UK Men's Basketball

Calipari still recruiting top talent, but best of the best have been going elsewhere

Kentucky Coach John Calipari has been in charge of the Wildcats since the 2009-10 season.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari has been in charge of the Wildcats since the 2009-10 season.

R.J. Barrett’s commitment to Duke on Friday night gave Coach Mike Krzyzewski his third signee ranked No. 1 overall nationally in the past five recruiting cycles.

It also extended John Calipari’s drought with No. 1 recruits, which will now reach at least seven years. In the past five classes, Duke has landed seven top-five commitments, Kansas has landed three, and UK has landed just two (Skal Labissiere and Karl-Anthony Towns).

Here’s a rundown of where each No. 1-ranked prospect has landed since Calipari arrived at Kentucky following the 2009 season, as well as some information on the top five recruits in each of those classes:


R.J. Barrett is the No. 1 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings. Gregory Payan AP

No. 1 recruit: R.J. Barrett (Duke)

Barrett picked the Blue Devils over UK and Oregon after taking official visits to all three schools in the fall. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Canada is entering his final season at Montverde Academy (Fla.) and was seen as a Duke lean for much of his recruitment.

Duke also has an early commitment from small forward Cameron Reddish, the No. 4 overall player in the 2018 class. Zion Williamson (No. 2), Bol Bol (No. 3) and Romeo Langford (No. 5) remain uncommitted. Bol and Langford earned UK scholarship offers but appear to be headed elsewhere. If UK does not land Williamson, it will be the third class in a row that Calipari fails to land a top-5 national recruit.


No. 1 recruit: Marvin Bagley (Duke)

Bagley — a 6-11 power forward — started his high school career in Arizona and finished it in the Los Angeles area. Duke, Kentucky, Arizona and the local L.A. schools were all viewed by some as possible favorites throughout his recruitment, but the Blue Devils emerged as the frontrunner after Bagley decided to reclassify from 2018 earlier this year and jump to college a year early. He never took an official visit to Kentucky.

Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), Mohamed Bamba (Texas), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) and Collin Sexton (Alabama) rounded out the top five in the 2017 class. Hamidou Diallo was UK’s top-ranked signee at No. 10 overall.


No. 1 recruit: Josh Jackson (Kansas)

Jackson grew up in Michigan, moved to California to finish his high school career, and picked the Jayhawks after a recruitment that also saw Arizona and Michigan State get plenty of attention. Kentucky showed early interest in Jackson, the Cats were never major players in his recruitment.

The rest of the top five in 2016, in order: Harry Giles (Duke), Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Jayson Tatum (Duke) and Markelle Fultz (Washington.). De’Aaron Fox was the top-ranked Wildcats’ signee at No. 6, and it was the first time Calipari did not sign a top-5 prospect at Kentucky.


No. 1 recruit: Ben Simmons (Louisiana State)

Simmons grew up in Australia and attended Montverde Academy — the same school as R.J. Barrett — when he came to the United States. His godfather, David Patrick, was an assistant coach at LSU, and that relationship made the Tigers the heavy favorite in Simmons’ recruitment almost immediately.

UK signee Skal Labissiere was the No. 2 player in the class, and he was followed by Brandon Ingram (Duke), Jaylen Brown (California) and Cheick Diallo (Kansas).


No. 1 recruit: Jahlil Okafor (Duke)

Oakfor and friend/five-star point guard Tyus Jones ended up with the Blue Devils after a much-publicized “package deal” recruitment that actually panned out in the end. (And the Okafor/Jones team went on to win a national title in their only season in Durham). Kentucky hosted Okafor on an official visit and was a finalist in his recruitment — the Cats also pursued Jones — but Duke won out in the end.

One-time UK target Emmanuel Mudiay was the No. 2 player in the 2014 class. He committed to Southern Methodist but never played college ball, spending a season overseas before jumping to the NBA. (Tyler Ulis was UK’s backup plan to Mudiay and Jones in this class). Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Cliff Alexander (Kansas) and Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky) rounded out the top five.


No. 1 recruit: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)

Any UK fan who paid any attention to recruiting at all around this time knew Wiggins, the dynamic small forward from nearby Huntington (W.Va.) Prep who played several games in the state of Kentucky during his senior season. Many analysts thought he would end up a Wildcat, but Kansas beat out UK, Florida State and North Carolina for his commitment.

UK’s Julius Randle was No. 2 in the 2013 class, and he was followed by Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Jabari Parker (Duke) and Andrew Harrison (UK). The Cats had five top-10 signees that year — Aaron Harrison was No. 6, James Young was No. 9 and Dakari Johnson was No. 10 — and a sixth McDonald’s All-American in Marcus Lee.


No. 1 recruit: Nerlens Noel (Kentucky)

Noel — a five-star center — is Calipari’s most-recent, No. 1-ranked recruit, and he picked the Wildcats very late in the process, joining a class that included early signees Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Kyle Wiltjer.

Major UK target Shabazz Muhammad was No. 2, and he announced for UCLA on the same nationally televised show that featured Noel’s announcement for UK. The rest of the top five: Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Isaiah Austin (Baylor) and Steven Adams (Pittsburgh).

Nerlens Noel was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2012. Herald Leader


No. 1 recruit: Anthony Davis (Kentucky)

Calipari enjoyed ample recruiting success in his first couple of years at UK, but Davis was his first No. 1-ranked recruit. The late-blooming prospect who went on to be national player of the year in his only college season picked the Cats over fellow finalists Ohio State, Syracuse and hometown DePaul.

UK’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the No. 3 recruit that year —Davis and MKG went 1-2 in the 2012 NBA Draft after leading UK to a national title — and the rest of the top five consisted of Duke’s Austin Rivers (No. 2), Florida’s Brad Beal (No. 4) and Baylor’s Quincy Miller (No. 5).


No. 1 recruit: Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)

UNC’s most recent top-five recruit, Barnes was recruited by Kentucky, but the Cats did not make his final list of six schools, which included Duke, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma and UCLA along with the Tar Heels.

Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Kyrie Irving (Duke), Brandon Knight (Kentucky) and Tobias Harris (Tennessee) rounded out the top five.


No. 1 recruit: Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech)

Favors committed to the hometown Yellow Jackets a couple of months before Calipari became UK’s head coach.

Calipari did make a major splash as soon as he got to Lexington though, signing the next two recruits in the composite rankings: John Wall at No. 2 and DeMarcus Cousins at No. 3. … Texas signee Avery Bradley was No. 4 in that class, and North Carolina’s John Henson was No. 5.

Note: The player rankings used in this story are from the 247Sports composite rankings (2011-18) and the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (2009-10).

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader