national letter of intent, buzz was his pro clock was ticking. But Wall had to prove it. And he did most every night.

Cousins was more iffy. There certainly was the feeling that Big Cuz oozed NBA potential. The question was his maturity. And his attitude. Fortunately, for his financial future, he of the Peter Parker specs progressed quickly enough in both areas to solidify his lottery stock.

But how many people saw Bledsoe bolting after one year? If memory serves, most experts figured EB would show his off-guard skills, then assume point duties in 2010-11 after Wall made the expected bolt for the Association. Instead, Bledsoe has decided to strike while the iron is hot.

And Daniel Orton? Please. He wasn't even a Calipari recruit. He was a re-recruit, first inked by Billy Gillipsie, then persuaded to stay in the fold by Calipari. Orton didn't even start, much less score much, if at all, most games. He has that NBA body, however. He figures to be at least a first-round pick by draft night.

Now we have the nexts. Knight is the next Wall, only a better scorer. Kanter is the next Cousins, only with an outside shot. Lamb is the next Bledsoe, only with a more consistent three-ball. Some have even compared Poole to Derek Anderson. Whoa. Time to slow it down.

I haven't seen enough of Knight to say for certain he's the next sure-thing. I have seen enough of Wall to know there aren't many matches for his skill and speed, and most of those are already where Wall is going. That's no knock on Knight. That's just reality.

And yes, I know Kanter set the Nike Hoops Summit World Team scoring record. He outscored Dirk Nowitzki. Kanter might be as good as Cousins, or better. But we're basing those projections on the potential shown in one all-star game, not an entire body of work.

Same for Lamb, whom his Oak Hill coach Steve Smith, a native of Wilmore, told our Jerry Tipton could end up being "a three-year or four-year player."

There's nothing wrong with that. Not a thing.

In fact, Calipari's Kentucky 2.0 probably could use some of that.

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