Kentucky Basketball: C.J. Leslie Stays Home

After committing once to Sydney Lowe at the North Carolina State Wolfpack before entertaining suitors like the Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies, C.J. Leslie decided yesterday to keep that earlier commitment and stay close to his home in Raleigh, NC and play his college basketball in-state.

This is a tough loss for Kentucky, make no mistake, but not an entirely unexpected one.  Many people believed that Leslie was a lock for Kentucky, in no small part because he was a teammate of John Wall at Word of God Academy in Raleigh, but in the end, his connections to family and home meant more.  Congratulations to Leslie and his family, and all the best in his college endeavors.

So where does that leave the Wildcats?  Well, we explored the possibilities just earlier this week, and I have always thought that it was not particularly likely that both Jones and Leslie would come to Kentucky, and now we know that intuition was correct (although you can never know for sure -- Eric Blesoe famously came despite the fact that Kentucky was expected to land John Wall last year).  In the final analysis, though, UK is still currently without a power forward for 2010-11.

Which brings us to Terrence Jones.  Jones is a perfect fit for UK (Leslie was as well) and is deciding between the Kentucky Wildcats, the Oregon Ducks, the Kansas Jayhawks, the UCLA Bruins, the Washington Huskies, and the Oklahoma Sooners.  Jones' friend and high-school teammate, Terrence Ross, has reportedly committed to the Huskies, and there has been some speculation that Jones would like to play alongside Ross.  Oregon, Jones' home-state school, finally filled their vacant head coaching position earlier this week with Dana Altman, former head coach of the Creighton Bluejays.  Altman was a fairly hot property a few years back and accepted the Arkansas Razorbacks head coaching position only to renege on that job the very next day, paving the way for John Pelphrey.

More after the jump.

It is somewhat doubtful (but not unprecedented -- see Patterson, Patrick and Gillispie, Billy) that Altman could make up for the recent lack of effort in recruiting by Oregon due to the firing of Ernie Kent, but Leslie is just the most recent example of how powerful the in-state draw can sometimes be.  Nearby Washington also has a powerful attraction to Jones due to Ross' reported matriculation there and its proximity to his home in Portland, Oregon.

So the question now becomes this:  Can the championship panache of Kentucky and potential excitement of playing for John Calipari in the Dribble Drive Motion offense overcome the lure of friends and family on the West coast?  We have recently seen that Leslie preferred the comforts of home, and everyone remembers that proximity to West Virginia was a powerful, and arguably the deciding, factor that brought Patrick Patterson to Kentucky over Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators.

At this point in time, nobody has a reliable read on Jones' intentions, so for me to prognosticate would be futile.  Many recruiting insiders think that UK is in good shape with Jones, but many thought that about Leslie and a couple notably thought that Leslie was a lock for UK -- we saw how that worked out.

Bottom line -- we don't know what will happen with Jones, but we are likely to find out Friday when he is scheduled to announce his intentions, so stay tuned for that.

Another player that Kentucky is actively recruiting is Marcus Thornton, a 6'8"/215# combo forward Marcus Thornton out of Atlanta, Georgia.  Thornton was a former Clemson Tigers commitment who asked out of his LOI due to the recent coaching change at Clemson.   Thornton is not expected to decide for a while, and will begin taking recruiting visits in the next seven to ten days.

It's important to note, though, that Thornton is by no means a replacement for Terrence Jones.  Jones is a highly skilled, ready-for-prime-time player that is likely to be in the NBA sooner rather than later.  Thornton is a four-year college player with good skills and athleticism who could make it to the Association one day, but that day is still far off.  Think of comparing Patrick Patterson to Chuck Hayes in high school and you'll have some idea of the relative difference in skill and development between Jones and Thornton.

Some think of Thornton as a "back up plan" to Jones, but that isn't so.  Calipari seems to be recruiting Thornton to Kentucky regardless of who else comes, in order to add another live body with a strong upside to the front line.  Thornton is developing well and will continue to get better, but his lack of power forward size argues for a switch over to the wing, and his wing skills are becoming formidable, but still have a ways to go yet.

So that's where 2010 recruiting stands at this moment.  C.J. Leslie is off the board, and a member of the Wolfpack.  Kentucky is known to be seriously recruiting only two more players, and unless Calipari gets them both, figures to be a bit short-handed barring a plan "B" that nobody really knows about right now.  Note that I think it very likely a plan B exists, but as of this moment, I have no idea what it is.

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