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By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky hit a gigantic Big Blue double and land Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top basketball recruit, and Drew Barker, a four-star quarterback, in the next week or so?
Barker will choose either UK, South Carolina or Tennessee during a ceremony at Conner High School in northern Kentucky Friday at 3:30 p.m. Wiggins has not set a timetable for his announcement but most are expecting the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout to do so in the next week to 10 days.
One can debate which player is most likely to pick Kentucky. John Calipari has already signed six McDonald’s All-Americans and has what is considered the all-time best recruiting class. Wiggins picking UK instead of Kansas, North Carolina or Florida State would only add to that legacy — and make UK the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 national title. Most have considered UK the leader for him at some point, but he’s never really indicated where he might go.
Barker was not recruited by former coach Joker Phillips at Kentucky. New coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown quickly changed that when they arrived and made him a priority and UK’s top quarterback prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. He can stay “home and be a hero” as Brown challenges in-state recruits to do and maybe become a star in Brown’s high-octane offense. Or he could go to South Carolina — a team that wins annually and could compete for a national title sooner — and play for Steve Spurrier.
Which player does Kentucky need the most? That’s another good question.
My instinct says Barker because landing him would continue the momentum Stoops has built since he arrived. He had a stellar recruiting class and enticed four-star in-state players Ryan Timmons of Franklin County and Jason Hatcher of Trinity to join the Wildcats at the last minute. He had a successful spring practice capped by over 50,000 fans — an all-time record — watching the spring game. He’s already got five 2014 commitments from Ohio and could be on the verge of more. Adding Barker just keeps the Big Blue ball rolling at a record pace for Stoops as the countdown continues to his first game on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky.
Wiggins is a once-in-a-generation player and would have everyone talking about UK going 40-0 next season. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has already said Wiggins should be the preseason national player of the year no matter which school he attends. Wiggins is that special that no one laughed about Parish’s suggestion.
Wiggins is a sure one-and-done player. But even without him, UK likely will go into next season ranked No. 1. That’s why it seems that Stoops’ program needs Barker much more than Calipari’s program needs Wiggins.
However, with no real sources and going strictly on instincts, I truly like UK’s chances to land both players. Wiggins spent a lot of time with other UK signees in April during the postseason all-star games. Huntington has a lot of UK fans. Calipari has shown he can take big-time talent and guide players to where they hit the NBA jackpot after one year. And if Wiggins is going to college for only one year, why not go where he has the best chance to win a national title.
Some say he doesn’t like the spotlight. True, but the spotlight has been on him so long now that he copes and does fun. It’s not like there won’t be media at North Carolina, Kansas or Florida State. I just don’t buy the theory that the spotlight will scare Wiggins away from UK.
Barker? He likes Brown. He’s bonded with Ohio recruits who have committed to UK. It would be easy for family and friends to watch him play at Kentucky. And he grew up a UK fan.
That’s why when all the drama ends, my vote goes for Kentucky hitting the Big Blue double and getting both Wiggins and Barker.