Vaught's Views: Kentucky fans got a glimpse of the future in Wednesday's McDonald's All-American game
McDonald¿s East All-American Andrew Wiggins, right, battles for a rebound against McDonald¿s West All-American Andrew Harrison (5) and Aaron Gordon during the first half Wednesday in Chicago. Andrew Harrison, a Kentucky signee, was 5-for-5 from the field and had 10 points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes, but the West won 110-99. Six future Kentucky players were in Wednesday¿s game at the United Center. (AP Photo / April 3, 2013)
Kentucky had six players in the McDonald’s All-American Game here Wednesday night and all six showed at least glimpses of what they could bring to coach John Calipari’s team next season.
“It was definitely a preview, but not on the defensive end,” said UK commit Dakari Johnson. “It’s an all-star game where you just want to have fun. I realized in practice there would not be a lot of touches for big guys, so I set screens and tried to rebound.”
That unselfish, team-oriented attitude was a common theme the last four days for future Wildcats Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Johnson. All six are ranked among the nation’s top 20 high school players.
“This is our way to start off our season for next year," Randle, who had a dunk in the game ranked No. 4 on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays list, said. "It's good to hang out with everybody and get a good feel for each other, just have fun while we're doing this. And getting on the court and playing is the best way possible to get a feel for each other."
Opponents are likely to feel a lot from Johnson (6-11, 255 pounds) and Randle (6-9, 240) next season. They were on the losing East team Wednesday, but Johnson was 6-for-11 from the field and had 12 points, five rebounds, one block and one steal in 18 minutes while Randle was 5-for-9 from the field and had 11 points, seven rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes.
Both can run the court or knock an opponent out of position with their physical play. Randle is an explosive leaper and has a quick first step to the basket. Johnson is not a big leaper, but he understands positioning and his role.
Then there is Marcus Lee (6-10, 202). He’s not the physical specimen of Randle or Johnson, but he still averaged 17.7 points, 19.5 rebounds and 6.7 blocked shots per game. He played just 12 minutes — he was slowed by a back injury here during practice — and was 1-for-3 from the field with two points, two rebounds and one block.
“This kind of game really doesn’t suit my style the best,” Lee said. “I’m better in a team-oriented game.”
Lee’s frame and games seems more like that of Willie Cauley-Stein, who has announced he will return for his sophomore season. That gives UK five players — Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Lee, Randle and Johnson — to throw at foes and gives Calipari options on whether to go with bulk or speed.
“I think that was pretty smart,” Lee said. “That way we are always ready to play different teams. Maybe we play a really big team and need big guys that are huge and have that team for it. Maybe we play really fast teams and need me and to be in there and play at a faster pace. We are always set for different teams.”
Young couldn’t play as fast as he wanted Wednesday due to a hip injury suffered here Monday. He was 3-for-6 from the field — he missed his only 3-pointer — and had six points, four rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes.
“Kentucky fans didn’t come close to seeing what I could do tonight,” Young said. “I got a lot more.”
The Harrison twins were, the Harrison twins. Point guard Andrew Harrison had been so-so in practice, but turn on the big lights and he puts on a game face that UK lacked this season. He went 5-for-5 from the field and had 10 points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes.
“It was fun. I played well,” he said. “Everybody was trying to prove something and I definitely was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a game. This is a little bigger than the Jordan Brand Classic (on April 12). Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but it is.”
Shooting guard Aaron Harrison missed five of eight shots, including all three 3-pointers, and had six points, five assists, three rebounds and one steal.
Still, the Harrison twins made an impression on those in the game just like they have UK fans.
“They are really, really tough guards. They know how to play,” Jabari Parker, who is headed for Duke and had 10 points and eight rebounds, said.
“I just let them do their thing,” game MVP Aaron Gordon, who had 24 points and eight rebounds, said. “I know they get the defense to collapse on them. They are good guards and also good distributors. That is what makes them so tough.”
It’s also part of why UK could be so “tough” next season despite losing in the first round of the NIT this year. The McDonald’s All-Americans — and don’t forget Bullitt East standout Derek Willis who outplayed McDonald’s All-American and Arkansas signee Bobby Portis in a holiday tournament — just have an intense swagger about them that was missing last season. It’s more like what Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer brough to UK two years ago and then led the Cats to a national title.
"If you go by paper and rankings, maybe you can say (it's the best recruiting class), but we haven't done anything yet," Randle said. "We have to prove ourselves."
Kentucky coach John Calipari has obviously stressed that message to his highly-touted recruits and let them know exactly what he needs from them.
“They had a good amount of talent on their team. I guess they just couldn't put it together at the right times," Andrew Harrison said. "I feel like the team this year lacked a little bit of leadership. Coach told me he's depending on me to bring that, so I'm definitely going to try to do that."