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By LARRY VAUGHT
College basketball analyst Jay Bilas thinks Kentucky coach John Calipari has “outdone” himself with this year’s freshman class.
“From a rating standpoint, they have so many players No. 1 at their position that it is really unusual,” said the ESPN analyst. “It would be folly to say this is the best recruiting class ever. It is the highest rated. We can only call it the best recruiting class by looking backwards. But there are not any more classes that are going to come in and win three championships because players don’t stick around. It is a different standard now. But from a pure talent standpoint, it is off the chart. This class is really good.”
Bilas was in Lexington during the summer for one of Calipari’s camp and says he was “blown away” by UK’s talent.
“I had seen them before, but to see them all together and the level that John has gotten his program to with that youth is impressive,” Bilas said. “I frankly didn’t think it was possible to take a new team each year and compete. But what has been the anomaly was last year, which was expected to be the norm. For those who doubted if he can coach, and I was not among that group, he not only can recruit, but he is a great coach.”
Bilas found a lot to like with UK’s new players.
“You can tell at every spot they are special. Julius Randle is the best player. At 6-9, he is the most physical, imposing left-hander. If he limits it to two dribbles, nobody can stop him. If he dribbles more, he gives people a chance. But nobody can stop him if he holds it to two dribbles,” Bilas said. “I was really impressed with James Young. I had seen him before, but he is just getting better and better. He can be their best defender.
“Andrew Harrison is back in the mold of the big, dominating point guard John has had with (John) Wall or (Derrick) Rose. I am not projecting he will be the first pick in the draft, but he will not be much further down. He will be within shouting distance of that. He’s big, strong, quick and can get in the lane. His brother, Aaron, can really shoot.
“Dakari Johnson has really good feet and hands and can score in the low post. He doesn’t run very well. He’s not a speed merchant, but he’s not slow. That’s not his strength. He has a chance to be very good and will contribute right away. It is hard to imagine a class in today’s age with more talent, but I would not put it past Calipari.”
Bilas doesn’t think Calipari will need to change the way he prefers to play because of the increased size Kentucky has this year.
“They changed the way they played last year, and a little bit the year before, and did not use as much dribble-drive,” Bilas said. “I think they will go back and mix ball screens in. The problems they had last year is No. 1, they did not have a point guard, and they could not shoot it. Defenses packed in and Kentucky could not bring them out. You can spread the court all you want, but you have to stretch defenses.
“You can stand anywhere you want, but if the defense does not go with you … this year they will be able to spread defenses and open driving lanes. This team can really drive. If they make shots, it will open driving lanes and open it up for lobs. That team is going to shoot a lot of free throws and get a lot of easy baskets. I was really impressed with them.”