UK Men's Basketball

Calipari can’t hide excitement after assembling ‘super team’ for next season

John Calipari said last summer that the recruiting class of 2016 might end up being his best yet. With four McDonald’s All-Americans already signed, the UK coach might be right.
John Calipari said last summer that the recruiting class of 2016 might end up being his best yet. With four McDonald’s All-Americans already signed, the UK coach might be right. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Last July, before he’d picked up a single commitment for his 2016 recruiting class, John Calipari made a bold declaration.

“This could be our best class ever,” he said.

Fast-forward eight months, to just minutes after Kentucky’s season was cut short with an NCAA Tournament loss to Indiana, and Calipari was sitting at the postgame podium in Iowa, already looking ahead.

“We got a heck of a group coming in,” he said, “maybe the best ever that I’ve had.”

It’s clear that Calipari has been looking forward to this next group of Wildcats. Four of them — Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk — are McDonald’s All-Americans. Another one, Wenyen Gabriel, would have been if he’d been eligible for the game.

(More coverage: UK signees Monk, Adebayo stand out in McDonald’s All-American Game)

Behind the scenes, Calipari apparently has been downright giddy about the opportunity to coach this bunch, which also could include No. 1 center Marques Bolden by the time they get to campus this summer.

Calipari’s excitement has been clear to his future players.

Monk said he talks to Calipari about the recruiting class as a whole all the time, and Adebayo spoke of how loose Calipari seems to be with these five-star prospects.

“We talk, we chat it up, we have fun, we laugh, we giggle,” he said. “It’s a good relationship.”

A giggling Calipari?

“He got a chuckle in there every now and then,” Adebayo said.

The four UK signees in Chicago this week have been seemingly inseparable, palling around at the team hotel between game-week activities and joking with one another during Tuesday’s media day.

Fox said Calipari pitched the idea of playing for a “super team” throughout the recruiting process, and everyone bought into that vision.

That bold prediction from July — three weeks before Killeya-Jones became the Cats’ first commitment — actually might come true. Time will tell if this turns out to be Calipari’s best-ever recruiting class. The players who are now a part of it certainly want to be remembered as such.

“Our goal is the national championship,” Killeya-Jones said. “We want to get to the Final Four. We already know it’s in Phoenix, Arizona. We want to get out there and we want to win it.”

Weight and see

The official McDonald’s All-American Game program lists De’Aaron Fox at 6-3 and 185 pounds. The 6-3 part is probably true, but 185 pounds he is not.

Fox told the Herald-Leader that he’s now about 170 pounds, and putting on some weight before next season will be a major priority. He said he’d like to be in the 185- to 190-pound range by the time his college career begins.

“I’m going to have to be ready for the physicality next year,” he said. “Once I get up there, I feel like if I can put the weight on, I feel like my game will skyrocket.”

Where’s the SEC?

UK was well-represented at this week’s McDonald’s All-American Game, but fans of the other 13 Southeastern Conference schools didn’t have much reason to pay attention.

The four guys headed to Kentucky next season were the only future SEC players here, and none of the four All-Americans who remain uncommitted are expected to end up at an SEC school that’s not UK.

That’s not great for a conference looking to improve its status nationally.

Last year, the SEC had Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons (Louisiana State), P.J. Dozier (South Carolina) and Malik Newman (Mississippi State) at the McDonald’s game. (In addition to UK’s Isaiah Briscoe).

Some good news for the league: There are nine players in the Scout.com Top 100 who have signed with SEC schools for next season. Auburn has the highest-rated of those prospects (Mustapha Heron at No. 23).

Bolden update

There’s been some pro-Duke buzz surrounding the recruitment of top UK target Marques Bolden this week in Chicago, but Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels said he still thinks it could go either way.

“I think it’s truly a toss-up,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “I really don’t think Marques knows where he wants to go to school right now. I think it’s changed quite a bit over the past couple of months. I think he’s looking at two schools — Duke and Kentucky — very closely. And I honestly believe it’s 50-50.

Bolden is expected to announce his college decision by April 17.

Tough crowd

Bam Adebayo was able to attend UK’s home finale against Louisiana State this month. His biggest observation after seeing a game in Rupp Arena?

“They get loud,” he said.

His second takeaway?

“I would hate to be a ref who ref’d in there,” he said. “You make a bad call at Kentucky, you gonna get it.”

Another honor

Wenyen Gabriel was named to the Jordan Brand Classic game Wednesday. That showcase will be played April 15 in Brooklyn and already included fellow UK signees Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Gabriel was ineligible for the McDonald’s game because he’s a fifth-year high school player.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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