Hello Big Blue Nation. Can we get real for a second?
What John Calipari has done during his time at the University of Kentucky has been nothing short of amazing. There isn’t another coach that can boast about his resume compared to Cal’s given the national title, the Final Fours, and the Elite Eights. The Kentucky Wildcats have been in at least the Elite Eight every season that Cal has been the coach except for two.
Add that to the fact that Cal brings in the best of the best in regards to recruits every season. There isn’t one person that would argue Calipari’s prowess as the greatest recruiter in the history of college basketball.
With yet another top recruiting class under his belt, Kentucky is expected to be in the top ten of the preseason rankings, perhaps even in the top five. Cals is bringing in five recruits with a five star ranking- Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards, Quade Green- and two four star recruits- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemarl Baker.*
While all of this is well and good, John Calipari said that he isn’t finished with the recruiting class so he wasn’t ready to comment on it. At the time, Kevin Knox, Mohamed Bamba, and Cameron Johnson were all still uncommitted.
Fast forward to the present, Cal landed Knox in a surprise commitment and lost Bamba in what many believe was a surprise commitment to Texas and Shaka Smart. But according his article in The Players Tribune, Bamba credits his relationship with Smart as what pushed him to head to Austin. In reality this was more about what he loved about his future college coach than what he didn’t love about UK. The bond is what did sealed the deal for the Longhorns, it wasn’t about what Cal did or didn’t do with Bamba.
So this leaves Cal with one player left uncommitted and Hamidou Diallo. Cameron Johnson, the Pitt grad transfer considering the ‘Cats, was interested in the Arizona Wildcats but the return of guard Rawle Alkins the minutes are no longer there. Everything was looking good for Kentucky until North Carolina offered Johnson just a few days ago. If it were not for Kevin Stallings and Pitt blocking his transfer to an ACC school, I think Johnson would be a Tarheel. For whatever reason, the ‘Cats seemed to have fallen on his list.
And that leaves us with Hamidou Diallo. It appears as though Diallo is awaiting assurance from an NBA team, particularly the Brooklyn Nets, before he decides on what he will do as far as staying at UK or becoming a professional. All signs point to this as being an eleventh hour decision for Hami.
So where does this leave Calipari and the 2017 ‘Cats? The Wildcats are losing their top eight scorers and almost of their minutes. This will indeed be the biggest rebuilding job that John Calipari has ever undertaken at UK.
In my estimation, there are only two surefire one and done players on the roster as of now, those being Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt. PJ Washington may be included in that a well, but the rest of the team may be set to return for one or more seasons at UK.
We have been surprised before, especially in the cases of Eric Bledsoe and Marquis Teague, but as of now I am fairly confident that this isn’t the usual crop of amazing talent that Cal brings in. Of course one or more could surprise us completely.
With the addition of Cameron Johnson, Cal can take care of the fact that this is his by far youngest team at Kentucky. Johnson has experience as a starter in the best basketball conference in the country. He will also add depth to a thin backcourt and a three point shooting percentage that Calipari would love to have.
Diallo would add another one-and-done talent and an athleticism that will be unparalleled in college basketball. He was the most athletically gifted talent at the NBA Combine, imagine him on the floor with college players.
Without either, Kentucky is left in a bit of a spot. That would make three guys, two of which didn’t even commit, that Calipari missed on. That doesn’t happen much.
Before you start rolling your eyes, this isn’t a critique on Calipari or his recruiting because the players and the numbers speak for themselves. This is just a caution that this edition of Cal’s Cats may not be what we are used to. Many fans complained about the learning curve for last year’s Elite Eight team, so one can imagine if the struggles start earlier next season.
The silver linings are multi-faceted. Diallo and/or Johnson could both still be ‘Cats next season. This will still be an extremely talented team. With the guys projected to return, 2019 will be loaded. And let’s not forget that Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones will add to the experience aspect and both are five star talents.
There are still many questions about the construction of this team and two of those questions will more than likely be answered this week.
But no matter what happens, Calipari is going to be here for the long haul, and that itself is reason to make us all smile.