John Calipari has built Kentucky back to the top college basketball program in the nation, largely on the back of the amazing recruits he has brought to Lexington.
This exercise is a ranking of every class he has recruited while he has coached at the University of Kentucky. Every class he has recruited has been one of the best in the nation, so there will be no “worst class”. Just a list of how where I rank these fantastic classes, and that list starts at...
Even the lowest ranked of all the classes was still pretty darn good. Jamal Murray was an absolute star, Isaiah Briscoe played big minutes on an Elite 8 team, and Isaac Humphries had his career best game in the most important game of the year for the 2016-17 Wildcats against North Carolina.
The problem is the class didn’t produce enough wins. Charles Matthews transferred after one season, Tai Wynyard has barely seen the floor, and the Mulder/Humphries combo weren’t as high impact as their four-star pedigree suggested. The biggest disappointment, though, was in Skal Labissiere.
From the very beginning any Wildcat fan could see the immense potential that he had. The problem was that John Calipari was trying to help mold him into something that he wasn’t. Not to hurt him, but to help him become a top NBA Draft pick. That decision led to Skal struggling on the court, and in turn derailing the season.
Who knows how far this team could have gone if he had blossomed. Even with all of that said, this class was still extremely talented and help take Kentucky to the tournament two years running.
The class that was the foundation for the infamous 2012-13 NIT Team. The major hiccup during John Calipari’s storied run at the University of Kentucky. Yet it is not the worst of the very good classes Coach Calipari has recruited to the school.
Nerlens Noel was proving to be every bit the top prospect NBA scouts saw him to be before his torn ACL. If it wasn’t for his injury the season would have been much different for the ‘Cats.
Though Archie Goodwin is not well remembered by many UK fans, much of the malcontent is sourced as him being the last remaining blue-chip player on a sinking ship. He was as good as any Calipari recruit in terms of getting to the basket.
The true reason why this class doesn’t finish at the bottom is because of the contributions from Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. Cauley-Stein was a foundational part of two Final Four teams, and who knows what would have happened in the 38-1 year if Alex Poythress had not have gotten injured during that season.
Those two combined for seven seasons at Kentucky, especially impressive during the one-and-done era.
This class could climb much higher in the next couple of years. De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo already etched themselves in Kentucky history for their amazing play, along with the moment after the Elite 8 loss to North Carolina Monk and Bam shared.
As good as those three were, there is still plenty of star power left over to possibly make a run at the National title in 2017-18. Hamidou Diallo should, along with Kevin Knox, be the centerpiece of the team. Wenyen Gabriel proved to have a very high ceiling as a hybrid power forward/center that can run the floor and hit long jumpers.
Sacha Killeya-Jones will have an opportunity to showcase his immense potential this coming season. If the remaining players can make a high impact on the next year or two of Kentucky teams, there’s no telling how high they can rise.
Kentucky’s most underrated class includes its most underrated player. This class set the foundation for the 2012 National Championship team, and made a Final Four as well. One could even argue it should be higher.
Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Eloy Vargas were a part of one of the best two-year runs in school history. Jones and Lamb specifically had huge impacts on both teams, especially the national championship team.
Brandon Knight is often the most forgotten superstar John Calipari has had in his tenure at Kentucky. He was the highest rated recruit in the class, and one of the most heavily recruited players in the country. He was mild mannered, but highly impactful. Without him, the team would have not have gotten close to their surprising Final Four run.
One can only wonder what that team would have done if Enes Kanter had been ruled eligible.
Karl-Anthony Towns is arguably the second best ‘Cat of the Calipari era, and he was the crown jewel of one of the greatest teams in college basketball history. He alone pushes this up the list. The rest of the class fills out nicely around Towns.
Devin Booker helped provide the three-point shooting to help complete the team in his only season in blue and white. Trey Lyles was another five-star player that played important minutes for that team. On top of all of that, the class had Kentucky fans’ favorite Wildcat in Tyler Ulis.
The class may have not produced a national championship, but it was a big part of one of the greatest teams of all time.
This class is easily the most popular of all of Calipari’s recruiting classes. Coming off of the extremely disappointing Billy Gillespie years, Kentucky fans wanted hope. They needed hope. The fans were yearning for high-end talent, talent that had avoided Kentucky for a long time.
Boy, did Calipari give it to them in his first year with the school. Eric Bledsoe committed. DeMarcus Cousins followed Calipari from Memphis to Kentucky. Daniel Orton jumped onboard, too. There was one player that stood out.
The superstar. John Wall had a lengthy and highly publicized recruiting chase, and Kentucky fans knew he was the guy to help change the program forever.
Cal got ‘em. The Great Wall of Kentucky had been established, a life-size photo of DeMarcus Cousins was in the newspaper, and Big Blue Madness went from a midnight basketball event to an event comparable to NBA All-Star Weekend. The culture changed for good.
An Elite Eight appearance was as far as the majority class would go, but it was the impact this group of young men made that turned Kentucky into the program it is today.
Coach Calipari has achieved the goal of bringing a national title to Kentucky. This class is the reason why #8 hangs in the rafters. Three of the top five players in the country committed, making it the most top heavy class Cal has ever had.
Marquis Teague chose Kentucky over Louisville, and provided the steady hand that guided the title run. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was at one point the most highly sought-after player in the class. The defensive dynamo was a man amongst boys, the quiet leader of the team, and a favorite among fans.
It was a kid from Chicago, though, that changed everything for Kentucky. Once a 6’2 guard that couldn’t get schools to recruit him, Anthony Davis blossomed into a 6’10 defensive nightmare with the skills of a shooting guard and supreme leaping ability. He was the perfect Calipari big man. Davis rewrote the record books and ended his one season at Kentucky as the nation’s best player.
More importantly, he was the MOP of the Final Four, and a national champion.
Yet, this class does not end up as Calipari’s best…
This class had everything short of a national championship, and they were in a good position to get Big Blue Nation one. Twice.
The “40-0” preseason predictions crumbled quickly. The twins weren’t as dominant as advertised, the team started losing, and some wondered whether or not the team would get past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Then, magic happened. The team jelled, and Aaron Harrison hit three of the most memorable shots in school history. Defeating Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the way to the national championship, the team came just short of getting the ninth championship in team history.
Then… they came back. Everyone except Julius Randle and James Young returned to the team to try to build something special. That’s exactly what they did. The returning freshmen flanked Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of the 2014 recruiting class to create the most dominant force in modern college basketball history. The team ripped through the regular season.
Utilizing the platoon system until Alex Poythress was injured and ruled out the rest of the year, the team barely flinched as their talent was completely unmatched. Notre Dame gave UK all they had, and Wisconsin unfortunately finished them off. The team will likely go down as the best team to never win a championship, an ironic contrast to a recruiting class that came in with undefeated expectations the first year they stepped on campus.
Hawkins and Willis played all four years, and helped the 2016-17 Wildcats reach the Elite 8, making this class impactful at a high level longer than any other. This class may not have had the star power like 2009, or didn’t bring the school a title like the 2011 class did, but they fought their way to some of the highest peaks this program has ever seen.
Many of them sacrificed the NBA to help bring a title to Wildcat nation. A team effort. One worthy of the best recruiting class under Coach Calipari.
So where will this class land on this list? The class has the third-most five-star players for a Calipari class, and Shai Alexander wasn’t too far behind. Part of their ranking depends on the 2016 class.
If Hamidou Diallo is the star he seems to be, Wenyen Gabriel shows steady improvement, and Sacha Killeya-Jones provides anything close to his high school ranking, the team will be set up to do big things. National Championship things.
They’ll have to hold up their end of the bargain, of course, but they seem up to that challenge. If they win a national title with those guys, they’ll probably vault into the top three. If they don’t and leave for the NBA, they’ll likely be in the middle of this list. I can’t see a 2015-16 level collapse in their future.
Yet if they win big, and some of these guys return to go for another shot at a title, there’s no doubt in my mind they can compete to be the best recruiting class John Calipari has ever had at Kentucky.