UK Recruiting

Kentucky basketball recruiting: Hype growing to a goal of perfection

"We've got to prove ourselves first," UK recruit Julius Randle, who played for the McDonald's East All Americans on Wednesday, said of the hype building around the Wildcats' incoming class.
"We've got to prove ourselves first," UK recruit Julius Randle, who played for the McDonald's East All Americans on Wednesday, said of the hype building around the Wildcats' incoming class. MCT

CHICAGO — Rupp Arena was a strange place to be two weeks ago.

The Louisville Cardinals were in town to begin an NCAA run that's still going strong. Rick Pitino and company brought about 20,000 of their closest friends to Lexington, and Rupp was packed to its rafters with rival red.

There were chants of "C-A-R-D-S." There were chants of "Russ Arena."

There was also a banner — blue writing on a white background — hanging from the upper deck.

"Keep Calm," it read, "The Twins Are Coming."

The signage referred to Andrew and Aaron Harrison, the two best high school guards in the country and two important pieces in a recruiting class that is supposed to send Kentucky back to the top of college basketball.

"I was actually blown away by that," Andrew said earlier this week. "But I like stuff like that. It doesn't make me nervous or anything."

It better not. Because the expectations surrounding UK's 2013-14 season couldn't be any higher.

The Cards might get their championship this season, Kentucky fans say, but they'll get their comeuppance a few months from now. Along with everybody else.

At least, that's the plan. UK will add no fewer than six McDonald's All-Americans to a group that includes three returning starters and is already being touted as the pre-season No. 1 team in the country.

Several recruiting analysts have called John Calipari's incoming class the best of all time. There's even been talk of a 40-0 season.

"I think that's what we're all thinking right now," said UK signee Marcus Lee. "One of my goals is to go flat-out undefeated. That is my big goal — to be the best team out there, hands down."

Andrew Harrison echoed the notion that Calipari's latest group of recruits is the best class of all time "on paper," but he and his future teammates agreed that the designation doesn't mean a whole heckuva lot without the results.

"Most people say we're going to be like rock stars," Andrew said. "But all of that doesn't matter if you don't win.

"Everybody's going to try to come at our throats. We'll have to prove it."

All six McDonald's All-Americans used some variation of the word "prove" when answering questions Sunday night about the expectations that surround them. As in, they haven't proven a thing at the college level.

"Make of it what you want, but we haven't done anything or proven anything," said Julius Randle. "I'm not feeding into it. There's a lot of work we have to do. We know that everybody's going to give us their best shot because of how people are hyping us up. We've got to prove ourselves first."

There were also high expectations for UK's last group of crackerjack prospects. The Cats started the season ranked No. 3 in the nation and ended it dodging Robert Morris students who were frantically rushing the court to celebrate a victory in the NIT.

"It didn't work out for them, but they were young," Randle said. "And coming off the year that they had last year, it's kind of a tough position to be in."

Next season's roster will also be young — three freshmen and two sophomores is about as seasoned a starting lineup as Calipari is likely to come up with.

The newest Wildcats all watched last season's team falter, and they're all aware of the pitfalls. But Randle talked as if youth wouldn't be a problem the next time around. Not with this bunch.

His is a shared confidence.

"I think my class is just a team full of non-quitters," Lee said. "They just refuse to lose and refuse to quit, especially with the twins, Julius Randle. They just refuse to lose."

To these Cats, it's becoming clear that any loss will come as a shock.

Just a few hours after he said he didn't want to feed into the massive hype that's already surrounding a group of players who have never played a college game, Randle was asked again about expectations.

Perhaps sensing that the line of questioning would continue throughout the rest of the spring, summer and fall, Randle changed his answer, just a bit.

"Is 40-0 a goal?" he was asked.

"Why not?" he replied.

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