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- Photo Gallery: Alex Poythress at Camp Cal
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By LARRY VAUGHT
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy did two things I really liked with his player rankings — he noted that Alex Poythress’ freshman season was not a total failure and he pointed out just how good freshman Julius Randle will be.
DeCourcy is ranking the top players at each position — he had UK freshman point guard Andrew Harrison No. 2 at point guard — and he has Randle as the third best power forward. Based on what I’ve seen, that might be too low because Randle could easily contend for freshman of the year honors just like John Wall, Brandon Knight and Anthony Davis did.
Here’s what DeCourcy wrote about Randle: “It seems possible Randle will have a greater impact on the Kentucky Wildcats’ season than on the 2013-14 season as a whole. He will be one of the most important components of their championship drive, a physically overwhelming force along the baseline who remains versatile enough to step away from the basket and make a few jump shots. Then again, DeMarcus Cousins made AP All-American averaging 15.1 points in 24 minutes per game. Randle’s going to play more than that, and maybe do more, as well.”
Randle will do a lot. To me, he’s the key to UK’s championship hopes because of his physical presence and versatility.
DeCourcy ranked Poythress as the No. 6 small forward — and that’s probably a lot higher than many UK fans would put him.
“We all know how disappointing Poythress’ freshman season was for the Wildcats, how John Calipari frequently challenged him to play with greater maturity, how many times Poythress found himself stewing on the bench. Would it surprise you to know that even with all that, Poythress still averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 58 percent from the floor? Those numbers were almost by accident,” DeCourcy wrote. “What if he returns for his second season with confidence and wisdom and a better sense of how to impact the game from the perimeter?”
And the guess here is that Poythress will do just that.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Julius Randle be even better than many Kentucky fans believe? Could he even be a better player his freshman season than the more highly-touted Andrew Wiggins?
“Randle is terrific,” said Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. “He will be a load if he gets the ball in dangerous spots.”
That means if incoming UK point guard Andrew Harrison delivers the ball to Randle the way Marquis Teague did to Anthony Davis two years ago, Randle could shine.
“If Randle gets the ball in the right spots, he can score off the bounce, go to either hand, overpower guys. He is so freaking quick, too. You have to see him to appreciate how strong and quick he really is,” DeCourcy said.
DeCourcy still remembers the transition Randle made from his sophomore to junior seasons — he was hurt most of his senior year.
“As a sophomore, I thought he was a big, strong kid who wasn’t athletic,” DeCourcy said. “Then the next year I saw him and he was just unbelievable. He is a great athlete, too. He’s really got a chance to be special.”
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
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
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari issued a warning to next year’s opponents during an interview with his go-to guy Andy Katz of ESPN.
“We’re going to be much stronger physically at all positions,” Calipari told Katz. “Our post presence will be there with Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. He’s a lot like Nerlens in terms of blocking shots and going after balls. He’s bouncy with great energy, but he’s not as big.”
And remember that Lee is probably considered No. 6 among the incoming UK McDonald’s All-Americans. However, two NBA scouts recently told me they thought in five years he could be the best player of any of UK’s incoming freshmen.
Lee and Johnson are also going to help Willie Cauley-Stein.
“Willie is coming back with one thought in mind,” Calipari told Katz. “He wants to do something on the basketball court and in the tournament. He’s got something to prove to himself. He’s got a great frame of mind. He understands he’s got to do it and do something different.”
Calipari also told Katz he might play 6-9 Julius Randle at small forward and Cauley-Stein at the power forward to give UK a big, big lineup.
“There will be a lot of teams ahead of us, but we’ll be deeper and the bench will be a great friend of mine,” Calipari told Katz. “I’ll be able to play like we played at Memphis. We’ll be pressing and getting after people because we have more people. We’re going to have competition.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LSU-bound Jerrell Martin played with or against six future Kentucky Wildcats in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago and then went against two more — Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins — in the Derby Festival Classic in Louisville.
“Everybody impressed me,” said Martin, who had 20 points and five rebounds in the Louisville game. “Everybody could make a big push in college. They are all very good. I am really excited to play against them. I am glad they are over there. It will be tough games, but I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Jordan Mickey, another LSU signee, had a game-high nine rebounds and four blocked shots along with eight points in the Louisville game. Tennessee signee Robert Hubbs made three three-pointers and South Carolina pledge Sindarius Thornwell had 12 points off the bench.
“Kentucky isn’t the only school in the SEC with good players coming in. The SEC is going to be great and one of the strongest conferences around,” Martin said.
Willis certainly came away impressed with Martin.
“To be honest with you, I thought he was going to be more of a back to the basket post player, but he is really versatile. He is going to be real good for LSU, probably even better than I realized,” Willis said.
Still, UK has six McDonald’s All-Americans — Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison — joining the program. That’s the most any school has ever added in one year.
“Yeah, that is pretty unfair. nobody has that,” Martin laughed and said.
How did he think UK pulled that off?
“Well, Kentucky is a good school. They have a lot of guys in the NBA and more on the way. I guess that is why they went there for that. They are just trying to get to the next level and they know the coaches at Kentucky are really good for doing that,” Martin said. “Calipari is a great coach overall. Anybody would probably want to play for him that wants to get to the NBA. That’s probably what sold all those guys on going there.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
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: Could you just give me your impressions of each future Wildcat?
Isaacson: “Julius Randle: Skilled with good size, he can create matchup problems in different spots on the court.
“Andrew Harrison: Love the size at the point guard position, let’s him see the court and options easily. Has shown comfort in both the halfcourt and transition, but he needs to make better decisions with the ball at the college level.
“Aaron Harrison: Though Andrew is known as the point guard and Aaron as the shooter, their games are very similar. Aaron has the ability to hit the open jumper, but has shown that he can create off the dribble and sees the floor well.
“James Young: Needs to get stronger, but likes to attack the basket and he is very good finishing around the basket.
“Dakari Johnson: A physical post player, he uses his body well to create space and looks to finish strong around the basket. Footwork still needs to improve, as well as understanding how to defend in the post.
“Marcus Lee: Athletic and raw. Needs to get stronger, but his leaping ability makes him a threat around the rim on both offense and defense.”
Question: Is it too early to for folks to be talking about Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle both being potential top 10 picks in 2014?
Isaacson: “Is it too early, absolutely, but that won’t stop it from happening. If both make the same progression their freshman year that they did during their high school years, it is a legitimate possibility.
Question: Are all six of these guys future NBA players?
Isaacson: “I will say all six have potential to be future NBA players, but if there is anything we have learned by now, is that you can’t tell how things will play out once they get to college.”
Saturday: More with Isaacson on which new player has the most untapped potential, how the super six can thrive on the same team and how Andrew Wiggins might fit at UK.
By LARRY VAUGHT
South Carolina basketball signee Sindarius Thornwell says there is no reason for him to fear Kentucky’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class.
“I have played against all of them. We are all cool. I am friends with all of them, but it is going to be fun playing against them all. I know what we can do and what they can do,” Thornwell said.
Who is the best incoming freshman at Kentucky?
“Julius (Randle). It is Julius. At 6-8, he can do anything besides shoot. He can’t shoot. We are going to zone when he gets the ball. But Julius is the best. He is too big. He is physical and can do a lot. He can be a beast,” Thornwell said.
What about the Harrison twins?
“I have not matched up with them that much, but they are pretty good. I like them. I am a fan of them. I love how they compete, but I will still go at them. We are friends off the court, but on the court they are my enemy,” Thornwell said. “It is crazy they are all going to Kentucky. I don’t know how that happened. Calipari and his staff do a good job recruiting, but this is just crazy.”
Thornwell, though, has no trouble using Kentucky to tout the incoming talent in the SEC after the conference went through a down season last year.
“All the other guys — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East — I been telling them that the SEC had the best recruiting class and told guys in the SEC we are coming at them and coming to beat them. We were at the bottom last year but we are going to work our way up and not back down from anybody, including Kentucky,” Thornwell said. “But the SEC overall, it’s going to be a lot better because of all the good players coming in. Kentucky has a lot, but they don’t have them all. The whole conference has good players on the way.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky signee Julius Randle says his mother, Carolyn Voyles, and godfather, Jeff Webster have been the biggest impacts on his life and career. His mother played basketball at the University of Texas-Arlington and Webster helped USA Basketball to gold medals at the 1989 U.S. Olympic Festival and the 1993 World University Games. He played at Oklahoma in addition to one season with the Washington Bullets after being drafted by the Miami Heat.
“They have both always been there for me,” Randle said. “They have helped get me where I am at. They were always both academics first. That never changed. Looking back, I always knew they were tough on me but I always appreciated that. I did not always want to hear what they said, but I needed to hear it. I am glad they were there for me.
“Now they will still critique me and help me. They helped me with my college decision, but they did not want to make it for me. They knew I could do that. They just provided guidance to help me.”
Randle expects to send the next six weeks “hanging out with family, finishing school and enjoying himself” before coming to UK in early June.
“I’ll maybe take a week or so off basketball, but then I have to get back to work to get better. Everything you do and learn from makes you better. You can never quit working,” Randle said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
The more international basketball he got, the better Julius Randle figured it made his overall game. He averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — both team highs — and shot 54 percent from the field in five games during the 2012 FIBA Americas Under 18 Championship to help Team USA win the gold medal in Brazil. He proved that was no fluke by scoring 19 points on 9-for-17 shooting, pulling down a team-high eight rebounds and blocking one shot for Team USA in a 112-98 loss to the World team in the Nike Hoop Summit April 20 in Portland.
“In international ball, the guys are big and stretch the floor with the way they shoot the ball,” said Randle, one of six McDonald’s All-Americans headed to Kentucky. “The international teams have players that can do a lot of things. Me playing against them shows me a lot of things. But no matter what, I always play to win. It is good, especially if you want to do something like play in the Olympics. It’s good to know how they play because what you see on TV is one thing but it is a different game playing against them. It won’t be like that at all in college. You see more international guys playing in the (United) States and they can play. So while I think playing these international games helps me, college and NBA are different games from the international game.”
Randle missed most of his senior season with a foot injury before returning in time to lead Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, to its third state title in four years. He played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and then was co-MVP in the Jordan Brand Classic.
“It was lot of hard work to get back here and I still have a long way to go. It has been an amazing experience and a great ending to my high school career. I could not ask for anything more,” Randle said. “I have signed with Kentucky, so all that stuff is settled. I am just happy to play basketball and focus on our team next year and helping us win. I was really honored when they asked me to play in the Nike Hoop Summit. I know all of the history of the players that have come through this game. It’s a huge honor for me.”
Randle knows the all-star games were also a chance for UK fans to get a look at him. ESPN has him ranked as the nation’s third best prep player, Scout.com has him No. 5 and Rivals.com has him No. 2
“It’s good for the fans to get a feel for how I play. Next year at Kentucky I am going to come hard. Just go out and play hard and help my team win,” Randle said. “But for our fans next year to get an early feel for how I play was great.”
He also got a chance to play with or against future UK teammates Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and James Young in the last few weeks.
“They are all great players and can all do a lot of great things on the floor. It kind of surprised me how good they all are. I can’t wait to play with all of them,” Randle said. “I know there is a lot of excitement building about our freshman class, but we are not paying attention to that. We know we still have to go in and win. That’s all we are going to focus on is winning. We all like to focus on team play and getting better.”