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Ranking John Calipari’s recruiting classes at UK

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Which class is first and where will this year’s class rank among them?

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Since John Calipari came to town in 2009, your Kentucky Wildcats have had the #1 or #2 recruiting class each year. So, where do they all stack up compared to each other?

Each class had their ups and downs, from a National Championship to the NIT.

To be clear, none of the classes John Calipari has had at Kentucky was “bad” per se, so this is simply ranking the best of the best. And it is also based on what the players did AT Kentucky. This does not include what they did after Kentucky, either in the NBA or at another school.

So with that said, let’s get started.

#9

2015

Recruits by rank (according to 247 Sports):

  • Skal Labissiere, C, #2 overall
  • Jamal Murray, SG, #10 overall
  • Isaiah Briscoe, PG, #12 overall
  • Isaac Humphries, C, #47 overall
  • Charles Matthews, SG, #60 overall
  • Tai Wynyard, PF, #89 overall
  • Mychal Mulder, SG, #14 overall JUCO

National Rank: 1

Let’s get straight to the point. Skal was a bust. He came in having only played a few years of organized basketball and it showed. Isaiah Briscoe did a lot of good things, but, without ever developing a shot, he didn’t progress the way folks expected (he did have a triple-double though for what it’s worth).

Isaac Humphries only played two seasons when he was expected to be a 4-year player and to be honest he really didn’t do much. Charles Matthews did fantastic at Michigan this year helping lead his team to the National Championship, but he averaged less than 2 ppg. at Kentucky.

You know the deal with Tai Wynyard. Somehow, a scholarship player who played minimal minutes got suspended for having an armed bodyguard. Trust me Tai, if John Wall and Devin Booker can go to parties without a bodyguard, you can too.

Mychal Mulder ended up turning into a well-rounded player. He had some crazy hops and shot lights out from the three-point line. He did most of his damage his senior year, but unfortunately he was only at UK for two seasons.

Jamal Murray made this class and the class ahead of it a toss-up for me. Jamal Murray, or “The Blue Arrow”, was a special, special player for John Calipari and one of the most prolific scorers of the John Calipari era.

The mix of overrated talent and a second round exit from the NCAA tournament puts this class where it is.

#8

2012

  • Nerlens Noel, PF, #1 overall
  • Alex Poythress, SF, #7 overall
  • Archie Goodwin, SG, #15 overall
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, C, #43 overall

National Rank: 1

The reason this class got the nod over the one below it is simple: Willie Cauley-Stein. Willie contributed some in his first season, but ended up becoming a Consensus First-Team All-American and Defensive Player of the Year. He far exceeded expectations and was probably the second best defensive player of the John Calipari era behind Anthony Davis.

Alex Poythress was a fan-favorite. He started out his freshman year tearing teams like Duke apart. But then it slowed down quite a bit. Alex had several good games throughout his career and was a rare 4-year player in this one-and-done era, but he was far too inconsistent.

Nerlens was the only thing that kept this team’s head above water and once he went down, it was done for. He was limited offensively, but he was a defensive specialist. As for Archie Goodwin, I don’t have much to say.

Plain and simple, this class led UK to their first NIT in over a decade and it’s lucky to be this high.

#7

2017

  • Hamidou Diallo, SG, #10 overall
  • Kevin Knox, SF, #11 overall
  • Jarred Vanderbilt, SF/PF, #12 overall
  • PJ Washington, PF, #15 overall
  • Nick Richards, C, #18 overall
  • Quade Green, PG, #26 overall
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, CG, #31 overall
  • Jemarl Baker, SG, #73 overall

National Rank: 2

I struggled a little bit with where to place this class. It could end up moving up depending on who stays in the NBA Draft and who ultimately decides to come back to UK. Not to mention, we haven’t even been able to see Jemarl Baker in action.

Hami and Nick were overrated, and Jarred is a walking injury. Knox could really fill it up and PJ was hard to stop in the post. Quade came into his own after losing his starting spot and he’s even coming back for a rare second season.

Shai far exceeded the expectations of everyone. He quickly became a fan favorite and has now turned into a lottery pick.

This class could still move up a little bit, but for now, with a Sweet Sixteen loss to Kansas State in the NCAA tournament, I think this is the best spot for it.

#6

2010

  • Brandon Knight, PG, #5 overall
  • Enes Kanter, C, #8 overall
  • Terrence Jones, SF/PF, #9 overall
  • Doron Lamb, SG, #24 overall
  • Stacey Poole, SG, #47 overall
  • Eloy Vargas, C, #16 overall JUCO

National Rank: 1

Enes Kanter never played for UK, but if he had, this team would have won the National Championship. But still, they made an incredible run to the Final Four and two players even helped win a National Championship the next season.

Brandon Knight was one of the best point guards John Calipari has ever had. People tend to forget about him now because he isn’t doing much professionally, but man could he play. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were really the same way and if this ranking was based off how they did after UK, this class would be much lower on the list. However, it isn’t and those two helped lead UK to their 8th National Championship. That enough solidifies their spot on this list.

Stacey Poole was a bust and Eloy Vargas contributed some. Overall, this class was very, very good to John Calipari, but thank goodness we had Jorts that year, right?

#5

2014

  • Karl-Anthony Towns, C, #5 overall
  • Trey Lyles, PF, #12 overall
  • Tyler Ulis, PG, #19 overall
  • Devin Booker, SG, #22 overall

National Rank: 2

This class and the one ahead of it are a toss-up. I mean they went 38-0 before losing in the Final Four to Wisconsin. They had arguably the best college basketball team ever. They were a missed shot clock violation and a drrible off the foot away from a 9th National Championship. However, as good as all four of these players were at Kentucky, besides Tyler Ulis, they didn’t get to play much due to the platoon system. And they had a lot of veteran leadership.

KAT is one of the best ever that Calipari has coached. Devin Booker can fill it up. And Trey Lyles was a serious matchup problem.

But the player who helped this class to this ranking the most is Tyler Ulis. Ulis was another rare 2-year player and he left everything he had on the court. Despite being only 5’9’’, he thrived in Calipari’s system.

#4

2011

  • Anthony Davis, PF, #1 overall
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, #3 overall
  • Marquis Teague, PG, #6 overall
  • Kyle Wiltjer, PF, #20 overall

National Rank: 1

This class got the nod over the one behind of two reasons. First, they won UK’s 8th and John Calipari’s first National Championship. Second, Anthony Davis.

Everybody loved MKG. He was a defensive monster and he could really take the ball to the hole. Marquis Teague was okay, but was a little overrated to say the least. Kyle Wiltjer could spray from everywhere, but he only lasted two seasons before ultimately deciding to transfer to Gonzaga.

But Anthony Davis. He is arguably the best player in UK basketball history. He averaged the fifth most points on the team, but he was efficient offensively and the best defensive player I’ve seen in my lifetime.

They had a little help from the likes of Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller, but this was a very special class and is arguably the best of the Calipari era.

#3

2016

  • De’Aaron Fox, PG, #6 overall
  • Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, PF, #9 overall
  • Malik Monk, CG, #11 overall
  • Wenyen Gabriel, PF, #15 overall
  • Sacha Killeya-Jones, PF, #23 overall

National Rank: 2

This class was absolutely loaded and everyone contributed in some way. Looking back at the other classes, there was always a bust or some player that contributed nothing at all, but not here.

De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were as deadly of a duo as they come. Then you throw in the high flying Bam Adebayo and this team was really special.

Wenyen and Sacha took a little more time to develop. SKJ ultimately decided to transfer after his second season, but Wenyen took a big step forward this past year. With his incredible 7 three-pointer game, he may have worked himself into the NBA Draft. However, it’d be even better if he came back for junior year.

This team should have won a National Championship, and they were a buzzer-beater loss in the Elite Eight from doing so.

#2

2009

  • John Wall, PG, #2 overall
  • DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, #3 overall
  • Daniel Orton, C, #18 overall
  • Jon Hood, SG, #56 overall
  • Eric Bledsoe, PG, #68 overall
  • Darnell Dodson, SF, #6 overall JUCO

National Rank: 1

Looking back, this class is incredible. Three NBA superstars played on one team. However, they lost in the Elite Eight to a West Virginia team that played the game of its life.

John Wall was the best point guard during the John Calipari era. DeMarcus Cousins is the best center depending on if you consider AD a power forward. And Eric Bledsoe was beyond what we could have hoped.

Orton was a bust. Hood was vastly overrated but contributed a little over his time at Kentucky. Dodson was a three-point specialist, but he only survived one year before parting ways with the program.

I’ve said it before, but this team really, really should have won a championship. I mean the talent is undeniable and they’re very close to the top spot.

#1

2013

  • Julius Randle, PF, #2 overall
  • Andrew Harrison, PG, #5 overall
  • Aaron Harrison, SG, #6 overall
  • James Young, SF, #9 overall
  • Dakari Johnson, C, #10 overall
  • Marcus Lee, PF, #18 overall
  • Derek Willis, SF/PF, #126 overall
  • Dominique Hawkins, PG, #192 overall

National Rank: 1

The best recruiting class of all time. Period. The amount of talent in one class is unbelievable even by Calipari’s standards.

Julius Randle was a force to be reckoned with and James Young could shoot lights out while also dunking all over somebody. The Harrison Twins were a blessing and might have helped keep Cal at UK after their freshmen seasons when they decided to come back. They made a National Championship and helped lead a team to a 38-0 record.

Dakari progressed well and I wish he would’ve stayed longer, but he was an excellent piece on the 38-1 team. Marcus transferred, but had a few monster games at Kentucky (remember Michigan).

And then at the bottom of the list are Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins. We couldn’t have asked more from the two 4-year homegrown players. Neither played much at first, but their junior and senior seasons they provided invaluable leadership that helped UK reach the Elite Eight, in what was almost a National Championship.

This class was absolutely insane. I don’t want to doubt Cal, but I’m not sure anyone will have a class better than this one.

So, there it is. Every single one of John Calipari’s recruiting classes at UK. How will the 2018 class stack up? 2019 could be special too. But given what we know today, how would you rank Kentucky’s recruiting classes during the John Calipari era?