Kentucky Recruits: A Look Back at the Past Decade

staceypoole

To celebrate the kickoff of the Stacey Poole era at Kentucky, Lexpatriates is taking a look back at some UK recruiting classes of the past.  Believe it or not, there was actually a time (read: before Calipari was the coach) when recruiting didn’t come as easy as it does now for the Cats.  Just for laughs, let’s take a look back at some of those Patrick Patterson and John Wall-less classes:

1998: Desmond Allison, J.P. Blevins, Jules Camara, Tayshaun Prince, Todd Tackett

–          This class was a mixture of Pitino and Tubby recruits, with Smith getting credit for the biggest name on the list: Prince. The rest of these guys were solid, but remembered more for their off-the-court shenanigans than their on-court feats:

· Desmond Allison – Ex-high school football star who used his toughness and grit to become a freshman starter for the defending National Champs.  Unfortunately, he received a DUI late in his sophomore season and was subsequently kicked off the team.  More unfortunately, he would be forced to live out his athletic dreams in South Dakota and eventually become the subject of sappy sports documentaries like this one.

· J.P. Blevins – Homegrown kid (Metcalfe County, to be specific) who was arrested for Public Intoxication less than three weeks after Athletics Director C.M. Newton announced a zero-tolerance policy for student-athletes regarding alcohol.  He was given a stern one-game suspension before returning to his never-expanding role of Last Man Off the Bench.

· Jules Camara – Justifiably got his reputation as the Worst Hide and Go Seek Player on the Team after trying to camouflage himself in the backseat of his Mustang Convertible while being pulled over for DUI.  Camara was found, arrested, and suspended for the season.

· Todd Tackett – Never accused of being a drunk, but was eventually found guilty of a far more serious crime: Being a Crappy Basketball Player.  He’s probably best remembered for being the not-as-highly-regarded high school teammate of J.R. VanHoose—Kentucky’s 1998 Mr. Basketball who did everything but show up at Memorial Colliseum, get down on his hands and knees, and beg Tubby to recruit him—and the guy who would eventually quit the team to play baseball.

Rampant alcoholism aside, this was actually a respectable class–just not the kind you’d expect from a school coming off three straight National Title games.  (Final Grade: B)

1999: Keith Bogans, Marquis Estill, Nate Knight, Marvin Stone

–          Now this is the kind of class (with the exception of Knight) Kentucky should’ve been signing—elite level recruits year in, year out.  Stone and Bogans were both Five-Star Prospects (with Stone being the number one overall), and Estill coming in as a local kid with a lot of potential and who would eventually turn into a force down low.  Strangely (or maybe conveniently), I have absolutely zero recollection of this Nate Knight character, and am actually quite doubtful of his existence.

Of course, Stone was a major disappointment, quit the team, and became Benedict Arnold, Jr., following Benedict Arnold, Sr. to Louisville.

Because of its enormous potential, this class—despite producing an NBA Player and an All-SEC Center (Bogans and Estill)—was a little bit of a letdown.  (Final Grade: B)

2000: Erik Daniels, Gerald Fitch, Cliff Hawkins, Matt Heisenbuttel, Jason Parker, Cory Sears

–          In hindsight, this class would epitomize Tubby Smith’s time at UK.  He had one Five-Star recruit in this class (Parker), who’d originally signed with North Carolina but didn’t qualify academically.  Hawkins wasn’t a super-recruit, but had played his high school ball at Oak Hill, that little basketball factory posing as a prep school in Podunk, VA. But it didn’t take long for Parker to mess up his knee and smoke himself out of school.  Hawkins emerged as a solid starter during the middle of his freshman year, while Fitch and Daniels both found roles for themselves as niche players early on, then legitimate studs once they matured.  Sears transferred to his hometown NAIA school, Union College, after two seasons, and Matt Heisenbuttel, for whatever reason, stayed on the team all four years.  (Final Grade: A-)

rashaad_carruth022001: Josh Carrier, Rashad Carruth, Adam Chiles, Chuck Hayes

–          This one looked like a solid class coming in, but ended up being (with the exception of Hayes) a fairly enormous disappointment.  Carruth was a serial rules-breaker who infamously, and sort of hilariously, silently protested his coach’s request for him to be less-trigger happy by refusing to shoot altogether in a game against Kentucky State, despite there being several instances where he didn’t have a defender within ten feet of him.  It didn’t take long to realize Mr. Carruth wouldn’t be around for long.  Chiles wasn’t much better, and neither lasted longer than a year.  Carrier did his part to carry on the tradition of Shitty Kentucky Mr. Basketballs Who Go on to Play at UK, never getting that famous shooting stroke of his to work during the games.  Hayes, as we all know, went on to be one of the more popular players in Kentucky history.  He was the quintessential Tubby guy: Athletically unimpressive and undersized, but tough, smart, and blessed with intangibles galore.  Sadly for him, he was the only guy that ever amounted to squat from this class.  (Final Grade: C)

BernardCote2002: Kelenna Azubuike, Antwain Barbour, Bernard Cote, Preston LeMaster, Ravi Moss, Brandon Stockton

–          At least with the benefit of hindsight, this was one of the more surprising (read: ass-backward) classes in recent memory: Barbour was considered the jewel of this class and never even came close to materializing; Stockton was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball his senior year but never lived up to whatever hype that’s supposed to entail; Ravi Moss was a walk-on but ended up being a contributor and part-time starter by his senior year; Cote was a bald, white Canadian who sporadically wore knee-high socks and played two seasons before transferring to Northwestern; LeMaster was another walk-on that didn’t amount to much; and Azubuike was an under-the-radar, late addition who ended up being the prize pig of this class.  (Final Grade: C+)

2003: Shagari Alleyne, Lucasz Obrzut, Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas

–          A sage co-worker of mine once told me, ‘When Bobby Perry is the standout player of your recruiting class, well, that tells you all you need to know.’  This recruiting clairvoyant and exceptional retail associate spoke the truth—but that’s not meant to be a dig at Perry. He’s a fine player; he’s just not a centerpiece.  This class doesn’t qualify as ‘terrible,’ but it’s not too far off. (Final Grade: D+)

2004: Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Lonnell Dewalt, Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Sparks

–          By far the best class (at least coming in) of the Tubby era.  Although, in fashion typical to some of Tubby’s later teams, they were chronic underachievers: Morris (#2 C, #10 Overall), Rondo (#5 PG, #25 Overall) , and Crawford (#2 SG, #9 Overall) were all Five-Star Recruits, and Sparks was considered a HUGE transfer at the time.  In the spring of 2004, this was considered the #1 class in the country!  By the time it was all said and done, this wasn’t even considered the best ’04 class in the conference.  That honor would go to Florida, and their class of Noah, Brewer, Green, Horford, and Ingram, which captured back-to-back National Championships and pretty much owned Kentucky while they were there.

As talented as this class was, they produced little to nothing during their time at UK.  Rondo was the first to go pro, leaving after his sophomore year.  Morris declared for the draft after his freshman season, despite the fact that nobody showed the slightest interest in drafting him (to the surprise of absolutely no one who watched him play that year).  He went undrafted, came back to Kentucky, and lugged his lazy ass up and down the court for a couple more seasons before finally managing to sucker Isiah Thomas and the Knicks (who else?) into signing him just after his junior year.  Crawford was one of my all-time favorites at Kentucky, but even he was a major disappointment all the way up until his senior year, when Billy Gillispie finally just gave him the ball and basically said I don’t give a fuck how it happens, just get out there and put this son of a bitch in the basket (paraphrasing). Ditto for Bradley; he was better known for pretending to be affiliated with Jay-Z than he was for his on-court production, at least up until his senior season.

Lonnell Dewalt, in case you’re forgetting, was the football player who blocked all those field goals before being booted for poor grades. (Final Grade: B+)

jcarter_action_lg2005: Jared Carter, Rekalin Sims, Adam Williams

–          This one, with all due respect to these guys, was a total shit bomb.  Has to be the worst recruiting class in school history. (Final Grade: F-)

2006: Marckus Boswell, Ramon Harris, Derek Jasper, Jodie Meeks, Michael Porter, Perry Stevenson, LaShun Watson

–          This one picked it up a notch, but not enough to make up for the ’05 group.  Clearly, Meeks emerged as the star of this class; Stevenson’s had his moments over the years; Razor Ramon’s been solid but nothing spectacular; and the jury’s still out on Jasper (albeit at another school).  The rest of these guys are dead now for all I know.  (Final Grade: B-)

2007: Alex Legion, Patrick Patterson, A.J. Stewart, Mike Williams

–          Much like the ’98 Class, this one is a mixture of two coaches.  Tubby gets credit for A.J. Stewart and Mike Williams (seriously, what was up with Tubby and these project big men?), with Gillispie securing Legion all on his own, and Patterson being something of a team effort between the two.  Patterson, ironically (since he was the big-time prospect that some people expected to be a one-and-done), is the only one of this group who’s still around.  Legion came to Kentucky via divine intervention, but apparently even that wasn’t enough to make him to stick it out with Gillispie; he transferred to Illinois after six games with the Cats.  Mike Williams only saw action in five games as a freshman and is now trying his luck at Duquesne.  A.J. Stewart had maybe the rockiest relationship of anyone with Gillispie (and that’s saying something), yet somehow managed to stick it out for the entirety of Clyde’s two seasons.  Unfortunately for him, he didn’t quite make it to the light at the end of the tunnel:  He transferred at season’s end, never getting the chance to play for Calipari.

Three quarters of this class was a disaster, but the remaining fourth is Patrick Patterson.   If you think Kentucky was bad the last two years, try to imagine what they’d have been like without Patterson.  I’ve given this a lot of thought, and it’s not hyperbole to say he may be the most important Kentucky recruit ever—or, at the very least, since Jamal Mashburn.  (Final Grade: A-)

2008: Kevin Galloway, Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Donald Williams

–          For the most part, the jury is still out on this one.  Galloway and Williams were both victims of Calipari’s hire, while Liggins, Miller, and Harrellson all had up-and-down seasons under Gillispie but are expected to flourish for Calipari.  Liggins, I suppose, has the most question marks surrounding him, since he was the highest rated of this group yet has shown arguably the least.  However, he was recruited by Calipari while at Memphis, and you’d have to believe the DDM complements his game more than the Get the Ball to Meeks or Patterson and Get the Hell Out of the Way Offense Gillispie implemented last season.  Same goes for Miller:  Despite not being an explosive athlete, he’s shown a talent for beating defenders off the dribble.  Harrellson was a guy that most people didn’t expect to survive the Calipari overhaul, but he’s still here and set to provide the Cats with some much-needed outside shooting prowess.  (Expected Final Grade: A-)

09recruitingclass2009: Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Darnell Dodson, Jon Hood, Daniel Orton, John Wall

–          I don’t know that I can say much that hasn’t already been said:

Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Best College Basketball Recruiting Class Ever

Class of Classes

With Wall, Kentucky Could Have All-Time Recruiting Class

Calipari Caps One of the Best Recruiting Classes Ever with Wall

What Calipari’s managed to do in his short time here is absolutely awe-inspiring.  I think back to when the hire was made—and the speculation of the recruiting trickledown effect was just starting—and a Grad School friend of mine and I were watching it all unfold and talking about this very possibility like it was some sort of otherworldly, impossibly perfect-recruiting scenario: What if Kentucky were able to somehow keep Orton and Hood, and Calipari was able to bring Cousins and Wall with him? Of course, neither of us thought Bledsoe would be willing to hop onboard too, much less even know who Dodson was at the time.  Suffice it to say, the eventual reality would surpass our wildest dreams, which is really the best way to describe the situation we currently find ourselves in.

With Wall, Calipari has given Kentucky the kind of player we’ve historically lacked:  A guy who can go to the next level, be a perennial all-star and brand name, and be seen by kids and future recruits as a Kentucky Guy.  I actually talked about this very problem last week, and how Calipari was trying to remedy it via creative and drastic measures.

But regardless of how long these guys stick around, they’re already a special class.  People will be talking about this recruiting haul for years to come, and that alone manages to put Kentucky Basketball back on the map.  (Current Grade: A+)

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