Vaught's Views: Recruiting analyst expects Kentucky to restock this week
Shabazz Muhammad dunks during the McDonald's All-American game March 28 in Chicago. Muhammad is one of two players being recruited by Kentucky who are expected to announce their college choices this week. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press / April 7, 2012)
Obviously, Kentucky fans are going to be watching, because both players have Kentucky in their top three and could be exactly what coach John Calipari needs to restock his national championship roster if, as expected, he loses Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and even Marquis Teague to the NBA draft.
“I think the schools recruiting these guys all have a great need for them,” Biancardi said. “Shabazz has UCLA, Kentucky and Duke, with UCLA and Kentucky looking like the top two. Noel could be between Kentucky and Georgetown, or some still say Syracuse.”
Kentucky is obviously the only team coming off a national championship, but Biancardi says this year’s title might impact juniors and sophomores more than top seniors like Noel and Muhammad, who have developed relationships with coaches for the last 12 to 24 months.
“Sophomores and juniors can now see that Kentucky not only recruits a certain style of player, but can be successful at a high level and win it all. Calipari has now been to an Elite Eight, Final Four and won a national title in three years at Kentucky. Winning a national title puts a prospect in position to think if he goes there, he can do that, too.”
Is that a bigger draw than what Calipari has done in sending players to the NBA, including likely top-five picks Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist this year?
“To be honest, I think the ability to develop guys in a short amount of time that have NBA talent and squeeze the most out of it is very appealing to kids that are talented,” Biancardi said. “He is just not after talented kids, but kids that really want it. There are a lot of talented kids out there that don’t want to work hard and be challenged in practice. If that’s the case, John and Kentucky are not the place for you, because he won’t play favorites.
“Some talented guys want to play a lot and score, but they do not want to challenged in practice and play against great players daily because they don’t have the confidence to do it. Super-confident and super-talented players are guys he targets. He wants guys that embrace talent around them, but do not run away from competing with that talent daily.”
Noel would seem to be a likely replacement for Davis, the nation’s top shot-blocker. Some even suggest he’s a better high school shot-blocker than Davis was — something I’ll still have to see to believe.
Muhammad could be next year’s Kidd-Gilchrist with a tad more emphasis on offense and not quite the overall motor — but then again, no player in the country this year had Kidd-Gilchrist’s overall intensity.
Biancardi says if Kentucky could only get one of the two, Noel would be the bigger catch.
“Noel is important because he brings what nobody else can do. He’s a freshman that can protect the basket, block shots, alter shots, get you out running on the break and can score inside a little bit,” Biancardi said. “He is unique in that respect. He is the guy that not a lot of programs ever have.
“That’s not to say Muhammad or (Anthony) Bennett (another top prospect expected to commit Wednesday) cannot do it. They are both really good and very big piece. Kind of like Kidd-Gilchrist with Davis: Kentucky could not have done it without Davis, but they needed Kidd-Gilchrist.”
A year ago, Biancardi accurately predicted that Calipari’s incoming recruiting class was not only talented, but special because of its emphasis on winning and unselfish play. He was among the first to predict that a national championship run would not surprise him because of the willingness of the freshmen to sacrifice — and he was right.
“That 2011 class had winning resumes. I said I normally don’t make predictions, but I went out on a limb and said that was Calipari’s best class in terms of winning a championship,” Biancardi said.
He did, and he was right.
“With that said, this year they also had a very good senior in Darius Miller and two really special sophomores in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb,” Biancardi said. “Next year they really won’t have anybody for the freshmen to look to. They’ll have Kyle Wiltjer, who played sparingly, and Ryan Harrow, who has never played at UK after transferring from North Carolina State.
“I don’t want to dampen expectations, but it’s hard to expect that same kind of greatness out of what likely will be Cal’s youngest roster. That first year he had Patrick Patterson with experience. The second year he had Miller and DeAndre Liggins, a good role player. This year he had Miller and even (Eloy) Vargas, along with two very talented sophomores. There’s not anything like that next year if everybody saying they could go to the NBA actually goes.”
Biancardi says Kentucky signee Willie Cauley “needs time to develop and could be special” in the middle, but since he has also played football he’ll need time for Calipari to develop and likely will make his biggest jump from his freshmen to sophomore season. He says UK’s other two signees, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, are “big-time players who can both step in and play immediately.”
But will Calipari add Muhammad or Noel? Or at least Bennett? Or could he get two, or even all three?
“You have got to believe based on his track record, he’s in position to get someone at least. Which one or ones, I have no idea,” Biancardi said. “But I just have a hard time believing he’ll come up empty based on what he’s done the last three years in terms of winning and get guys ready for the NBA.”