For Kentucky, Next Season Starts Tonight
So today becomes the first big day in the next basketball season for the University of Kentucky. On the first day of the basketball spring signing period, consensus top recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel will declare their (likely one-year) college intentions tonight between 7:30 and 9 pm on live television on an ESPNU recruiting special. In the grand tradition of the Al Capone’s Vault debacle, you can expect them to declare closer to 9 than 7:30, I’m guessing. And the Cats could definitely stand to not come up Geraldo when then show ends tonight.
They always say recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. At Kentucky it’s a transfusion. That’s not a value judgment on the system here. I get what they’re doing and have no problem with it; plus you can’t argue the results. But it is nerve wracking from a fan standpoint (and I can’t imagine being a coach). The reality is that the program will all but assuredly lose all six of the players who played primary roles in earning the University its eighth national championship last week (LAST WEEK!!!! We don’t even get to revel in its glory. Thanks, ACC Coaches. I knew I hated you all.), and the Wildcats are in the mix for both Muhammad and Noel (as well as for ESPN Top 25 power forwards Anthony Bennett and Amile Jefferson).
Muhammad dominated last Saturday’s Nike Hoop Summit, breaking former semi-Cat Enes Kanter’s event scoring record with 35 points (although it came on 27 often wild shots in a poorly played game, even by All-Star game standards) and added nine rebounds and was clearly the best player on the floor in a Team USA loss. And while Noel had only four points at the Hoop Summit, if Kentucky goes one-for-two at the top of the recruiting board tonight, he’s the player the Wildcats need to get.
There are five players waiting to replace the Championship Cats – lone returner Kyle Wiltjer, transfer point guard Ryan Harrow and incoming freshmen small forward Alex Poythress, shooting guard Archie Goodwin and center Willie Cauley; plus you have the surgically repaired Jon Hood. Goodwin started the Hoop Summit alongside Muhammad and while he isn’t the player Muhammad is (or didn’t get his hands on the ball enough to show that he is), he showed he can get into the lane, create offense and get to the rim, maybe not the same way Muhammad can, but well enough. Nobody else in that game was like Noel. The 6-10 center (he’s actually listed at the exact same height and weight as Cauley) who is often compared to Anthony Davis proved he isn’t Davis (yet), but he did block four shots and nab four steals to go with his four points. If there is a must get on ESPNU tonight, it’s him.
If the Cats do whiff at the top of the list (which given recent UK recruiting history seems in a way unthinkable), there will be no need to panic as long as they pick up one of Bennett or Jefferson. Even if they do get Noel, it would be nice to have one of the two to replace Terrence Jones’ spot in the rotation. Goodwin is a Top 10 recruit and Jefferson was the class of the Derby Festival Classic last week with 26 points and was named the game’s MVP.
So it promises to be a stressful night and following couple of weeks for Kentucky fans (and maybe for the coaches, but something tells me they have a lot better feel for what’s going to happen than any of us do), but whatever happens, next year starts tonight.