Reporting Matt Ryan
The 2012-13 season was one of historical disappointment for Big Blue Nation. Kentucky went from; preseason number three, to a bubble team, to missing the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in 22 years, to ultimately losing in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.
Not exactly what was expected from a fanbase that saw their team finish the previous three years respectively in the Elite Eight, Final Four, and as national champions. Expectation are always high in Lexington, but few would have imagined this team struggling to stay on the bubble on a weekly basis, even after the season-ending injury of Nerlens Noel.
While the Wildcats struggled on the court throughout the season, John Calipari gradually assembled what might be his most highly touted freshman class ever and possibly the best in the modern era of college hoops. The commitment of the nation’s top ranked power forward Julius Randle gives Kentucky; its sixth five-star recruit of the 2013 class.
This group is already being compared to the likes of the 2009 class that included John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, the 2011 class that was led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and of course the gold standard of the college basketball recruiting classes, the Fab Five.
Randle will join top ranked center Dakari Johnson, top ranked shooting guard Aaron Harrison, and the top ranked point guard Andrew Harrison. Kentucky’s class also includes five-star prospects Marcus Lee, James Young, and three-star recruit Derek Willis.
As highly regarded as those high school seniors are, just as important for the next season’s Wildcats is the likelihood of current-freshmen Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Poythress all foregoing the NBA Draft, for at least one more season. Out of the three, only Cauley-Stein is a potential lottery pick and his stock could drop in the coming weeks with his team out of the Big Dance.
Nerlens Noel is unlikely to play another game in a Kentucky uniform and should be a top-five NBA Draft pick, despite tearing his ACL in February.
The 2012 recruiting class had a lot of hype, but the group struggled throughout the season without a significant number of players returning from the previous season. As great as Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were for the 2012 title team, they never would have cut down the nets had Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb not returned for their sophomore seasons.
The trio of Cauley-Stein, Goodwin, and Poythress could have a similar impact for a young team favored to reach the 2014 Final Four.
Even with four top ten recruits and a record of six high school All-Americans, this class could get even better with the consensus number one high school prospect, Huntington Prep forward Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins recruiting decision is expected to come down to a choice between Florida State or Kentucky. The Seminoles are far from the most established program in college basketball, but he would be the go-to guy on a team playing in what could the nation’s top conference next season. Also, his parents are FSU alumni which seems to be playing a significant factor in his decision.
Andrew Wiggins would start next season if he commits to Kentucky, but the Ontario-native may opt to be the center of attention for an ACC school, rather than just being another five star recruit for John Calipari. Going to Lexington could change the conversation in Big Blue Nation from national title speculation, to that of an unbeaten 40-0 season (justifiably or unjustifiably).
C: Willie Cauley-Stein / Dakari Johnson / Derek Willis
PF: Julius Randle / Marcus Lee / Kyle Wiltjer
SF: Andrew Wiggins / Alex Poythress / James Young
SG: Aaron Harrison / Archie Goodwin / Jon Hood
PG: Andrew Harrison / Ryan Harrow / Jarrod Poslon
Even without Wiggins, the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats are already looking the heavy favorites to win it all in Dallas next year with the deepest team that John Calipari has ever had in Lexington or elsewhere during his coaching career.
40-0 may not be in the works next season for the Team That Cal Built, but cutting down the nets at the House That Jerry Built looks like a strong possibility.