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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari said today that Kentucky “probably needs to sign about two more (players)” to go with the four players already in the 2014 recruiting class.
“We are involved with some kids that we want to be involved with. You are going after kids that want you and want this. Walk out and you are judged from the third game. Throw in the second highest rated game in the history of ESPN for a non-conference game (Kentucky-Michigan State on Tuesday). That’s your third game of your career and Magic (Johnson) and all these people are watching,” Calipari said. “You’ve got to want that.
“Then every player is coming after you personally. You have got to want that. If you don’t want that, you don’t come here. We don’t get everybody we want. Kids go other places. I think it has always been that way.”
However, Calipari likes the four players — Karl Towns Jr., Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker — that UK did sign.
“The four we got area all skilled. Great students. Maybe the best students I have recruited in all my years of coaching,” Calipari said. “Really skilled. They have got size. But we’ve got to finish the class. A coach telling you he has got four (signees) and he has got to finish the class is not normal, not traditional. But that’s the way it is here.”
LEXINGTON. – The Kentucky men’s basketball team has added four of the top signees from the Class of 2014 in the early signing period, receiving National Letters of Intent from Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl Towns and Tyler Ulis, UK head coach John Calipari announced Thursday.
“I’m really proud of this group as far as where they are academically, what type of people they are and their basketball ability,” Calipari said. “All four of these guys are skilled for their position and they have the ability to score. We’re happy to announce they will be joining us next fall.”
Booker, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Moss Point, Miss., was named Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior in 2012-13, averaging 29.7 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game. Booker is rated No. 18 in the 2014 ESPN 100, No. 30 in the Rivals 150 and No. 31 according to Scout. The shooting guard was named the Sun Herald Player of the Year and enters his senior year as a member of the Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen, ranking Mississippi’s top high school basketball players.
“Devin is a scoring machine,” Calipari said. “At nearly 6-6, he can play three different positions. He’s got great range, which should help us spread the floor a bit when he’s playing. What I like most about him is his confidence.”
A 6-10 forward from Indianapolis, Ind., Lyles averaged 17.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks en route to being named Indianapolis City Player of the Year for a second consecutive year as a junior at Arsenal Technical High School. Playing for Team Canada in the 2013 U19 World Championships, Lyles averaged 20.3 points per game. The forward is rated No. 7 by ESPN, while Rivals and Scout place him eighth in the class of 2014. Lyles enters his senior season 42 points shy of the Arsenal Technical all-time scoring record.
“At 6-10, Trey can play both inside and outside,” Calipari said. “He has the skills to score in both areas. He’s seen what some of our former guys are doing in the pros right now and has said he wants to follow in their path. My hope is he’s our next beast.”
Towns, a 7-0 forward from St. Joseph’s in Metuchen, N.J., was named the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012-13. Averaging 21.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game, Towns was named First Team All-State and Player of the Year by The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. Entering his senior year, Towns has led his St. Joseph’s team to two consecutive state championships in New Jersey. ESPN ranks him as the No. 6 prospect in the 2014 class, while Scout and Rivals rate him the 11th-best prospect in the class. ESPN ranks Towns No. 3 at his position in the class, with Scout ranking him No. 4 at his position. Towns played under Calipari and UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua on the Dominican Republic National Team in the previous two offseasons.
“Karl, at 7 feet tall, brings great versatility,” Calipari said. “He can obviously score it inside, but his ability to shoot and handle it like he’s a guard will spread defenses out. His growth from his first stint with the Dominican team until now has been unbelievable, and I’m looking forward to working with him on the collegiate level.”
Ulis is a 5-8 point guard from Chicago Heights, Ill., who averaged 21.9 points, 4.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game as a junior for Marian Catholic. Ulis is ranked 29th nationally by Scout and 33rd by Rivals and ESPN. The latest in a line of highly ranked point guards to sign with Kentucky under Coach Calipari, Ulis ranks as the No. 4 point guard in the country by ESPN and No. 6 at his position according to Scout.
“Tyler is the ultimate competitor,” Calipari said. “His heart and his ability to make people better set him apart from his peers. He can score in bunches, and like every point guard I’ve had, he brings a little something different to the table.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Coach Jason Delaney knew “what a weight” 6-9 Trey Lyles had on him during his recruitment before the (Indianapolis) Arsenal Tech star finally announced on ESPNU Tuesday that he was going to Kentucky.
Not only did Lyles, a top 10 consensus player, make the announcement on national TV at his high school, but he picked UK over Louisville. Plus, remember he originally was committed to home-state Indiana before de-committing and eventually narrowing his choices to Kentucky and Louisville.
That’s three passionate fan bases — and Indiana fans were not the least bit happy with the process even before he picked UK.
“I know in a lot of ways for him it is a relief to have this over,” said Delaney Wednesday. “It’s been like a roller coaster ride for him with the ups and downs. It was a special day for him and his family. We wanted to make sure it was the best day possible with ESPN involved. It was a big thing, something you only go through once. It was big for the Arsenal Tech faculty, students and his teammates. But I also know what a weight he had on him these last few months.”
Lyles is regarded as one of nation’s most highly skilled big men. Delaney says he has a variety of post moves and the ability to finish at the basket, but he can also face the hoop and score.
Lyles is ranked as the nation’s No. nation’s No. 7 prospect by ESPN.com, No. 8 by Rivals.com and Scout.com and No. 17 by 247Sports.com. He also had considered Florida, Butler, UCLA and Duke during his recruitment.
Getting Lyles was a sign that UK coach John Calipari has not lost his golden recruiting touch even though UK missed on point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who was thought to be a Kentucky lock before picking SMU; perimeter player Kelly Oubre who chose Kansas; and James Blackmon, also thought to be a UK lean who instead recommitted to Indiana. Plus, Calipari quit recruiting Chicago big man Cliff Alexander and highly-touted center Jahlil Okafor opted to look elsewhere.
Now Lyles joins five-star center Karl Towns Jr. of New Jersey, four-star shooting guard Devin Booker of Moss Point, Miss., and four-star point guard Tyler Ulis of Chicago in what Scout.com currently has as the nation’s No. 1 class.
Delaney knows fans of Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville all followed everything Lyles did and said in recent months.
“Indiana fans did not like that he de-committed,” Delaney said. “They are the most passionate and loyal fans around. IU basketball is a big deal here. Kentucky is like that, too. I went to Big Blue Madness with him and the Kentucky fan base is special and the spectacle of that night was unbelievable and neat to see. But he had a lot of fans saying things and doing things the last few months that put a lot of pressure on him.”
It didn’t show on ESPN even when he was asked about Indiana specifically and recruiting overall. He handled it with maturity well beyond his 18 years — Tuesday was his birthday.
“I am so proud of him for that,” Delaney said. “He answered all the questions very well. All our kids go through media training. We train our guys, but his parents have done a great job with Trey. He did a couple of local radio interviews Tuesday and showed just how humble he is. He’s a bright kid, but it was nice to see him smiling again after what he’s gone through in the last year.
“Now he can go to football games with his teammates again. He can be like a normal high school kid again. Making this decision takes a lot of pressure off him. “
Delaney says there won’t be pressure on him when the team plays in the Marshall County Hoop Fest Dec. 6-7 or McCracken County Festival of Hoops Jan. 11. Arsenal Tech likely will have four other Division I signees and is anxious to face some of the best teams in both events.
Delaney has been told by event organizer Dan Hudson how excited fans are to see Lyles play.
“We feel blessed to be part of something like this,” Delaney said. “We are going to compete like heck against some really good teams, but we want to play the best. We are looking forward to seeing the great Kentucky high school basketball fans. I would not want to coach anywhere but Indiana, but I know how Kentucky basketball fans are.
“Trey will like seeing the UK fans. He’s so good with fans. He’ll always taken time to sign autographs or take pictures, especially with kids. It’s not like it takes that long and he understands he can be a role model and he wants to do it. He has a very caring heart and the fans at those places will see that along with just how special he is on the basketball court.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky added a big-time shooter to its 2014 recruiting class Thursday when guard Devin Booker verbally committed to John Calipari’s team, but lost perhaps an even better shooter when Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. re-commited to Indiana.
Blackmon, the son of former Kentucky player James Blackmon, is ranked No. 31 nationally by 247Composite. He made his announcement Thursday night on ESPNU at halftime of a college football telecast.
The 6-foot-2 Blackmon, a Marion, Ind., native, who had originally committed to Indiana in 2010 before reopening his recruitment, cited his relationship with Indiana coach Tom Crean for deciding to go back with the Hoosiers.
Evan Daniels, recruiting analyst for Fox Sports, says Blackmon is the “best shooter in the 2014 class” by far.”
“He has a quick trigger, and I am constantly impressed by his shooting,” Daniels said. “He is not the fastest, most athletic guard, but he is an elite-level shooter. There are just not that many high-level shooters in the 2014 class, or any class.”
However, the 6-6 Booker, another consensus top-30 player, is also an elite shooter/scorer.
Booker and Chicago point guard Tyler Ulis are part of the 2014 recruiting class that also includes 7-foot Karl Towns, a consensus top-10 player.
“All those guys fit together well,” Daniels said. “They all play the game the right way, too. They are all high-integrity kids.
“Ulis and Booker will be on the perimeter, and Karl, who can step out and play on the floor, will command the post. They are a good mix.”
Booker will play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. against Louisville Ballard. Ulis will play in the McCracken County Festival of Hoops Jan. 11 at 5:30 p.m.
Kentucky is also expected to add at least two more players to its 2014 class.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Karl Towns Sr. said his son, UK commit Karl Town, has not really worried about who else will be in UK’s 2014 recruiting class. Towns’ father said his son was “happy to get” Chicago point guard Tyler Ulis committed to Kentucky.
“I just thank God my son is going to Kentucky and I know the people at Kentucky will get who is necessary to win the national championship,” Towns Sr. said. “He just wants people that win to win the national championship. I am thankful my son is being given a chance to play at Kentucky. We are just really looking forward to that and know Kentucky is the perfect place for him.”
* * *
Karl Towns and his father will both join us on WLAP (630 AM, wlap.com) at 9:30 a.m to talk Kentuck basketball. Give us a listen/call.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Karl Towns, 17, had a full-time man’s job to do last summer, and did it. The University of Kentucky commit again played for the Dominican National Team as it tried to qualify for the World Cup, a goal the team reached for coach Orlando Antigua, one of UK coach John Calipari’s assistants.
“Karl had a great summer. He got significant chances to improve his game,” said Karl Towns Sr. “He played with the Dominican team all summer. He bulked up. He’s 7-1, and got up to 248 pounds. He needed to just be stronger playing for a national team. Those are a lot of professional players he played with and against. He knew to improve the quality of his game, he should spend the summer with them.”
He saw limited action, but scored 16 points against Paraguay and was often on the floor at crucial times in other games. He averaged 21.3 points and 14.3 rebounds per game last season Saint Joseph (N.J.) and chose Kentucky over a bevvy of other schools midway through the season. He has played under John Calipari the previous summer when the Dominican team won a bronze medal in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship in Mar De Plata, Argentina.
“There are a lot of benefits to getting yourself and your body ready for the physical beating you take at the next level,” Towns Sr. said. “He played well this summer. He did a nice job and I was very proud of him.”
His father rattled off a long list of NBA players like Tristan Thompson, J.J. Barea, Luis Scola, Francisco Garcia and more that his son played with and against.
“There were so many big-time players he went against. Holding his own against older men and even those NBA cats was a major accomplishment for him,” Towns Sr. said. “Here was a 17-year-old kid they trusted on the floor and were letting him playing quality minutes and he was not intimidated or scared. He was rebounding in traffic, getting to the rim. He showed people that he can play. Some people wanted to know if he felt bad not playing more, but no. He wanted to prove he could play with the best and spend the summer improving, and he did.”
Towns, who was featured in stories by Sports Illustrated and ESPN during the summer, played well at the Nike Summit in April along with several current UK freshmen. However, his father knows since he was out of the country during part of the summer and not at the major all-star camps, some buzz about his son has disappeared.
“He has proved to people what he can do, but if you don’t see him on the (camp) circuit, you forget,” Towns Sr. said. “But his main goal has been to make the Dominican Olympic team. He feels he can get more out of that to benefit him long term.”
Towns did get a taste of UK basketball, though, thanks to having Antigua as his head coach.
“He loved Orlando. Always has. He coached him hard. Karl had to make the team. There were no favorites,” Towns Sr. said. “Coach got on him just like everybody else. I told my son he had to make it on his own and he made it.
“He treated it just like a job and he went to work on his job every day for seven or eight weeks. He performed like he was doing a job. He told me, ‘I’ve got to go to work.’ It was a great experience for him and in his mind, he proved things to a lot of people by the way he played.”
Towns Sr. said his son was “right back in the laboratory (basketball court) just two days after returning home about a week ago.
“After he took those two days off, he was right back in the lab. I have been with him. Five hundred made 3-pointers, posts moves, free throws, lifting weights. We are in the gym a long time,” Towns Sr. said. “I rebound for him. Thank God most of his 3-pointers go in.
“He loves working out in the gym. He is happy to be back in school and he’s having a great time. He’s preparing his body for what’s next and looking forward to getting to Kentucky and joining a great team.”
* * *
Karl Towns and his father will both join us on WLAP (630 AM, wlap.com) at 9:30 a.m to talk Kentucky basketball. Give us a listen/call.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has only one verbal commitment in its 2014 recruiting class — New Jersey power forward/center Karl Towns.
Yet perhaps the best indicator that Kentucky coach John Calipari is convinced he can put together an elite recruiting class again is looking at who is not coming to UK, especially since several sources close to Calipari have indicated that UK will likely sign six players in 2014 because of anticipated departures to the NBA.
Start with Angel Delgado, a 6-8 power forward with multiple ties to Kentucky who has committed to Seton Hall. He is a consensus top 50 player. Dana Dingle, one of Calipari’s former players at Massachusetts, is Delgado’s AAU coach. Dingle was also a high school teammate of UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua.
He had offers from Louisville, Miami, Virginia and several others before committing to Seton Hall.
Next there is 6-8 power forward Craig Victor, who committed to Arizona over the weekend.
And now there is Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr., the son of former Kentucky player James Blackmon,. He originally committed to Indiana when he was a freshman but has decided to open his recruitment. He is a prolific shooter and made it known quickly he wanted the offer from UK that he got.
That list of prospects is why having Delgado, Victor and Perkins pick other schools is not seen a problem by Calipari because he believes he’s well positioned still to make another run at a No. 1 recruiting class.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Chicago center Jahlil Okafor, the consensus No. 1 player in the 2014 recruiting class, now plans tol take an official visit to Kentucky on Sept. 9, the same time UK will host a bevvy of NBA players for what has turned into an annual alumni charity game.
The 6-11 Okafor has UK, Duke, Arizona, Baylor, Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State, Kansas and Illinois left on his college list.
Okafor, who has also planned an official visit to Baylor, has become friends with 2014 UK commit Karl Towns and has said numerous times the two could play together in college. He’s also good friends with Tyus Jones, one of the top point guards in the 2014 class.
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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s been away from home all but four days in the last three weeks, but future Kentucky Wildcat Andrew Harrison of Texas is not complaining.
“It’s fun getting to know people that you did not know that well,” said Harrison. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know guys that I have played against but never really got to spend time with.”
He’s in Portland, Ore., now along with his twin brother, Aaron, to play in Saturday night’s Nike Hoop Summit (7 p.m. on ESPN2). One teammate is UK signee Julius Randle while the World team includes Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1 player and still a UK recruiting target along with 2014 UK commit Karl Towns Jr.
“This game is more personal. We are not out to show what we can do. We are out to win,” Harrison, the nation’s top ranked high school point guard, said.
He’s already played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic — so did Randle, Wiggins and Aaron Harrison. He knew what to expect in those games, something he’s not sure about for Saturday’s game.
“In the first two games, everybody is just trying to show their stuff. I just tried to get everybody involved and didn’t worry about points or who was MVP,” Harrison said during a telephone interview after Thursday’s practice. “I have no idea how good the competition will be in this game. I know they have at least three really good players. I know it will be a really tough game, and a game everybody wants to win because you are playing for your country.”
Harrison participated in the 2012 USA under 18 national team training camp at Colorado Springs, Colo. However, he says playing in the Olympics has not been a life-long dream for him like it has some players.
“If God blessed me with that, I would be happy. But I know I have a lot of work to do before I could even think of that happening,” Harrison said. “That’s why the Olympics has not been a goal or dream. I know how hard it is to make that come true and how few players get to do something like that.”
He’s not really been able to work on improving his game since his team won the Texas state championship.
“In these games, you just have fun and don’t get to really work on parts of your game,” Harrison said. “Everybody already knows what kind of player you are, so you really don’t have a chance to get better. It’s more about who can dunk the best and stuff like that. By next year, I look forward to getting better. That’s when I can really put in the work.”
He knows Kentucky, which will add six McDonald’s All-Americans to four experienced returning players (Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson), will give him a chance to showcase his point guard skills next year.
“I don’t care about scoring. I just want to lead my team. I want to win every game,” he said. “I will get a chance to just throw it up the rim sometimes and see who can go get it. I just have to put them in the right positions to score and I am looking forward to that. In high school, they could play four guys on you. Now you can’t leave anybody or they will kill you because we have so many good players.”
Harrison’s three-week tour from Chicago to Brooklyn to Portland has had one constant — UK fans at every stop.
“There have been some UK fans almost everywhere we have been,” he said. “I’m kind of getting use to what it will be like next year. But this whole experience has been great. We got to meet Spike Lee. He is wise and knowledgeable. It was really cool meeting him.”
He says he gets to talk to UK coach John Calipari or his staff “every once in a while” and they talk recruiting, leadership, defense and more. He has talked plenty to his future teammates the last three weeks.
“All the guys are cool. Getting to know them has definitely made me even more comfortable about next year,” Harrison said. “It was like a two-week head start on next season. We have not developed great chemistry yet, but we all like each other a lot and everything. We are cool.”
His only future plans before arriving in Lexington in early June will be to “spend all the time I can in the gym to improve” his overall play.
“That’s all I know how to do is get in the gym and work so I am not changing that now,” Harrison said.