NEW ORLEANS — Late on Monday night at the Superdome, key figures in Kentucky’s title run had differing destinations on their minds. Sophomore Doron Lamb, who had a team-high 22 points in the win over Kansas, stood on the champions’ stage and yelled, five times, “We’re going to the White House!” When the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, freshman Anthony Davis, took his best friend and roommate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, into his embrace, Davis told him, “It don’t stop here.” They were thinking about the NBA, as, one suspects, is Lamb, fellow sophomore Terrence Jones and freshman point guard Marquis Teague.
Coach John Calipari is prepared for (and even excited about) that scenario: When UK produced a record five first-rounders in 2010, he had the audacity to call it one of the greatest days in Kentucky history. And so on Monday he was left to acknowledge the reality of the one-and-done, revolving-door monster he has created: that to keep attracting new talent, he must keep proving that UK is their best springboard to the league. “What I’m hoping is that there’s six first-rounders on this team,” he said. “We were the first program to have five, now let’s have six. That’s why I’ve got to go recruiting on Friday.”
What Calipari aims to do, in the next seven days, is create another contender. On April 11, the consensus top two recruits in the Class of 2012 plan to announce their college commitments. One is 6-foot-10 center Nerlens Noel, from Everett, Mass., who will have a Davis-like defensive impact on whatever college team he chooses — and could very well be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. He is believed to be favoring Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse. The other is 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad, a lethal scorer from Las Vegas who will likely go No. 1 if Noel doesn’t. UCLA is thought to have a slight lead in that race ahead of Kentucky and Duke, but it’s unwise to count Calipari out of a high-profile recruitment — especially after he just won his first national championship. (The class’ second-best power forward recruit, Canadian Anthony Bennett, is also considering Kentucky, although he has yet to set an announcement date.)
Because Calipari is still recruiting, those of us writing early 2012-13 rankings must have a mastery of the art of asterisking. Kentucky will be decimated by draft defections, but Calipari could still have the No. 1 team in October’s preseason poll, with an entirely new starting lineup. He says he hates the one-and-done rule, but he exploits it like no other. Until the Wildcats’ roster is set, this is what my top 32 looks like: