Since 2009, when John Calipari accepted the head coaching job, the University of Kentucky has become synonymous with the term “one and dones”. That is, players who go to the university for one year and then leave for the NBA. In 2009 it was John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe. The next year Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter were gone after a year (Kanter play a total of zero games after being declared ineligible). 2011 had some great talent in Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. Last year only one player left after one year, Nerlens Noel.
For a long time, the belief was that the one and done strategy was great to make your team very good and entertaining but that it was not a way to win a championship. Year after year Calipari would lead a good team but ultimately fall a bit short of the NCAA championship. It happened at Memphis and it was happening at Kentucky as well. In 2012 though, Calipari’s team went all the way thanks to Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd Gilchrist’s performances. It was vindication for Calipari that his strategy did work.
After the Kentucky Wildcats won a championship, there was a lot of talk about how this would effect the NCAA landscape. Having proven that the one and done teams could win, would it force other teams to start going after as many highly ranked recruits as possible and attempt to rebuild year after year? There was some panic among the big schools that had always done it the traditional way, big going after players that fit the system and working them in over three or four years.
The fear that the game was changing was there to start the 2012-13 season and then lessened with each game the Wildcats played. While they had a lot of talent, it did not gel together and when Noel went down with an ACL injury, so too did Kentucky’s NCAA hopes. Not only did they miss the end of the year tournament, they were ousted in the first round of the NIT in humiliating fashion.
After a tough year, the Kentucky Wildcats are bringing in possibly the best recruiting class of all time. It has six 5 star recruits in Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, James Young and Marcus Lee. How will these recruits gel with the current team and how will they play in 2013?
The Wildcats should be full at every position other than the lead guard spot. Andrew Harrison is a dynamic and talent point guard who will be fine with playing heavy minutes since he won’t have a back up. His brother Aaron, should fill the starting shooting guard slot and provide the team with some excellent outside shooting. The brothers have built in chemistry which will help the Wildcats instantly.
For the forwards, sophomore Alex Poythress and Julius Randle will probably be the starters. Poythress is versatile as both a scorer and defender and Randle could potentially be a top five pick in next year’s NBA draft. The tandem should form one of the most dangerous duos in the NCAA with potential to score well over 50 points combined every night.
At the center position, they are ridiculously deep. The starter is expected to be returning sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. The seven footer is dynamic and a great defender in the paint. This will be his first season starting after coming off the bench for Noel last year. When Noel went down late into the season, Cauley-Stein stepped in and proved he could be an excellent starter. Behind him will be Dakari Johnson who, while raw, is a monster of a player who should dominate the boards with his size and motor. That does not leave much playing time for Marcus Lee who will probably also get minutes at power forward and could start for most of the schools in division one. Their depth at Center is unmatched by any school.
With James Young coming off the bench as a wing man and providing a little bit of everything, ala Tayshaun Prince, this Kentucky Wildcats team is deeper than any Calipari has ever had. Provided the chemistry is there and players settle into their roles as the season rolls along, they have to be considered the NCAA favorites. This is a collection of talent that has simply never been seen before in the NCAA.
There will be tremendous pressure for this team to go all the way and if it doesn’t, it will be largely viewed as a failure. Regardless of the outcome, this experiment will be fascinating to watch as we will be able to see in real time how Calipari coaches this team. The media will react to every game as if it was the end of the world and the one and done philosophy will once again be tested.
One thing is certain, every other school in the nation can thank their lucky stars that Andrew Wiggins decided against committing to Kentucky as well.