UK Recruiting

Next Cats notebook: Duke the new standard for college basketball recruiting? Not so fast

UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari has put together arguably his best recruiting class ever with five highly ranked signees for 2016.
UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari has put together arguably his best recruiting class ever with five highly ranked signees for 2016. For the Herald-Leader

Fresh off a national championship and what was looking like another No. 1 recruiting class, the narrative coming into this early signing period was that Duke had supplanted Kentucky as the new king of college basketball recruiting.

The word “adapt” was often used to describe the way Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski had co-opted John Calipari’s method of bringing in “one-and-done” players, turning that into on-the-court success and reloading with a new batch of recruits for the next year’s run.

Last week, the headline of one ESPN article trumpeted that Coach K’s “changed approach” had led Duke to “dominate” the recruiting landscape.

On Tuesday morning, another ESPN story said that Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils were “winning at Kentucky's one-and-done game.”

Oh, the timing.

A couple of hours after the latter story hit the web, five-star power forward Edrice “Bam” Adebayo announced his commitment to the Wildcats. Later that night, UK defeated Duke convincingly on the actual basketball court. The next day, Calipari picked up a surprising commitment from five-star shooting guard Malik Monk to give the Cats the No. 1 recruiting class for 2016.

They passed up Duke for that distinction.

Adebayo and Monk are both already projected as top-10 picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. So is point guard De’Aaron Fox, who committed to UK last week. Three current UK freshmen — Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe — are seen as one-and-done, first-round selections in 2016.

Sounds like Duke is far from “dominant,” and Calipari still has a pretty good handle on this whole one-and-done thing.

“It never changed,” analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “And the narrative that John Calipari had lost his recruiting luster was absurd to begin with. What he’s accomplished over the last 6-7 years with recruiting, we’ve never seen before. Either the No. 1 or No. 2 class every year. The notion he had lost a step was silly.”

Daniels said this 2016 recruiting class, which also includes five-star prospects Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, is “certainly in the conversation” for Calipari’s best ever, which is saying something.

“It fills a need at just about every position,” Daniels said. “You have the No. 1 point guard in America. You have the No. 1 shooting guard in America. One of the best, elite-level athletes at the wing position (Gabriel). Then you have a big, bruising post player in Adebayo. And then Sacha Killeya-Jones has the skill at the power forward spot.

“You have a little of everything with this class. It’s clearly the best class in the country now.”

Cal’s comments

UK officially announced the signings of class of 2016 commitments Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk on Thursday.

Coach John Calipari had a comment on each of those players, as well as New Zealand power forward Tai Wynyard, who signed with the Cats this week and plans to enroll at UK for the spring semester so he can be eligible to play the final half of the current season.

Calipari on Adebayo: “Of all the players I saw in the summer, no one had a combination of a dominating spirit and a physical presence like Bam. He has a skill level of a player that is normally 4 inches smaller than him. Aside from his rebounding ability, he plays positionless basketball, just like our other kids. Bam is going to be a big-time player for us.”

Calipari on Fox: “De’Aaron Fox has speed, he has scoring ability, he can really pass and he can guard the ball. But those are things that can be said about different players. The intangible that I really loved is that every player wants to play with him. This whole class wants him to be the guard on the team. When I found out how much they loved him, I nicknamed him ‘the General’ because they all want to play for him.”

Calipari on Gabriel: “When I saw Wenyen, I knew he had grown from 6-3 to 6-9. I see him as a 6-10 guard in the sense that, if we’re playing three guards, he’s one of them. He can really shoot it, he’s got a great shot and he’s a shot blocker defensively. He’s an energy guy who can guard multiple positions and is getting better by the day. Wenyen fits in perfectly with this class.”

Calipari on Killeya-Jones: “When we learned about Sacha and were contacted about him having an interest in us, I asked him why Kentucky. His answer was, ‘Because you’ve coached players like me who have had growth spurts and all of those players have done well for you.’ You’re talking about a skilled player who can block shots. He can play multiple positions and fits in with the mold of kids we have, which are great kids, great students and great teammates.”

Calipari on Monk: “Malik is a scoring point guard who can play both positions. Malik has Derrick Rose explosiveness. Think about that for a second. He’s as good of a scorer, as good of a shooter and as good of a shot creator as I’ve seen in awhile. With his quickness and speed, he should be a great defender — a great defender.”

Calipari on Wynyard: “With Tai, you’re talking about a 6-9 physical athlete who is not afraid to get physical. He has good skills. The most exciting part is what he’s done with his country’s national team. Everybody that’s watched him recently has said, ‘Man has he gotten better. He’s competing at a high level.’ They’ve never seen him as physically fit. Tai is totally different than any player we have.”

Anybody else?

Such an early harvest of recruiting riches should be enough to satisfy any fan base, but the question has still come up over the past couple of days: Will UK add anyone else for 2016?

John Calipari gave an, “I don’t know” when asked about that Thursday. The obvious reply is they don’t need anyone else to compete for the No. 1 ranking in 2016-17.

New guys Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk and Tai Wynyard will join with expected returnees Charles Matthews, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder. Current starters Marcus Lee and Tyler Ulis could easily be back, too.

Take a couple of breaths and think about that group.

Still wondering if anyone else will be added? The answer is “maybe,” but the pool of possibilities is small.

One-time targets Kobi Simmons, Thon Maker, Josh Jackson, Rawle Alkins and Udoka Azubuike are either leaning elsewhere or no longer needed in this UK class.

That leaves five-star post players Jarrett Allen and Marques Bolden as the most realistic additions.

Both have taken official visits to Kentucky in recent weeks, but Allen appears to have other favorites, and Duke and Kansas are the main schools linked to Bolden.

They’d also have to want to join a team that already has several talented big men competing for limited minutes. Seems unlikely, but the door would be open.

“I think if Jarrett Allen or Marques Bolden wanted to commit to Kentucky, they’d certainly take them,” said’s Evan Daniels.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats