Calipari rapidly reloads, but is his recruiting impact overstated? (cont.)
Because of Kentucky's recruiting momentum -- which started when Kanter dominated the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, and then picked up with Knight and Gilchrist -- the primary question for many of the uncommitted recruits at this week's Jordan Brand Classic is whether they're considering the Wildcats. Calipari said on ESPNU that he'd ideally like to bring in five players in his Class of 2010, which means there's room for two additional signees.
The heavy speculation this week is that Lamb -- despite Marshall's prediction of Kansas -- is the recruit most likely to choose Kentucky next, although West Virginia and St. John's are making late pushes for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. (He plans to decide at halftime of the Jordan Brand Classic.) C.J. Leslie, a 6-7 power forward who attended Wall's same high school in Raleigh, N.C., Word of God Academy, is also strongly considering the Wildcats and N.C. State, although the expectation is that he'll make like Wall and drag his recruiting process out into mid-May, with potential visits to Florida and UConn on the horizon.
I sat down with Jones, a 6-8 power forward, just after he flew in from his hometown of Portland, Ore., and he was eager to find out about Knight's decision. "It matters to me," Jones said, "because that's a possible future teammate, and that's a great thing for the Kentucky program."
Jones had reportedly been keeping his options open until Oregon made a decision on its next head coach, but he said on Wednesday that he "wasn't really waiting" for the Ducks, and wants to sign with a team by either April 23 or 30. The Wildcats, Washington, UCLA and Oklahoma are all in the running.
The one recruit who didn't care about the signing day madness was Selby, who's the second-ranked point guard in the Class of 2010, and a target of Kansas (his most likely destination), Kentucky, Tennessee and UConn. He was at the Westin, engrossed in a PlayStation 3 hoops duel between the Nuggets (using his fellow Baltimorean Carmelo Anthony) and Lakers, and made no attempt to check up on Knight's situation. When I asked Selby for his reaction on Knight, he said, "I didn't know that it happened. I don't have a reaction, because it doesn't have any effect on where I'm going."
What he meant by it not having any effect on him is that he feels he's good enough to earn time in any backcourt, whether it be alongside Knight or the Jayhawks' Tyshawn Taylor. But one could sense that Selby, who's going to announce his college choice at halftime of Saturday's Jordan game, wasn't too interested in Kentucky. He mentioned that while he'd spoken with Kansas coach Bill Self a few days earlier, he hadn't spoken with Calipari in a couple of months.
I asked if I should take that as a sign. Selby said, "Yeah, that's a sign."
Selby's impending commitment to Kansas will make less of a splash in the media than Knight's to Kentucky. But should it really be that way? Should we, like Selby, be more indifferent to Calipari's reloading day? Selby, after all, is more relevant to the 2010-11 season than Knight is; if Selby joins Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed and the Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff) in Kansas' rotation, the Jayhawks could be a top-10 team once again.
I'm not as sure about Kentucky being in the top 10. Knight is a step down from Wall; Kanter is a step down from Cousins; and the Wildcats won't have the same kind of depth as they did in '09-'10. Might we be wasting a lot of breath on a team that will be just decent, but not nearly Final Four-level good, and then faced with the same, "figure out how many guys we're gonna lose, and replace them" situation in the spring of 2011?
While all of this recruiting business is wildly entertaining, I fear that spring has become the time for overstating the potential impact of a small group of undecided prospects who hope to follow the Wall and Cousins route to the NBA. And I fear that we're paying too much attention to the wrong guys.
Farther down the recruiting rankings are a few names that have been committed for quite some time: Irving, the point guard who'll step into No. 1-ranked Duke's starting backcourt next season alongside Nolan Smith (and possibly Seth Curry). Irving settled on the Blue Devils in October 2009. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, the center and combo guard, respectively, who'll join Michigan State's title-caliber rotation. Payne committed in October '09, Appling in August '08. Terone Johnson, the combo guard who'll join a loaded Purdue team and give it a scoring boost on the perimeter. He decided on the Boilers in September '08. And Khyle Marshall, the 6-6 forward who's Butler's biggest recruit since Matt Howard, and should start from Day 1. Marshall picked the Bulldogs back in September '09, before their magical run to the title game.
Irving, Payne, Appling, Johnson and Marshall weren't newsmakers this April. But they're all joining contenders that aren't in reboot-and-reload mode, and therefore have a better chance of playing into next April. That, in the big picture beyond the spring madness, is all that really matters.
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