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- Video: UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown talks about working with head coach Mark Stoops
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- Father had biggest impact on Mark Stoops’ coaching career and life
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even without Andrew Wiggins there still should not be any doubt that Kentucky has assembled the nation’s all-time best recruiting class.
Kentucky coach John Calipari still has a record six McDonald’s All-Americans — Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee — in this recruiting class. And don’t forget that junior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Alex Poythress were both McDonald’s All-Americans.
So there’s no shortage of talent for next year. Remember, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is also being mentioned as a possible NBA draft lottery pick and freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis have unique talents of their own. Plus, with no Wiggins, it should clear the way for both Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood to stay on scholarship one more year.
“The immediate impact of Kentucky getting Wiggins is that this is without doubt the greatest recruiting class of all time,” said Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy. “There’s no more room for argument about that.”
“Kentucky has got the No. 1 player (in the recruiting class) at every position on the floor except for Wiggins in a highly talented class,” Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy said. “There are certain years you could get the No. 1 guys and still not have an extraordinary year like the 2008-09 group. But this is a very highly talented group. You could take Andrew Wiggins out of this class and put Jabari Parker or Julius Randle No. 1 and it would still be very strong. Kentucky will still have overwhelming strength and athleticism at every position. ”
And as I suggested about a month ago, Kentucky’s chemistry could be better without Wiggins. Not because Wiggins is a problem, but because even Calipari can only work so much magic with a loaded roster. He has guys that expect to play, and should play.
The Harrison twins and Randle are all dynamic, forceful leaders. Johnson, Lee and Young all seem to be team-oriented, not me-oriented, players.
Cauley-Stein will be a leader in a less intense way than the Harrisons or Randle. Poythress may not be a vocal leader, but he’ll be a better player. And Wiltjer’s experience on and off the court could be invaluable to the freshmen.
Wiggins would have been a terrific addition. But let Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch put this in perspective for UK fans. Here’s what he said when I asked him what impact not getting Wiggins would have on UK: “Zero. It’s still the best class of all time.”
And still likely more than enough to have UK ranked No. 1 going into next season — even without Wiggins.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Over a month ago Huntington (W.Va.) Prep sophomore point guard Nevell Provo said that teammate Andrew Wiggins had Kansas No. 1 on his recruiting list. That came as a bit of a shock because the logic was that Kentucky and Florida State were the leaders for the nation’s top high school prospect. However, Provo’s proclamation came true Tuesday when the 6-8 Wiggins announced he was going to Kansas and not UK, Florida State or North Carolina.
So why Kansas? Provo said at the time Wiggins had listed the pros and cons of each team on his recruiting list and Kansas was the clear winner. Norrie (Clevenger) Price, a Mercer County native and the host mother for Provo and Huntington teammate Montaque Gill-Ceasar, thinks it might have had more to do with Kansas coach Bill Self and his similarities to Huntington coach Rob Fulford.
“I think he absolutely loved Bill Self. I think if (UK commit) Julius Randle had gone there, there’s no question he would have been at Kansas. He really liked Julius Randle,” said Price after attending Wiggins’ announcement. “Honestly, I believe there was ongoing discussions as late as last night with his parents. He seemed very relieved and happy, so I am happy with him.
“I know he loved Self from prior conversations he had with my husband. My husband loves him (Self), too. His host mom said Bill Self was more like Rob than (Kentucky coach) John Calipari and that is how Andrew is. He is not a flashy kid. He is not about pomp and circumstance. He’s just a humble kid.”
While Price said his decision is likely a major surprise to most picking UK or Florida State to land Wiggins, she says those close to Huntington Prep were not stunned.
“I think those that were not close to the program did not know how much he liked Bill Self,” she said. “I would not have predicted Kansas because no one really had an idea, but it’s not a big surprise to me. I think the longer things went on, it probably hurt Kentucky. A year ago, it was Kentucky and Florida State. The more players Kentucky signed and then going through the all-star games, I just think too many things stacked up against Kentucky in the long run. I think if he had made a decision early, it would have been Kentucky. By waiting, he changed his mind.”
Some are speculating that Wiggins might not have had a warm and fuzzy relationship with twin guard Aaron and Andrew Harrison, two of UK’s six signees he played with in various all-star games. Fulford also coached the twins in the Jordan Brand Classic.
“I don’t think he really knew Harrison twins. I think playing in all-star games with them probably clarified things for him about them when he had a chance to be around them,” Price said. “But the biggest thing, I think, is just that he felt comfortable with Bill Self.”
That’s the same reasoning in part that led to Perry Ellis picking home-state Kansas over UK last year. And it obviously didn’t hurt Kansas that Wiggins’ brother plays at nearby Wichita State.
Kentucky won’t play Kansas, a team that lost all five starters, next season — unless it would be in the NCAA tourney. However, Kansas will play Duke in the opening game of the Champions Classic Nov. 12 in Chicago followed by UK-Michigan State. That could be a Final Four preview and will showcase a plethora of freshman stars.
And don’t believe anything about Wiggins not coming to UK because he didn’t want to attend summer school. He’s planning to spend a month in the Czech Republic playing with the Canadian national team this summer and that’s why he won’t be in summer school with his future Kansas teammates.
“I just know he’s relieved to have this all behind him and had a hard time making this decision,” Price said. “But he really is a great kid and I hope everyone respects the decision he made.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
What impact will it have on Kentucky that Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, has announced he will not play for the Wildcats? Instead, the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep star announced today that he was going to play for Kansas and not UK, North Carolina or Florida State.
“I think not getting him takes away another weapon that Kentucky could have fielded, but Kentucky still will be overwhelming physically,” said Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy. “I think it forces (UK signee) James Young to accelerate faster. I have seen and like him, but I am not sure I love him. He is the kind of player that can grow into making people love him, but he needs time.”
Kentucky will return Alex Poythress at small forward and now he’ll also have a much bigger role with Wiggins not UK bound.
“Alex was never a natural fit at the 3, but a year of experience should let him know what works for him and what doesn’t and what works and doesn’t work for Kentucky. He can still be a great small forward. But that is the most difficult position in basketball to transition to. If you are an extraordinary talent like Carmelo Anthony, you can excel,” DeCourcy said.
“But if you are out of your comfort zone, there will be moments you might not excel. Alex still has ability because he’s a shooter and a great body. He has to work and know that. Kentucky has every other position covered at a very high level. Without Wiggins, they have maybe a little less playmaking. If they had Wiggins, there would be a little less pressure on (point guard) Andrew Harrison to be extraordinary. With Wiggins, you would have a creator at point guard and small forward. Now you don’t have that 3 man that can be a creator. You have to count on Harrison to be the creator, feed the post, run the break. It puts ore pressure on him, but (John) Calipari has done extraordinary work with extraordinary point guards.”
DeCourcy said from a Kentucky standpoint, having Wiggins pick Florida State and not Kansas would have been a better thing.
“I don’t think anybody looks at Florida State as a roster that can win a national championship even with Wiggins,” DeCourcy said. “They have young talent, but don’t have a great point guard or great inside depth. They will be a NCAA team and with Wiggins would have been capable of beating anybody they play. But I just couldn’t see them winning six games (in the NCAA) even with him.
“Put him on North Carolina and it becomes sort of like 2012. Pick your flavor. Like the young talent at Kentucky or the more experience but physically talented team North Carolina would have. The second best option for a Kentucky fan was having him go to Florida State.”
And what will he do for Kansas?
“Kansas still has a young roster, but Bill Self is a championship coach. Bill has done it and will have a lot of very good, young players. He’s bringing in an excellent class and Wiggins will make Kansas a national championship threat,” DeCourcy said.
Could UK’s team chemistry be better without Wiggins since Calipari could still go nine to 10 deep easily any game?
“With Wiggins, he would have had a lot of guys to keep happy. I think James Young would have been the odd one out,” DeCourcy said. “You have to use the experience Alex brings and Dakari Johnson under any scenario is probably a 15- to 18-minute (per game) player. The one who struggles to get minutes if Wiggins had been there would have been Young. But even for Wiggins it will be a struggle to make the transition to small forward. He is good enough, but that’s the toughest spot in college basketball to transition to because of the defensive assignments being so different from game to game.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
As the clock winds down on decision time for Andrew Wiggins, the national trend seems to be that he will go to Florida State — and not more traditional powers Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas. Both his parents went to Florida State and any Kentucky basketball fan should know that Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is a relentless recruiter.
The insiders at CBSSports.com all favor Florida State. Blogger Jeff Borzello picked Florida State because “the Seminoles have been involved with him the longest time, and the family connection is a huge advantage for Leonard Hamilton. Wiggins isn’t a fan of overwhelming media attention, and he would be able to avoid that somewhat in Tallahassee. Moreover, he would get to be the go-to-guy from Day 1.”
Jeff Goodman said not to count out Kansas, but went with Florida State. So did Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander. Parrish reasoned “that Wiggins won’t really have to share the ball in Tallahassee” as his reason for picking the Seminoles.
The 6-8 Wiggins is the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect. His announcement ceremony will have only friends, family and classmates at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep along with one media member. But word will spread quickly about where the winner of the Naismith, USA Today and Gatorade National Player of the Year awards picks because he is already being touted as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft — and maybe even the preseason college player of the year.
I’ve got to watch Wiggins several times the last two years. He’s terrific. He could be a playmaking small forward and has incredible skills. He’s also a private youngster who has not let the national spotlight change him on or off the court.
That’s why I hope no matter which school he picks — and I am sticking with Kentucky because of coach John Calipari’s track record with elite players — he deserves to be respected by all. Surely no one will bash Wiggins, who obviously has been torn trying to make this decision, for his choice.
He’s never misled anyone. He’s not made any brash predictions. He’s never played one coach against another. He’s been great with an overflow of media attention and he’s been even better with fans who have flocked to watch him play and then wanted autographs or pictures.
So respect his decision because I admire the way he’s handled his recruitment, including having a small, private announcement ceremony instead of a national TV gala that he easily could have demanded.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Can Kentucky’s historic recruiting class get even better? Kentucky fans and coach John Calipari will find out Tuesday when Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top prospect, announces his college choice.
He’s down to Kentucky, Florida State, Kansas and North Carolina and Huntington (W.Va.) Prep coach Rob Fulford confirmed on Twitter Sunday that Wiggins would “sign Tuesday at around 12:15. He will not hold a press conference type ceremony. Just classmates, family and friends.”It’s no surprise that Wiggins, who many already expect to be the first pick in the 2014 NBA draft, is not making his decision on ESPN or having a setting where fans and media members could converge on him. Instead, only one local reporter will be in attendance to see which team Wiggins picks.If it is UK, the talk about a national championship and unbeaten season will only escalate. Kentucky has already signed McDonald’s All-Americans Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, James Young and Dakari Johnson along with in-state players Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins. Add returning players Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Jarrod Polson and Calipari will have more depth than in any previous year at Kentucky as well as the all-time No. 1 recruiting class.
Wiggins has kept a low profile throughout the recruiting process and has never told coaches, teammates or friends where he would go to school. His parents attended Florida State, and Huntington Prep and teammate Xavier Rathan-Mayes signed with the Seminoles.
Kansas has a solid five-member recruiting class that features 7-footer Joel Embiid and perimeter players Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene.
P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo decided to continue their careers at North Carolina and signees include forward Isaiah Hicks and center Kennedy Meeks. Wiggins would boost North Carolina into a top five recruiting class.
So what will Wiggins do?
The guess here remains that he picks UK. It gives him the best chance to win a national title in his one year in college. I also don’t buy the theory that he’ll be overwhelmed by the spotlight at Kentucky because he’s been in the spotlight for years. That won’t change at North Carolina, Kansas or Florida State, so why not join Calipari’s class, win a title and become another No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.
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.
NBADraftblog.com’s Ed Isaacson correctly predicted that two of Kentucky’s freshmen (Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel) would put their name into the NBA draft and two (Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress) would return to UK for their sophomore seasons. Now he’s had a chance to watch Kentucky coach John Calipari’s next No. 1 recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans and he offers his insights on those players and their futures.
Question: Which of Calipari’s newest players has the most work to do before he can reach the next level and which one perhaps has the most untapped potential?
Isaacson: “Marcus Lee has the most work to do, but you can see by the raw ability and athleticism why many are high on him. As for untapped potential, Lee is there, as well Dakari Johnson. Johnson has a lot of the physical tools you want, but he relies on the physical way too much right now. He has to put a lot of work into the skill part of his game.”
Question: Can all six of the McDonald’s All-American signees thrive on the same team?
Isaacson: “I don’t know if all six will ‘thrive,’ but in the best case scenario they all get better. The reality is there won’t be enough minutes for every one of the freshman to get exactly what they need to get better, but there will be enough for all to take some steps in the right direction.
Question: How good is Andrew Wiggins and could you see him fitting in well with the six UK commits if he decides to also sign with Kentucky?
Isaacson: “Wiggins is a very good player who still has plenty of room to keep getting better. I think Wiggins has the demeanor and attitude that he can fit in easily with whatever group of players surround him. If he heads to Kentucky, I would actually see him having few problems. He is versatile and can find ways to make an impact from a variety of spots on the floor.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Wasn’t it just a few days ago that everyone was wondering why Kentucky coach John Calipari went to Huntington, W.Va., way back on March 28 to see Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top recruit, rather than wait to this week after all-star games were finished like Roy Williams of North Carolina, Bill Self of Kansas and Leonard Hamilton of Florida State were going to do.Now, who looks the smartest after Wiggins called off the visit by the coaches today because of travel delays getting back from the Nike Hoop Summit and general fatigue from the three-week all-star swing in Chicago, Brooklyn and Portland.
Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said Wiggins would talk to all three coaches over the phone rather than have them visit as he contemplates his college choice.
Wiggins scored 17 points to go with nine rebounds and four assists for the World Team in the Nike Hoop Summit Saturday.
So what does all this mean for Kentucky? Maybe nothing because Wiggins still has not set a date to make his college choice. However, it couldn’t hurt UK’s chances that Calipari got to see him in person while he was fresh before making this all-star swing while the other coaches in the Wiggins’ Final Four have to settle for a phone call.
Quotes from the Nike Hoop Summit.
Andrew Harrison (Travis H.S./Richmond, Texas)
On the outcome of the game:
It was a disappointing outcome, but it’s still an honor to play for your country, and being known as one of the top players in the country. We all had a good time here. We’ve been playing against each other since we were in third grade, so it was great to play with them. The outcome was disappointing, but we had fun.
On the team’s defense:
We didn’t play as well on defense as we should have, but that comes with practice. We only had two days to prepare. That’s not an excuse. We definitely should have played better defense, but woulda, coulda, shoulda.
On Livio Jean-Charles:
He definitely killed us on the boards. He definitely showed who he was tonight. We struggled with him, but he’s a great player.
Andrew Wiggins (Huntington Prep, W.Va./Canada)
On the outcome of the game:
It was a blessing to be here. Coach enforced rebounding, and that’s what I think was the key to our victory. And also everyone was playing hard, and like coach said, we were unselfish the whole time, so we had great players that made different plays deep in the stretch.
On what it means to get two wins in a row in the Nike Hoop Summit:
It means a lot. First time it’s ever been done. Means even more because I have a Canadian coach that I’ve been with throughout three, four, five years. So it’s a special thing that we both can cherish, and again, blessed opportunity that we’re here and being able to play amongst the best.
Kentucky signee Julius Randle continued his impressive postseason play by scoring 19 points and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds for Team USA Saturday night in a 112-98 loss to the World team in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.
Another UK signee, guard Andrew Harrison, also had 19 points and five assists. Harrison’s brother, Aaron, another Kentucky signee, did not score in 12 minutes and was 0-for-3 from the field.
Kentucky 2014 commitment Karl Towns had seven points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench for the World team.
Andrew Wiggins, a Kentucky target, scored 17 points to go with nine rebounds and four assists for the World. Wiggins had 20 points in last year’s win in the same game.