Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
John Calipari has yet to coach his first game at the University of Kentucky and he is already a Big Winner.
Just six weeks after moving to Kentucky from Memphis, Calipari has lined up a blockbuster recruiting class that should immediately make the Wildcats a potential Top 10, if not Final Four-type, team.
When point guard John Wall signed with Kentucky earlier this week, he became the fourth five-star recruit to land in Lexington since Rivals began monitoring basketball recruiting in 2003.
“They’re the No. 1 class and a pretty decisive No. 1 class,” national recruiting expert Jerry Meyer of Rivals told USA Today. “You’re taking about a six-man class that is stacked with players in the top 40 or above.”
Even Calipari’s colleagues in the coaching fraternity were awed by what he pulled off.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure this has ever been done before or will be done again,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “Everything was lined into place. It all worked out great. I think this is why he went to Kentucky — to have his pick. I’m excited for my alma mater. It’s going to be them and Kansas [for the title]. I wouldn’t be surprised if either one didn’t lose a game.”
The signing of the 6-foot-1 Wall, the nation’s top recruit, and 6-9 power forward DeMarcus Cousins (pictured at left) give the Wildcats the country’s top two recruits. 6-10 center Daniel Orton (No. 22) and 6-1 point guard Eric Bledsoe (No. 23) are also five-stars. Oh, and they added 6-6 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Jon Hood, too.
Kentucky also signed 6-5 junior college wing Darnell Dodson, who had originally committed to Memphis when Calipari was there.
“It’s gonna be a lot of pressure,” Wall told me the other day. “A lot of good freshmen [are] coming. It’s going to be pressure when you start off with a lot of freshmen. I think it’s going to be a little bump I think we can be a great team.”
These recruits will join a roster that already includes 6-9 forward Patrick Patterson, who withdrew from the NBA Draft to return to campus, and wings Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins.
If shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who dropped 54 points in one game last year, also pulls out of the Draft, the Wildcats will really be loaded.
As of now, all the blue-chippers are saying the right things, too.
Wall teased Kentucky fans by saying his “plan is to go to the University of Kentucky for the next two or three years.”
Gary Parrish of CBSSports quickly shot this down by pointing out the long list of prep stars who also said they might stay on campus for more than one year.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that if a year from now Wall is projected as a top-five pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, he would stay on campus.
“John Calipari majors in one-and-done guards with Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans and John Wall probably sees himself following in their footprints,” New York-based recruiting expert Tom Konchalski said. “He can really be a program-changer. He’s an extraterrestrial athlete. He has a different level of athleticism than even the guards in the NBA.”
But at least Wall is saying the right things.
“I’ve recruited John for nearly two years and I’ve gotten to know him to be not only a fine player but a fine person,” Calipari said. “He’s a terrific teammate who wants to win, yet driven to personally improve. I’m very excited for the opportunity to add him to our family.”
How good is this Kentucky recruiting class?
While many programs in America are desperately searching for a quality point guard, Kentucky landed two five-star floor generals in Wall and Bledsoe.
So if Wall jumps to the NBA after one year, no problem.
Bledsoe steps right in the following year.
“I’m gonna make him better. He’s gonna make me better,” Wall said of Bledsoe. “We’re just going to battle it out….I’m just hoping to help the team as much as I can.”
In the frontcourt, Orton initially committed to former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, but opted to stay put in Lexington even after Cousins shifted allegiances to Kentucky.
Orton could have easily left for another coach and program that would have guaranteed more playing time, but he stayed on, knowing that Patterson would likely return also.
“I figure you can’t go wrong, two good players,” Orton told me in April before the Jordan Brand Classic. “I am [excited about playing with DeMarcus]. It’s going to be fun, especially if Patrick Patterson stays, which I think he will.”
During the Jordan practices, Cousins was relentless in trying to get both Wall and Xavier Henry to commit to Lexington. He consistently peppered both players with questions, “Where you gonna go, John? You coming to Kentucky, Xavier?”
In the end, Henry chose Kansas, but Wall did end up coming to Kentucky, solidifying one of the greatest recruiting classes in history.
So how good can Kentucky be with all this talent coming in and coming back?
“Final Four contenders,” Cousins said emphatically. “We’ll beat Duke and North Carolina.”
“There’s no telling right now,” Orton added. “Just wait and see.”
(Photos courtesy AP, Kelly Kline, Getty Images)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.