Coach Billy Gillispie spoke of this November's signings as important in the process of rebuilding Kentucky's roster to Kentucky standards.
Daniel Orton, Jon Hood and G.J. Vilarino fill needs that can restore UK basketball's luster, the coach said at a news conference Wednesday night.
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Orton, a 6-foot-10 center from Oklahoma City, Okla., and a top-20 national prospect, gives Kentucky a franchise anchor.
"He's an unbelievable prospect at a very difficult position to recruit," said Gillispie, who likened Orton to UK All-American candidate Patrick Patterson.
Hood, a 6-6 shooting guard from Madisonville, gives Kentucky a player who can shoot and score.
"Some guys can shoot, but they can't make plays to score," Gillispie said. "Some guys can make plays to score but can't shoot. He's going to be a combination of both to score in a lot of different ways."
Vilarino, a native of McKinney, Texas, and the first prospect to commit after Kentucky hired Gillispie in the spring of 2007, has caused a great buzz among recruiting analysts who question whether he's good enough to play for the Cats.
Gillispie suggested that Wednesday, the first day of a week-long fall signing period, should answer those questions.
"If a coach at the University of Kentucky or a SEC school or a school widely recognized in basketball offers a scholarship, that should give you confidence," Gillispie said when asked if Vilarino had self-doubts.
Like Orton and Hood, Vilarino can play a key role in rebuilding Kentucky's roster, Gillispie said.
"We need more gym rats," the UK coach said. "He's a gym rat."
A "gym rat" is a single-minded player devoted to basketball who can spur greater effort from his teammates.
"If one or two want to spend all their time in the gym, before you know it you have three or four," Gillispie said. "Then seven or eight."
Noting how a deep roster increases the possibility of sitting the bench, Gillispie said a gym rat "motivates you to get in there, too."
Gillispie credited assistants Glynn Cyprien and Jeremy Cox for "digging us out of a hole" in landing Orton and Hood, respectively.
The UK coach dismissed any concern about an anterior cruciate ligament injury that will cost Orton his high school senior season. Gillispie noted that an older brother also suffered an ACL injury, which should help Orton deal with the rehabilitative process.
Orton led Bishop McGuinness High to three Class 4A Oklahoma state championships. He averaged 15.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.8 blocks and five assists as a junior.
"His IQ is off the charts," Gillispie said. "He really understands how to play. He's a NBA prospect already."
Gillispie lauded Hood's toughness and eagerness to take on challenges. The UK coach noted how Hood repeatedly sought to play in pickup games with UK players before pre-season practice began.
Hood averaged 21.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks a game as a junior for Madisonville. He shot 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the three-point line. He also tallied three triple-doubles last season on his way to first-team All-State honors.
Vilarino, a 2008 first-team All-State performer and District MVP in Texas, averaged 20.5 points and 4.6 assists last season while shooting 48 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free-throw line.