John Calipari's seventh Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team could make UK history merely by suiting up.
If, as the rumor mill is predicting, 7-foot Australian big man Isaac Humphries chooses to play for Kentucky next season, UK could end up with an unprecedented five international players on its 2015-16 roster. In its entire history, UK has only had six players from countries other than the United States play basketball.
For next season, Canadian guards Mychal Mulder (Windsor, Ontario) and Jamal Murray (Kitchener, Ontario) are thought to be good to go. Prized Haitian big man Skal Labissiere (Port-au-Prince) has signed with UK, but some recruiting analysts have speculated the NCAA may have eligibility questions, so stay tuned.
New Zealand power forward Tai Wynyard (Auckland) has committed to Calipari for 2016-17, but scuttlebutt has him "re-classifying" and joining UK in mid-semester of the coming school year.
If Wynyard comes on board this year, Labissiere is declared eligible and Humphries (Caringbah, Australia, by way of Laporte, Ind.) signs with the Cats, then the UK basketball roster would be a veritable United Nations of hoops.
You have to say this for Calipari: He is resourceful. In a recruiting year in which American high school stars said no to Kentucky at an unusual rate, the UK coach found another route to restock his team.
"If you're afraid to come (to Kentucky), you shouldn't (come). I'll go get players from Canada, New Zealand," Calipari said, pointedly, at the 2015 NBA Draft.
In a sense, UK seems to be taking a page out of the Louisville playbook. During his red period, Rick Pitino has consistently extolled the "coachability" of foreign-born players such as Gorgui Dieng (Senegal) and Francisco Garcia (Dominican Republic). "I haven't met an international player yet that you don't fall in love with, because of (their) humility," Pitino said this summer.
When Pitino still wore blue neckties, he signed the first foreign-born player who played for Kentucky.
Canadian center Jamaal Magloire (Toronto) joined the Wildcats before the 1996-97 season and went on to play on an NCAA title team (1998) and leave UK as a 1,000-point scorer (1,064).
Tubby Smith moved UK further into international recruiting, with mixed results. Senegalese big man Jules Camara (Dakar) was a key cog (809 points, 516 rebounds for career) for Smith in the early 2000s.
However, Canadian power forward Sheray Thomas (Montreal) was a role player (289 career rebounds), Polish 7-footer Lukasz Obrzut (Gliwice) was mostly a backup (196 points) and Canadian forward Bernard Cote (St. Lambert, Quebec) transferred to Northwestern after two years and 60 career points at Kentucky.
Before the current signing class, Calipari's sole international player who made it onto the court had been the Dominican Republic's Eloy Vargas (Moca), a reserve on UK's back-to-back Final Four teams in 2011 and '12.
The two most-remembered international recruits at Kentucky may be a pair of big men who never played.
Turkish center Enes Kanter (Istanbul) was declared ineligible to play for Calipari by the NCAA in 2010-11 over issues with his amateur status. Kanter still went on to be an NBA lottery pick, and just signed a $70 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In 1984-85, Joe B. Hall was set to be the coach who introduced an international player to Kentucky basketball. The prior summer, UK players Kenny Walker and James Blackmon had played internationally for the U.S. against a German team that featured a 7-4 center.
Gunther Behnke (Leverkusen) scored 29 points and claimed 15 rebounds as the Germans beat the U.S. Walker and Blackmon came back to Lexington and told their coaches UK needed to sign this German center.
Yet when Behnke came to Lexington to start school, he stayed five days. Then, homesick, he left.
"(Behnke) wouldn't leave his high school girlfriend," Hall said Monday. "When we recruited him, his father promised me he would stay (at UK), that he wouldn't let him leave. But Gunther called his Dad every day for five days. On the fifth day, the father called me and said, 'I know what I said, but I'm going to let him come home.'"
If UK's five-man foreign legion comes together for 2015-16, a little more staying power will be the expectation.