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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Recruiting: The Curious Case of the 2015 Class

Spurning traditional powers for historical medicority was a trend in 2015.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not going to pretend that recruiting isn't weird and unpredictable because it is both of those things. But this has been the weirdest, most unpredictable recruiting class that I can remember. And I'm not just saying that because John Calipari "took a beating" on the 2015 trail this year. Cal reeled in the #1 recruit overall with Skal Labissiere, the top ranked point guard with Isiah Briscoe, four star shooting guard Charles Matthews, a four star JUCO stand-out that shot 46% from beyond the arc with Mychal Mulder, and he's still in pursuit of some other names. So if that's taking a beating, then I'm sure there are coaches out there that would love to take that kind of beating every single season when it comes to recruiting.

But that's for another post. This post concerns the recruiting class overall, not just Kentucky. Some big time schools and coaches were also left in the dust by some of the biggest name players for some of the smallest name programs in college basketball. Let's take a look at some of the head scratching choices and see if there can be any sense made.

*All Player Rankings and Information According to Rivals.com

Ben Simmons:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #2 player overall, Power Forward

Offer Sheet- LSU, Florida, Ohio State

Committed to- LSU

LSU's Record Last Season- 22-11, 11-7 SEC

Tournament Results- Lost to N.C. State in the second round

Why? Simmons became a Tiger back in 2014, which is extremely early for a player of his caliber. For a long time, he was considered the top ranked player in the class until Skal just recently claimed that spot. Simmons is Australian and while his offer sheet was small, Johnny Jones got to him early and often, making him commit before anyone else was able to come in hot after him. Still, choosing Jones over the likes of Billy Donovan and Thad Matta is strange. Jones isn't known for his in-game coaching prowess and his tournament resume isn't even close to being on the same level at Donovan's or Matta's.

Jaylen Brown:

Rankings and Position-Five Star, #3 player overall, Small Forward

Offer Sheet- California, Kentucky, Michigan, UCLA, Kansas, Florida, North Carolina, Louisville, and just about every big time program in the country.

Committed to- California

California's Record Last Season- 18-15, 7-11 PAC 12

Tournament Results- Did not make the tournament

Why? If you are like me, you stayed up last Friday night and update your twitter feed every few minutes to see if Jaylen Brown had committed to Kentucky. It leaked that evening that Brown was going to pick between Kentucky, Michigan, and California at his high school sports banquet at around 9:00 PM. Conventional wisdom figured he would pick between Kentucky because he loved the program and it's about as high profile as it gets, or Michigan because he has ties to Adidas. He went with California which nobody saw coming. Brown is supposedly a low-key kind of kid. He doesn't do interviews often, he doesn't enjoy the spotlight, and his recruitment was kept under-wraps. His commitment to California makes sense if this is true due to the fact that nobody talks about California and hardly anyone on the West Coast pays attention to college basketball. And it also didn't hurt that Cal has the next guy already committed...

Ivan Raab:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #7 player overall, Power Forward

Offer Sheet- California, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, USC, among others

Committed to- California

California's Record Last Season- 18-15, 7-11 PAC 12

Tournament Results- Did not make the tournament

Why? Raab is from Oakland, California and it was going to be hard getting him away from the West Coast. Cuonzo Martin had decent results at Tennessee and is a good recruiter. Landing a big time player in his own back yard was vital for him to start rebuilding at Cal and he did just that. With Raab on board, he could use him to lure other big players, Jaylen Brown being one of them, and convince them that he is building a program that can contend with Arizona for PAC 12 supremacy.

Malik Newman:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #8 overall player, Combo Guard

Offer Sheet- Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, among others

Committed to- Mississippi State

Mississippi State's Record Last Season- 12-16, 5-10 SEC

Tournament Results- Didn't makes the tournament

Why? For a long, long time, Newman was considered a Wildcat in waiting. The rumor was that Newman was waiting to see which Kentucky guards turned pro before pulling the trigger in favor of John Calipari. With Aaron and Andrew Harrison and Devin Booker all opting for the draft, it was assumed that the deal was done. But late in the process, Ben Howland, the newly minted Bulldogs coach, made a late push and landed Newman. But this really didn't come out of the blue. Newman is a Mississippian and his father attended MSU. Howland is no schlub when it comes to recruiting, he did coach Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Shabazz Muhammad while he was at UCLA. But Howland did leave UCLA an absolute mess and Mississippi State is in shambles right now. Getting Newman is going to help, but is he enough to propel that team going forward, especially if Newman is one and done? As for Newman himself, he loves to be the man and he loves to have the ball in his hands at all time. He will have more of an opportunity for that at Mississippi State than at Kentucky with the likes of Tyler Ulis and Briscoe in the back-court.

Antonio Blakeney:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #13 player overall, Shooting Guard

Offer Sheet- Louisville, Kentucky, LSU, Florida, Kansas State, North Carolina, Kansas, among others

Committed to- Louisville but then committed to LSU

LSU's Record Last Season- 22-11, 11-7 SEC

Tournament Results- Lost to N.C. State in the second round

Why? This is a sore spot if you're a Louisville fan. Blakeney committed to the Louisville Cardinals after a weekend visit in which he attended a football game and took in all that Rick Pitino had to offer. And then, just like that, he dropped Louisville and opened up his recruitment. The Louisville message boards and radio programs swirled with rumors and allegations of Shoe Company Conspiracies since Louisville was Adidas and Blakeney played for a Nike AAU team. Of course the Bird Fans swore that Blakeney would choose the Evil Calipari, the Nike Billions and World Wide Wes in the end. Pitino himself didn't help matters when he made his own comments public about how shoe companies are ruining college basketball. Sour grapes for all! But he picked LSU and Johnny Jones. Again, Jones isn't known for his X's and O's but the guy can recruit. Obviously playing with Ben Simmons had something to do with his decision. And that Jones does get players into the NBA at a higher clip than Pitino.

Stephen Zimmerman:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #15 overall player, Forward/Center

Offer Sheet- Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, UNLV, Louisville, Oregon, Ohio State, Indiana, among others

Committed to- UNLV

UNLV's Record Last Season- 18-15, 8-10 Mountain West

Tournament Results- Did not make the field

Why?- I'm not going to lie, this one hurt. Calipari wanted Zimmerman in a bad way and he didn't hide it. When he came to visit for Big Blue Madness, Calipari met him personally at the airport and escorted him to campus. Zimmerman's mom called Cal the Elvis of college basketball coaches. Like Newman, Zimmerman was thought to be a Wildcat but was waiting to see who left for the pros. In the end, he opted to stay in his home state of Nevada and play for Runnin' Rebels. Like most of the teams on this list, the Rebs haven't had much recent success, just a couple of short tournament appearances i the last few seasons, and that's it. It has been said that Kentucky's platoon system hurt in recruiting as coaches told players to expect to only play 11-20 minutes a game at Kentucky, but if you want 30-35 minutes a game, come be the man and play here. Stephen Zimmernman's mom did refute this on twitter, but in the end, who really knows. One thing is certain, Cal isn't platooning again any time soon, if ever.

Caleb Swanigan:

Rankings and Position- Five Star, #19 overall player, Center

Offer Sheet- Michigan State, Purdue, Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame, among others

Committed to- Michigan State but decomitted and is reportedly headed to Purdue

Purdue's Record Last Season- 21-13, 12-6 B1G

Tournament Results- Second round loss to Cincinnati

Why?- Swanigan has been committed to Tom Izzo and Michigan State for a few weeks. Sparty is coming off of a Final Four appearance and will be a top 15 team next season. One cannot argue Izzo's reputation, tournament success, and ability to turn players into pros, but that didn't stop Swanigan for pulling the plug. So why the Boilermakers? No one really knows and I cannot begin to really guess. Kentucky is in the mix for him as is California. Nothing official has been stated but there are a lot of "experts" picking the Boilermakers. Another strange turn in a strange season of recruiting.

I hope every one of these players finds happiness and success at their chosen school. But one has to wonder if this is a trend or just a blip on the radar in the world of recruiting. It is nice to spread the wealth around a bit, but how long will it last? I think that if some of these players fail to garner NBA attention as well as lose next season, then this entire situation will prove to be an anomaly. But if they are successful in getting drafted and propel a team to greater heights, then we could see future players want to become the face of a program instead of being one of many stars on a single team.