With the college basketball season drawing nearer, several media outlets have released rankings of their top freshmen in the country. It’s not much of a surprise that the top-ranked recruiting class has players all over these rankings. Athlon Sports, CBS Sports and Fox Sports all had Cats on their lists, and Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk made all three of those lists. Here’s what they said about the top freshman Wildcats.
The 6'9", 232-pound power forward is regarded as one of the hardest workers in the 2016 class and will give the Wildcats an imposing post presence they were missing last season.
Most years, a guy listed at No. 7 in a freshman-class ranking wouldn't have a chance in hell at being taken No. 1 in the next year's NBA Draft. But Adebayo's that good, and it speaks to the depth of this class that he's still someone NBA general managers are at least potentially targeting for the top spot. He'll have to really perform to get there, but a few high-major college coaches have told me they think he'll have the chance to show he can be a No. 1 overall pick. Really, though, Adebayo's game is about power and charisma. He could well become the personality star of this year's UK team (though Wenyen Gabriel might give him a run there), and I think he'll have at least 20 double-doubles. Kentucky has a really good front line and Adebayo should be the best of those bigs.
It seems like Calipari always rolls out an athletic and imposing post player. This year that guy is Adebayo. At Kentucky’s NBA combine, he recorded a 39.5-inch vertical, which is ridiculous considering he was measured at 6-foot-10. Adebayo runs the floor well, plays with impressive energy and seems to enjoy physical play. Look for Adebayo to lead the Cats in rebounding and likely dunks as well. Although not known as a skill guy, Adebayo has developed a good mid-range jump shot and he should be a threat to make shots from the mid-post.
Everyone sees Adebayo as Kentucky’s imposing post presence, the best of their bigs this season. Hopefully he’ll bring dominant post play back to Kentucky.
If the diminutive Tyler Ulis broke the mold of the big John Calipari point guard, Fox is a throwback of sorts — all the way back to John Wall in 2009-10. Fox’s speed on the fast break will be reminiscent of Calipari’s first point guard in Lexington. He still has to work on his jumper, but he can change the game on both ends of the court.
Any basketball fan is aware of John Calipari's point guard lineage over the years. Cal alumni include Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyler Ulis, Tyreke Evans, Marquis Teague and Brandon Knight. Fox's talent and savvy as a lean point guard could have him crack the top four point guards Cal's ever coached. I think he's that talented and that set up to succeed at UK. He's going to have plenty of opportunities to score and distribute because of all the talent on this team this season, but watch him play beyond the stuff that pops off the screen. He'll make a lot of winning plays. I don't think he'll be a high-turnover guy. He's fast without being overly flashy. UK got a great one.
John Calipari has had his fair share of gifted point guards. From Derrick Rose to John Wall to Tyler Ulis, he’s continuously had one of the best lead guards in college basketball. That shouldn’t be any different this year. Fox has all the tools to be an elite point guard, and NBA executives left the Kentucky combine this past weekend raving about his physical gifts. Fox has a lightning-quick first step and is an extremely impressive athlete, especially considering he’s a point guard. Fox brings a good blend of facilitating and scoring to the position. He’s also tracking as a potentially elite on-the-ball defender.
The clear theme with the analysis of Fox is that he will be the next great Calipari guard, constantly drawing comparisons to John Wall. If Fox can be the next Wall, he’ll put up more than his fair share of highlight plays this year.
Monk will have to battle for scoring opportunities playing on a talented Kentucky team, but he will no doubt make a big contribution. The Arkansas native boasts supreme athleticism and deep range on his jumper.
Monk is one of the best dunkers in the country, a supreme athlete with a streaky jump shot and a penchant for scoring in spurts. He'll be good for 15 to 20 "wow!!!!" moments this season, and Kentucky will be all the more watchable with him in the mix. I'm not as high on Monk as others because I want to see more of him on defense, and I'm not so sure he'll have a deep-ball shot, but I do think he's a fun player who's got NBA talent and shouldn't be at Kentucky more than two seasons. One-and-done is certainly on the table, yes. Few guys will dazzle on the break like Monk.
The early returns on Monk’s summer and first practices at Kentucky are that he’s surpassing expectations. Monk will be called upon to score, and that’s what he does best. Athletically, he’s beyond gifted and Big Blue Nation will quickly fall in love with his highlight-reel plays at the rim due to his 42-inch vertical. Where he’s surprised the Kentucky staff is with his shooting, which was fairly streaky in high school. If it indeed is improved, look for Monk to lead the Cats in scoring.
Everyone raves about Monk’s athleticism and his scoring abilities. His athleticism should work hand-in-hand with Fox’s in the backcourt, as long as they feel they aren’t battling each other for scoring chances.
Gabriel was the biggest riser of any prospect on this list. He was virtually unknown, and then, in the span of four months in 2015, absolutely blasted up the rankings. He wound up picking Kentucky and, in doing so, gave Calipari one of the three best recruiting classes he's ever had. His game is still evolving, but you watch him play and jut see example after example of a guy who has good instincts -- fun instincts -- for how to make impact plays. He could struggle to start the season, sure, but I think he'll be one of the 30 best players in the sport by the time we get to the NCAA Tournament. I think he's a guy who could unexpectedly have a 20-rebound, 20-point game on one night, then go for eight points and four boards the next.
Hopefully Gabriel will be more consistent than some think, but I think his game will indeed continue to grow until he cements himself as one of the best players in the nation this season.
CBS’ Matt Norlander also mentioned Sacha Killeya-Jones in a sort of honorable mention, making it another Cat to get recognized. This freshman class is obviously loaded; one of the best John Calipari has ever compiled. With all this talent, one can only hope that come March, media outlets will be talking about how great of a season these guys had, instead of speculating at how good they could be.