First of all, let me say that the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic was a fun game. There were a lot of enthusiastic fans there, and if I were a recruit from any of the three main schools in the area, I would have been impressed by the atmosphere, enthusiasm, and overall support the fans gave to the event.
What I hope to do now is give you my impressions of seeing the UK recruits first-hand for the first time. I think we all realize by now that all-star games like the KDFC are not really good for evaluating a recruit's game -- these things by nature are very guard-oriented, and a lot of the players wind up doing one-on-one stuff and crazy, highlight-reel attempts that they would never try in a college basketball game. Even though they are competitive, it is hard to really believe that they care much which team wins or loses -- it is more about putting on a show. Very little defense is played, as you know, but from time to time you see guys decide to dig in a make a stop.
But I think the biggest thing you can get out of games like this is a read on the relative athleticism and skill level of the player when compared to his peers on the floor -- how is his form on the jump shot, how does he handle the ball in traffic, is he selfish or unselfish, does his team perform better with him on the floor -- things like that. Even then, I think you have to be very careful in drawing too many conclusions, but you can get overall impressions that, in the past, have served me pretty well.
So with all that said, here is what I thought about the UK recruits and signees:
Daniel is big, much bigger than I expected, and very thick-bodied. His legs are large and strong, and he is a well-proportioned young man for his size. Orton did not look to score on anything other than a dunk more than three times all night. He seemed more interested in passing the ball, and he looks to be a very good outlet passer. Also, his hands are very large and he palmed the basketball with casual ease.
Orton was not in particularly good shape. As most of you know, he has been injured for most of this year and rehabbing from knee surgery, and has had very few games back since being cleared to play. His conditioning is clearly not up to par due to the long layoff, and even though he showed he could run the floor well when he wants to, he didn't do it much. Stamina will be an issue with Daniel, as he is a very big, thick guy and uses a tremendous amount of energy doing everything.
Daniel did not use his size very well this game. The few post-ups he did have were too far away from the basket for him to be effective, and although he showed a nice touch further from the basket, he did not shoot well other than layups/dunks in this game. Orton looks very strong, but I think he needs more upper body toning -- I attribute that more to the layoff than anything else, but he needs to get in the weight room to polish off that upper body.
Daniel is extraordinarily deft with the ball for a man of his size. He handles it very well and is a much better passer, talent-wise, than Patrick Patterson. Orton is very intelligent in his game and seems to have more of a facilitator's mentality than a scorer's. He showed the ability to finish with contact, which isn't really that surprising considering his physical gifts. Orton runs on his toes much like Jodie Meeks does. Orton showed terrific rebounding skills in this game, and a nose for the ball.
- Great size, big hands and strong body.
- Excellent rebounder, and passer. Terrific outlet passer.
- Makes people around him better.
- Unselfish and surprisingly athletic.
- Does not use his size that well.
- Needs to get better post position.
- Conditioning is poor, and needs to buff up upper body.
- Has a little Randolph Morris in his attitude -- not particularly aggressive for a man of his size and strength.
I was very impressed with Jon Hood, not so much with his skills, which are excellent, but with his overall intelligence and leadership. Jon was very vocal on the floor and obviously a leader. He was in Orton's ear a lot, and other players as well, which is something you don't see that much in all-star games like this. Jon is very confident in his abilities and is a fearless competitor.
What I liked about Jon is that he knows what his strengths and weaknesses are, and he has a surprising maturity and calmness in his game. He is neither excitable nor nor dispassionate, but a very pleasant medium of enthusiasm and aplomb. I would describe his game as "workmanlike and professional." He is very long and likes to use that length to his advantage.
I think a lot of people see Hood as a perimeter player -- he isn't. His game is remarkably similar to that of Darius Miller. He likes the midrange game and taking the ball to the basket, which looks to be a really good fit in the DDMO that Calipari intends to bring to Kentucky. Hood has a quick release for such a long player, and that is one of his negatives as well. Jon's release is too quick, and isn't as consistent as it needs to be. His form is really good, so his shot won't take much fixing, just fine tuning, really. Jon has good lower-body strength and thick, strong legs, but his upper body is very thin and needs a lot of work.
- Jon is a leader, and it showed. He has a great on-court demeanor and others naturally defer to him.
- Hood is athletic and can do all the things you need a college wing player to do -- run, pass, shoot, finish and rebound.
- Jon is a good ball handler and fearless competitor. Can slash, shoot midrange or long range. Has a nice, high, quick release.
- Hood runs the floor like a gazelle, and never seemed to tire. He is in remarkable condition considering he is just coming off a foot injury and hasn't played in about eight weeks.
- Jon looks to me like he could grow another inch or two, and has a very controlled, professional game.
- Jon needs to spend serious time in the weight room. His upper body is thin almost to the point of being frail.
- Hood needs to work on his release motion, it is a little to quick and flat for a man of his size.
- Jon did not finish a couple of plays that he could have. This goes back to his upper-body strength.
Bledsoe is a solid, athletic point guard prospect. He can penetrate and finish, and handles the ball with confidence and skill. Bledsoe is a pure, pass-first point guard, and while he can get his own shot from the perimeter, he has shooting form that can best be described as a "work in progress." Bledsoe did a good job of getting out on and running the break, showed good patience in the half court and did not try to drive the ball to the rim every time he got it like most of the other point guards.
Bledsoe has a mature attitude and is very team-oriented. He wasn't about making flashy plays for himself, he concentrated on getting the ball to others for scoring opportunities. Bledsoe is well-conditioned and is SEC-ready from a physical standpoint. He is quick enough and handles the ball well enough to get a ton of minutes early in his career.
- Good handle, solid passing ability.
- Excellent, well-condition athlete.
- Finishes plays at the rim.
- Rebounds remarkably well for his size.
- Looks like he could be a good defender.
- Jumpshot needs serious work.
- I'd be concerned about his free throw shooting.
- Needs to be a little more aggressive taking the ball to the rim.
Nolan was injured, having some kind of tendinitis in one of his knees, and only played twelve minutes overall, so I really didn't get to see him play much. I did get to see Nolan take a three point shot, which he made, and he has very good form on his jump shot and looks like he could become a deadly shooter from the perimeter. I never did see him take the ball to the hole, and perhaps that was because of his injury, but I left with the impression that he is very much a perimeter player.
Unlike Jon Hood, Dennis does not have thick legs -- his are very slender, almost skinny. He seems to be athletic, but his upper body strength (as with most college players his size) needs work. Nolan looks like a poised and confident player, but that look did not really translate through to his game, again possibly due to his tendinitis. I think Dennis really wants to come to UK if we can find a spot for him.
- Nice form on his jumpshot -- looks like he could be a great shooter.
- Runs the floor well, even less than 100%.
- Plays a heady game, very polished.
- Did not show the ability to take the ball to the glass.
- Seemed to lack a bit of confidence, but it is possible I was mislead by his injury and his demeanor, which is very hard to read.
- Needs more strength all over his body.
OK, that's what I saw first hand. As for the other recruits and commits, I was impressed by Raheem Buckles' tireless running of the floor and athleticism, Peyton Siva's smooth, polished game, Elijah Johnson's remarkable athleticism, Christian Watford's ugly effectiveness, Raymond Penn's deadly outside shooting, Jordan Hull's amazing crossover, Michael Snaer's size and speed, and Brendan Lane's ability to run the floor.