Prepare for a “different” type of Kentucky point guard

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 16th, 2013

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

Elite point guard play has been a hallmark of John Calipari’s Kentucky teams. The Wildcats typically pluck one of the nation’s best floor generals from any given recruiting class, drill them in the arts of the dribble-drive offense, their draft stock soaring all the while, then – with Calipari’s customary backing – encourage them to enter the NBA draft, where a first-round selection awaits. From John Wall to Brandon Knight to Tyreke Evans to Marquis Teague, Kentucky under Calipari has become the most desirable landing spot in the country for highly-touted high school point guards looking for the quickest and most seamless path to the NBA. In fact, dating back to 2007-’08, when Memphis rode Derrick Rose’s face-melting talents to the brink of a national championship, Calipari has started a new point guard every season (a salient statistic pointed out late last week by The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy). The run of truly elite point men ended in 2012-13 with Ryan Harrow, whose inability to handle the big stage, and general lack of talent and athleticism, was evident from the start.

There should be little expectation for a regression in point guard play when Ulis (likely) takes over in 2014 (AP Photo).

There should be little expectation for a regression in point guard play when Ulis (likely) takes over in 2014 (AP Photo).

But the streak of alternating point guards continued all the same, as it will in 2013-14, when top-ranked Andrew Harrison, one member of Kentucky’s insane 2013 recruiting class featuring six McDonald’s All-Americans and three players ranked No. 1 at their respective positions, according to ESPN, will take over. Once Harrison leaves (probably after one season), Kentucky will have to brace itself for the likelihood – gasp! – of a point guard keeping his starting spot for more than one season. That was one of the implications of Marian Catholic (IL) guard Tyler Ulis, a consensus top-40 player in 2014, committing to Kentucky Friday. Ulis is not like the star UK point guards of recent vintage – long, physical, equal parts scoring prowess and distributive intuition. The 5’8’’, 150-pound guard is a point guard in the traditional mold – more a shot creator (NBC’s Rob Dauster, apparently impressed with Ulis at an AAU event, nicknamed Ulis “Tyler the Creator”) than a shot maker. Ulis’s stock soared this summer on the AAU circuit after a series of brilliant performances against elite competition, including a 22-point, 17-assist effort at the EYBL Peach Jam in a highly anticipated match-up between his team, Meanstreets, and the Howard Pulley squad led by Tyus Jones, the No. 1-ranked point guard in 2014, who is expected to commit Duke (and has reiterated his belief that he and Jahlil Okafor, the top-ranked overall player in 2014, are a “package deal”).

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Morning Five: 09.16.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 16th, 2013

morning5

  1. The NCAA has taken a lot of criticism, but we have to give them credit for coming to their senses and granting Kerwin Okoro a hardship waiver after transferring from Iowa State to Rutgers. The NCAA has managed to make plenty of highly questionable decisions over the years, but Okoro’s struck a chord due to callousness of it. We have questioned the NCAA’s at times over the top willingness to grant family hardship waivers to players who had some distant relative who was sick or a father who lost or quit a job as a coach. In the case of Okoro, the NCAA denied his request to transfer to be closer to his family after his father and brother died within a span of three months presumably because they were already dead (I know stupid). In the end, the NCAA corrected itself so Okoro will get what he deserved in the first place.
  2. Before we start to sound like NCAA homers, we should point out that we don’t agree with their decision to ban college coaches from attending practices at schools that are not underneath a governing body. The decision appears to target two schools–Findlay Prep and Huntington Prep–that produce an abundance of Division I talent so we suspect that coaches will be after the NCAA to reverse this. We can certainly understand the NCAA’s desire to cut down on diploma mills (not calling either of these programs that), but we are not sure what this accomplishes. The coaches will still be able to watch the recruits in games. This just makes it more difficult for recruits to catch the attention of a coach and slows down the process of recruitment. We also are not sure why they singled out these two schools as the ruling opens up a huge can of worms. Our best guess is that this ruling will get amended very quickly.
  3. Although they missed out on Emmanuel Mudiay, Kentucky got a nice consolation prize in Tyler Ulis, a four-star point guard, who committed to Kentucky on Friday night. With Andrew Harrison a likely one-and-done player it was essential that Kentucky get a point guard to replace him and after missing out on Mudiay it appeared that they were essentially down to Ulis or Tyus Jones, who is believed to be a Duke lean at this point. Kentucky beat out Michigan State and Iowa for Ulis’ services. The one catch with Ulis is his size, or lack thereof, as he measures just 5’9″ and around 150 pounds. We would never doubt John Calipari’s eye for talent (or at least his ability to recruit it), but this will certainly be something to watch for when Ulis presumably comes in as Wildcats starting point guard in 2014.
  4. It turns out that there is one more elite point guard in the class of 2014 who is still up for grabs after Louisville commit JaQuan Lyle backed out of his verbal commitment. Lyle is the second top point guard prospect to decommit from Louisville since July as he is following Quentin Snider, who backed out of his commitment from Louisville to commit to Illinois. It appears that the primary reason for Lyle’s decision was concern over playing time in a crowded Cardinal backcourt. We are a bit surprised that a player who is a top-25 overall recruit would be that worried about getting playing time on a team that admittedly has plenty of talent, but is not loaded with first round talent. Although Lyle has listed several teams, Kansas is the clear leader if they are willing to extend Lyle a scholarship.
  5. On Friday we mentioned the very real possibility that Syracuse and Georgetown would restart their rivalry even after they moved to different conferences. We hoped that they would serve as an example for other schools that had abandoned rivalries due to conference realignment. Based on a recent radio interview with Mike Krzyzewski it appears that it is unlikely that Duke will resume playing Maryland anytime soon. In between criticizing conference realignment, Krzyzewski essentially said he did not think that the two schools would play unless they were paired against each other in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (this is your chance, ESPN). We understand the logistical challenges of  scheduling non-conference opponents with the increasing size of conference schedules, but there are certain match-ups that we think should happen on a not infrequent basis and this is definitely one of them.
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John Calipari’s Recruiting Prowess is All-Encompassing

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 12th, 2013

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

Recruiting has never been as simple as John Calipari makes it look. Winning national championships, plucking the annual Rivals Top 150 of its very best talent, sending them off to the NBA Draft, and  grinning with every lottery selection. It is a self-sustaining cycle, and it has long since worked. That’s the part that makes sense. Most coaches don’t have the luxury of bringing in six McDonald’s All Americans to an iconic, tradition-laden program – so they use scouting acumen, and developmental prognostication, to find the best players the best teams have neglected (or temporarily dismissed) and scoop them up before engaging in a recruiting battle they can’t possibly win. Most high-major programs offer their own uniquely attractive features, true–even non-bluebloods offer variously amenities and benefits many top high schoolers find appealing. But generally, their job is more difficult than John Calipari’s. At this point, Calipari’s program basically recruits itself (Calipari is a terrific recruiter on his own merits, and he’s been in battles for top players with other big-name programs before, but there are a number of factors – program, coaching history, track record of NBA preparation – that give him a leg up on competitors). Most other coaches need to do a lot more heavy lifting before landing the players they sign.

From national championships to alumni games, Calipari has no rival on the recruiting trail (Getty Images)

From national championships to alumni games, Calipari has no rival on the recruiting trail (Getty Images)

Not only does he boast those obvious advantages, Calipari has a few recruiting tricks up his sleeve that he can pull out at a moment’s notice. There was the famous Jay-Z incident, in which the hip-hop mogul visited Kentucky’s locker room after the Wildcats advanced to the 2011 Final Four, not to mention his backstage access to Hov’s Barclays Center-opening concert. Or the controversial “greatest day in the history of the program” remark, which referred to Kentucky’s landmark five first-round selections in the 2010 draft, a statement representative of Calipari’s desire to – above winning championships, even – turn the high schoolers he recruits into wealthy professional basketball players using one year of Kentucky-based tutelage as their developmental pathway (in lieu of the impossible solution: the abolition of the NBA’s 19-year-old age limit). And then, my personal favorite: Calipari apologizing to recruits in June 2012 because “I’m spending the majority of my time answering questions from NBA teams about my six guys.” The subtle brilliance of that tweet is everlasting; sorry, five-star high school hoops stars of the world, but I’m busy talking to NBA scouts.Your questions will have to wait. It’s perfect.

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Morning Five: 09.12.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 12th, 2013

morning5

  1. Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of one of the most horrifying days in American history. You undoubtedly read, heard, or watched many individuals discuss their experiences during that day and afterwards. While most of the coverage focused on first responders and people directly affected by the attack the events of that day affected people in this country in all walks of life including college basketball. Jeff Eisenberg was able to speak with several coaches about their memories of that day. In many ways, we have moved on from the events of that day (for better and worse), but as anybody who is old enough to remember the events of that day will tell you it is something we will never forget.
  2. Over the past month USC has picked up several transfers. Yesterday, Andy Enfield picked up his first significant high school recruit as Jordan McLaughlin committed to play for the Trojans. McLaughlin, the #4 point guard and #18 overall recruit in the class of 2014 [Ed. Note: He is #43 according to Rivals], chose USC over UCLA, Indiana, and Kansas. Given the dearth of backcourt talent at USC, McLaughlin should be able to step right into the role of starter for the Trojans. The one issue this will raise for USC is with Katin Reinhardt, who transferred from UNLV to play point guard to increase his chances of playing in the NBA. The arrival of McLaughlin–an actual point guard–might affect the team’s chemistry if Reinhardt is unwilling to accept a subordinate role in the backcourt.
  3. With McLaughlin committing, there is one less elite point guard recruit available and according to reports another one–Tyler Ulis–is on the verge of committing too. Ulis is said to be deciding between Iowa, Kentucky, and Michigan State. Ulis will make his announcement on Friday at 8:20 PM ET with the live coverage being provided by High School Cube News. The addition of Ulis would be big for any of the three programs, but is considered particularly important for Kentucky who lost out on Emmanuel Mudiay and will likely lose Andrew Harrison to the NBA Draft after this season.
  4.  The team that Bobby Hurley inherited at Buffalo contained some excellent building blocks, but the Duke legend also appears to be quite adept at recruiting as he managed to land Lamonte Bearden, a 4-star point guard out of Wisconsin. Hurley managed to convince Bearden to come to Buffalo over Oregon State, Saint Louis, and San Francisco although there are some reports that his grades may have cooled his recruitment by those schools. If Hurley is able to get Bearden to campus and eligible to play, it would be one of the more impressive recruiting jobs for this year’s class that we have seen.
  5. Sports Illustrated released the second part of its five-part investigative series on Oklahoma State‘s football program yesterday. This part focused on the questionable academic standards required of the team. The series has managed to inspire the expected outrage from Cowboy fans, but as we mentioned on Twitter yesterday the outrage seems to be much less than it was for Miami and almost seems muted. As for our overall reaction to this series and others like it is that while we can appreciate the amount of work that goes into it, we feel as though the work and outrage is incorrectly directed at the programs when instead we as a society should be focusing on the culture around these institutions and society at large that allows this type of behavior to happen.
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