Kentucky’s Ridiculous Recruiting Class: Not Good Enough to Beat MJ, But Perhaps Everyone Else

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 16th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

How any Kentucky basketball fan, coming off the most disappointing season of John Calipari’s Kentucky tenure, could turn to 2013-14 with anything less than a 2012-level romp of a national title as a baseline expectation is beyond my limited capacity for understanding hoops-obsessed fan bases. The Wildcats are bringing in what’s being billed as the best recruiting class of all-time, built on the backs of five McDonald’s All Americans, including the nation’s top power forward (Julius Randle), point guard (Andrew Harrison), shooting guard (Aaron Harrison) and center (Dakari Johnson), and a competitive leg in the race for the still-unsigned best player in the country, Andrew Wiggins.

If recruiting rankings foretell wins and championship odds, Kentucky is on its way to big things in 2013 (Getty Images).

If recruiting rankings foretell wins and championship odds, Kentucky is on its way to big things in 2013-14 (Getty Images)

It is a class that defies the basic tenets of recruiting: AAU Tournaments and unofficial visits and verbal commitments and the like. Calipari is drafting his personally-vetted lot, not evaluating and selecting it. Thanks to a proven track record for turning high-upside prospects into deep-Tournament outfits and high school superstars into first-rounders, Calipari can pick and choose the next batch of young stars who will join his one-and-done empire. This year, he’s blown the roof off of every former recruiting class, his included, to hit a college campus. Kentucky fans should be excited; they should be hungry; they should expect nothing less than a net-cutting ceremony at Cowboys Stadium exactly one year from now.

That would have been the prevailing logic, were it not for the epic nosedive that was the 2012-13 season. It started out like most of the others, with a host of elite prospects, a consensus preseason top-five national ranking and sky high expectations. It was run-of-the-mill stuff for the #BBN. Recruit the best players, get the best results. When it went horribly wrong – when Kentucky ended its season amid a court rush in a 3,000-seat gym in Moon Township, Pennsylvania – the vitriol wasn’t as intense as it otherwise might have been, mostly because the good will and trust Calipari had built in system and personal coaching touch from the national championship run was too recent and too spectacular  to toss aside. Even the most vocal subsets of Wildcats supporters had to sit back and say, “Hey, you win some and you lose some,” and go on with their otherwise unparalleled existence in the upper echelon of college hoops fandom. It pays to be a Kentucky fan. Besides, with the way this 2013 class was shaping up, of course UK would rebound from a down season. That class was mediocre! Who’s Archie Goodwin, anyway?!

Now it’s up to Randle and Johnson and Harrison (and possibly Wiggins) to hold up their end of the bargain. Whether they can, and the playing time alchemy Calipari will need to concoct in order to satisfy each player’s individual scoring demands, is something the whole country, and specifically the blue-bleeding partisans in Lexington and its surrounding environs, will be microscopically investigating over the course of the season. We already know this: Kentucky’s 2013 class is going to own their moment – one year in length, almost certainly – in the spotlight.

The first glimpse came last week, when USA Today extended an objectively simple question with an objectively simple answer to some of the nation’s top prospects at the McDonald’s All-American Game. “How would you fare in a one-on-one match-up with Michael Jordan?”

Most of the answers were almost exactly what you’d expect – jokes and playful banter and sarcastic retorts, but each with the common understanding that any suggestion that one of today’s high school All-Americans could hang with the greatest basketball player of all time is too outlandish to consider in even the most frivolous contexts. Air Jordan? In all his early-’90s unstoppable brilliance? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lost to the present-day, 50-years young, overweight version. Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson thought nothing of the former UK star’s recent one-on-one embarrassment. They want Jordan in his prime.

  • Johnson: “I’m taking him to the post every time. He’d stop me a couple of times, but I’d just keep going back down there. I’d just contest his jump shots and pray that he’d miss. I think in the end, I’d get him though. I’m too big down there.” 
  • Harrison: “I think he’d get a couple buckets here and there, but then I’d start to lock him down and give him buckets. Yeah, I think I’d get him.”

Before you begin lodging insults and commenting on inflated sense of self and pining for the old days when college kids respected their professional role models, stop and think for a second. Consider context, setting. These are two high school stars being asked a seemingly playful question, one offered to six other players; is it so crazy to think these guys aren’t simply using their national celebrity, and probably the most intensely covered event of their sporting lives to date, to lob a thought-provoking quote aloft in their first semi-big media spotlight? Without hard video evidence, drawing any harsh judgments about Harrison’s or Johnson’s personal values or realized personal limitations is just dumb. Sorry!

The most we can take out of this, if there’s anything to be taken out of this in the first place, is that Johnson and Harrison are two supremely confident kids with more verve and measured composure to answer the most ridiculous hoops-related question in the most ridiculously false way. Because, come on, let’s be real, there’s no way these kids truly think they can actually check MJ, let alone beat him, right? Something as wild and inconceivable as that is better off joked at, tucked away and otherwise forgotten about, right? Some good-natured bombast to be filed away for posterity.

I don’t know how good Kentucky will be next season. Eager preseason pollsters have their ideas, and the results are nearly unanimous that no one’s touching the Wildcats. That may or may not be true. Kentucky has two years of contrasting evidence to recommend or discredit those lofty projections. They also have two of the most outwardly bold players in the country joining (and most likely starting) their championship-or-bust roster this fall. UK hardly needed any added preseason buzz to add to the amassing media hype and expectations surrounding this year’s team. Now it has it.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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