- Expectations are riding high in Lexington, where John Calipari has built the kind of class we have come to expect with three five-star players and a No. 2 overall class ranking.
In continuing our annual summer theme of getting you acquainted with the next crop of young, skilled players that will arrive to college basketball, we're taking a closer look at the Top 10 incoming recruiting classes (per the 247Sports composite) in the country. These schools range from the usual faces (Duke, Kentucky) to fresh ones (Memphis, Washington, Georgia), but they all have one big thing in common: there's plenty of major talent arriving. Five-stars get the headline, but a truly great recruiting class often has depth as well—players who can be program-changers over three or four years, not just one or two. Without further ado, let's move to the next top-10 class: the Duke Blue Devils.
Four-stars: Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen
Other new additions: Nate Sestina (grad transfer from Bucknell)
How the Class was Built
Spring/Summer 2018: Maxey was, fittingly, the point man for this class. The Texas native was the first commitment among this year’s five-member class, agreeing to become a Wildcat in May 2018 after being pursued by Michigan State and home-state schools Texas and Texas A&M, among others. Wings Allen and Whitney were next, committing to John Calipari within a week of one another three months after Maxey, in August. Maxey made it known that he would be courting more top prospects on his new school’s behalf, most notably top overall recruit James Wiseman, though Wiseman ultimately opted to play for his former high school and AAU coach, Penny Hardaway, at Memphis.
Spring 2019: One player Maxey wooed who did follow him to Lexington was Brooks, a high-level wing from Indiana who had visited North Carolina and Michigan State last winter before committing to the Cats in March. The freshman class was completed when Juzang reclassified and chose Kentucky over Kansas, Oregon and Virginia in May. It was in April that Sestina, a big man who made the All-Patriot League second team last season, committed to spending his final collegiate season as a Wildcat.
How It Stacks Up to 2018 and Recent History
With three five-star players and a No. 2 overall class ranking on 247Sports, this is the kind of class we have come to expect from Calipari in his 10 years in Lexington. What is different compared to the classes Kentucky was bringing in earlier in the decade is that it does not have the projected top-of-the-draft, one-and-done talent that Calipari became associated with. In fact, according to the early readings of analysts like SI’s Jeremy Woo, who has just one Kentucky player in his top 15 (Whitney, at No. 12) there is a chance the Wildcats won’t produce a lottery pick in 2020, which would be a first under Calipari.
Of course, comparing Kentucky strictly to its own past is to hold it to a nearly impossible standard (an admittedly familiar burden to the program). Even without the talent currently at the top of most big boards (which they may still have in time), this is a high-caliber influx of talent that can win right away and should make Kentucky particularly deep and versatile at the wings.
Maxey, a combo guard, will be joining returnees Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley to give Kentucky a three-headed backcourt that should have fans plenty excited. All three are quality defenders, which should make for an aggressive spearhead atop the Wildcats’ defense, the kind of tone-setting attribute that can shape a team’s identity. (All four of Calipari’s Kentucky teams to finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency made at least the Elite Eight; only one of the six others did.)
The rest of the Wildcats’ freshmen, all wings of various types, will be tasked with helping make up for Kentucky’s relative lack of depth and proven production inside. Juzang, who the official roster lists as a guard, is expected to stretch defenses as one of the team’s best shooters, a needed role after the departures of Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro to the NBA. Whitney and Brooks, both highly athletic at 6’ 6” and 6’ 7”, respectively, will likely have to carry more of the load inside the arc, particularly as rebounders if they are manning the four.
Everything is on the table. A team this talented that can defend at the level they should be able to, especially on the perimeter, and that is coached by a Hall of Famer should absolutely have its sights set on the season’s final weekend and the banners that come with it. Of course, as we have seen from Kentucky teams in the past, even highly talented and athletic teams so reliant on underclassmen can be sent home during the NCAA tournament’s first or second weeks. (Or in the case of 2013, not be invited at all.) With a likely top-three ranking in the preseason polls, a lot more people will be expecting results on the better end of that spectrum and with good reason.
Two top-15 recruits, guards Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston Jr., have already pledged to Kentucky for next season, as have top-50 forwards Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher, meaning the Wildcats could not land another recruit of note and still finish with one of the country’s best hauls. This being Kentucky, they may very well need to replace more than four players next season and are seemingly well-positioned to do so. Calipari recently visited No. 2 overall recruit Cade Cunningham and there have reportedly been talks of trying to lure five-star 2021 guard Devin Askew a year early upon his reclassification. They’ve also been in the mix for a number of other top-25 prospects, although they notably stopped recruiting top-five guard Jalen Green, who 247Sports projects as favoring Memphis and Oregon. Regardless, the college basketball program most synonymous with reloading should do just that.