Au Revoir, Mr. Patterson

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If there’s one thing that bothers me about UK’s recent return to the national spotlight, it’s that there’s an entire nation of Big Blue Bandwagoners out there that will never have the kind of appreciation for Patrick Patterson that he deserves.  All those front-runners walking the streets of Los Angeles and New York (and Louisville), sporting John Wall #11 and DeMarcus Cousins #15 jerseys and Calipari’s Cats t-shirts will never know that, if it weren’t for Patterson, the Wall-Cousins-Calipari season may have never happened.  It’s ironic, really: the best recruiting class in school history overshadowed, in his final season in Lexington, maybe the most important recruit in school history.

……….

Patterson’s commitment was a Godsend in its own right.  Looking back, it’s miraculous that we even had a chance:

1) It came down to us and Florida – a school that was coming off back-to-back National Titles and a coach that’d just rejected an offer from Kentucky to stay in Gainesville.

2) Ditto for Jai Lucas.  Patterson and Lucas were perceived as a package deal, and Lucas signed his LOI with Florida just a week prior.

3) The recruitment of Patterson (and Lucas) was largely the job of Tubby Smith.  Patterson’s parents loved Tubby.  Thanks to Huntington’s close proximity to Lexington, Tubby got an early jump on Patterson and even attended a handful of Patterson’s home games during his junior and senior years of high school.  Of course, Tubby Smith left Kentucky shortly after the end of the ’07 season and shortly before Patterson was set to make his decision.

4) Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie, a fiery Gary Sinise look-a-like from Texas who’d had zero contact with Patterson before his hire.

5) Depending on whether you want to base your decision on his time at Kentucky or at A&M/UTEP, Gillispie may not have been the recruiter we thought we were hiring.  Despite having a rep as a strategic, tenacious recruiter while in Texas, Gillispie did just about everything he could to set fire to that claim and take an uzi to its ashes while in Lexington.

Because of the rough way Gillispie went out at UK, it’s hard to remember how off-the-fucking-charts hot he was when he started.  If there’s anything worth salvaging from the Billy Gillispie era, it’s his first two months on the job and the way he secured Patterson’s commitment.

Against all odds, Clyde came in, picked up where Tubby Smith left off, and sold Patterson on being the centerpiece of a new era of Kentucky Basketball.  During his first visit with the Pattersons, Gillispie (while presumably hiding the fact that he was a Kiefer Sutherland-level alcoholic) famously showed the family a schedule that detailed how Patrick would be spending every minute of every day for the next four years if he came to Lexington.  This caliber of organizational skill made a distinct impression on the Patterson family, and their son committed to Gillispie and the ‘Cats a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good times ended for BCG at Kentucky.

And if Kentucky fans think Clyde’s two seasons at Kentucky were a disaster with Patterson, can you even imagine how bad they would’ve been without him?  Patterson was the only think keeping Clyde and Kentucky from achieving Matt Doherty At North Carolina-levels of disaster, and for that he should never have to pay for a drink in the Commonwealth again.

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Patterson was a fan favorite from the get-go.  On top of being the first McDonald’s All-American we’d signed in three years, he was a blue-collar power forward and legitimetely good kid.  An excellent rebounder with a way-underrated scoring prowess (probably because he played his senior season with O.J. Mayo), Patterson immediately became our go-to guy on offense and most reliable rebounder, as well as the de facto team leader and face of the program.  He averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds on a team that went 18-13, and probably would’ve had even better numbers were it not for a stress fracture that handicapped him for much of the season and kept him out of the lineup for the final six games.  As if it were’t impressive enough that Patterson did all that as a freshman, he did it with 1) Jodie Meeks (the team’s best perimeter scoring threat) going down early in the year, 2) Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley (the team’s two main contributing seniors) being in Gillispie’s doghouse for the first half of the season, and 3) Derrick Jasper (the team’s expected starter at point guard) coming off knee surgery and never being anywhere near full-strength.  Translation: No Patterson, no nothing.  Without him, that team doesn’t get near .500.

A healthy Jodie Meeks (23.7/game) gave Patterson the perimeter threat he needed in his sophomore season, and he responded by averaging 17.9 points (on an insane 60.3% from the field), 9.3 rebounds, and just over two blocks per contest.  You’d think a one-two punch like Meeks and Patterson would’ve been enough for Kentucky to have a drastic improvement in the Win-Loss column, but you’d be comically wrong.  Kentucky lost 9 of its final 13 regular-season games to finish 22-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time 1991.

As bad as it was, it would’ve been worse without Patterson.  Despite Meeks’ coming-out season, Patterson was the heart and soul of that team.  He had 14 double-doubles on the season, played 35+ minutes in 18 of Kentucky’s 34 games, scored 25+ seven times, grabbed 12+ rebounds nine times, and did it all while playing out of position.  Because of Kentucky’s lack of size, Patterson was forced to start at center and defend the oppositon’s biggest players.  Another remarkable stat: he only fouled out of one game that season.  Again: without Patterson, that’s not even a .500 team.

From there, things got crazy.  Patterson and Meeks declared for the draft.  Gillispie was fired.  Calipari was hired.  Calipari signed one of the best recruiting classes in history.  Meeks decided to stay in the draft.  Patterson decided to come back.  Both said (almost verbatim) that there would’ve been zero chance of them returning had Gillispie been retained.  Regardless, the tyrannical failure was gone, the top recruiter in the country was in, and in a matter of weeks Kentucky went from an NIT team losing its only two respectable players to the preseason #1.

And there’s a decent chance none of it happens without Patterson.

Hear me out: he was the only thing keeping Kentucky respectable for the two years Gillispie was in Lexington.  Without him, Kentucky’s record dips below .500, the mass exodus that nearly happened at the end of the ’08 season either happens then or happens sooner, and Kentucky suddenly has one of the least-talented rosters in the country. Do you remember the kind of guys Gillispie was recruiting?  Konner Tucker, Dakotah Euton, Michael Avery, Vinny Zollo…can you imagine who he would’ve gone after had half the team bolted the way they planned after the ’08 (or ’07) season?  I’d rather not think about it.

Does Calipari take the job under those circumstances?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, Memphis threw a shit ton of money at him to stay put (and he wasn’t doing too shabby there), and there was another elite-level job opening he was considering (and, at one point, assumed to be taking) in Arizona before the Kentucky job opened up.  Maybe Calipari would’ve liked the challenge of rebuilding a completely deconstructed Roman Empire, or maybe he would’ve preferred to keep his Wall-Cousins-Xavier Henry-Nolan Dennis class intact at Memphis.  Or take it with him to Arizona.

Point being: I’d hate to find out.  Patterson kept Kentucky relevant (and even that might be a strong word) while Gillispie was at the helm.  If he never signs, Kentucky Basketball becomes the hoops equivalent of pre-Nick Saban Alabama Football.

……….

So while history will most likely remember John Calipari, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins as the architects of the new-and-improved Kentucky Basketball Program, those who really followed the ‘Cats should remember Patterson.  He averaged career lows in points and rebounds in his junior season, but he got a chance to show NBA scouts his outside shot and be a part of a team that went 35-3 and play in a Regional Final.  Despite that, Patterson’s legacy should be in his first two seasons in Lexington.  Maybe even more so than Jamal Mashburn, Patterson was the big fish in a small pond that was the catalyst for Kentucky’s long-term success.

One more time, just for good measure: Patrick Patterson, The Most-Important Kentucky Recruit Ever.

Some Post-Georgia Thoughts on Darius Miller

I believe this post makes, roughly, 17,000 times I’ve written something about Darius Miller this season.  His assertiveness–or lackthereof–on offense is something that I, along with just about everyone else, have noticed from day one (the game he scored zero points against Morehead State).  The guy’s become a complete afterthought offensively, which isn’t what we were expecting from someone who came on strong at the end of last season and was supposed to be among those who’d benefit most from Calipari’s new offense.

He’s playing like a player with little confidence, and as much as I hate to say it, he’s the one player out there that’s keeping us from being scary-good.  Everyone else–Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, even Dodson, when he’s in there–seems to be much more comfortable with their role in the offense than Miller.  Which is fairly easy to understand because, really, what is Miller’s role in our offense?

He’s not a shooter.  His shot’s gotten better, but it’s still a ways off from being his bread and butter. Percentage-wise (43%) it’s there, but his shot’s still slow and even has a slight hitch at the top, so it’s not something he’s able to make his living off of like Meeks did or Dodson’s currently doing (and I’m not trying to imply that Dodson is a shooter of Meeks’ caliber, just that both of them were primarily jump shooters).

And he hasn’t been an exceptional slasher, which has surprised a lot of people (including me). Everyone said that he and Liggins would be the two guys who’d benefit most from the Calipari hire, since their games were far better suited for the DDM than they were Gillispie’s high-low offense.  But Miller hasn’t shown much quickness with the ball in his hands and, what’s worse, he hasn’t shown any offensive assertiveness at all. He’s become content to just hang around the three-point line and wait for kick-outs via Wall or Bledsoe, which is fine for some players (say, Ramon Harris, if he had a better shot), but it absolutely limits Miller’s offensive potential.

Notice, I didn’t write that Miller isn’t an exceptional slasher, I wrote that he hasn’t been an exceptional slasher.  And I think there are a couple reasons why he’s had some trouble:

1) Confidence – I’m not the first person to write this, I know, but Miller is the kind of player whose confidence visibly comes and goes.  When he’s feeling good, it practically radiates off him; when he’s not, he’s as tentative as any player on the team.

When Miller’s confidence is up, he’s capable of getting into the lane on anyone.  He’s not super-quick, but he’s quick enough, and he’s crafty enough with his ball-handling to get past most defenders, regardless of their size or speed.  He has a pretty floater he breaks out from time to time (he did it once today), and elevates well enough that he should be able get his shot off over most defenders and finish strong at the rim. Plus, as we’ve already mentioned, his outside shot is solid. Defenders have to respect it, which, you would think should open up more opportunities for him to penetrate.  The point of all this being: Miller has the tools, he just rarely has the confidence.  Calipari’s prime objective right now should be to bring that out of him, because if Miller’s clicking offensively, there’s not a team in the country that can score with us player for player.

2) Miller’s the odd man out – Kentucky now has five players capable of creating their own shot: Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, and Dodson.  Occasionally, when things are going right for him, you can toss Miller into that group.  But for the most part, he’s a guy who relies on others to create looks for him.  This sort of goes back to my (and everyone else’s) lack of confidence argument, but it’s slightly different.  This one is more about Miller having a more passive personality than the rest, which results in fewer touches and shots.  It’s one of those things that anyone who’s ever played in a pick up game where all the best players somehow end up on one team should understand.  Despite the fact that any one of them could score on any given play, obviously, only one can; as a result, one or two of those good players become glue guys, the ones out there grabbing rebounds, playing smart defense, deferring to the ones demanding the ball, etc. You could argue that Miller’s become that guy for Kentucky this season.  I mean, there’s only one ball out there.   Not everyone can shoot the thing.  Maybe Miller’s doing the self-less thing and deferring to his teammates not out of a lack of confidence, but for the simple fact that if he didn’t, it wouldn’t give Kentucky the best chance of winning.   Is this possible?   Or am I just being optimistic for Miller?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between.  Miller’s jump shot has probably made him a little more content to hang around the outside, Wall and Bledsoe’s emergence probably made him think he shouldn’t worry about beating people off the dribble as much, and it very well may be in the best interest of the team for Miller to not be the egomaniac I want him to be.

But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t start being more aggressive.  As I said earlier, if Miller starts being more assertive with the ball in his hands, Kentucky instantly becomes undefendable.  There’s not a team in the country that matches up with us offensively.  Right now, we have three players who are borderline unstoppable (Wall, Cousins, & Patterson), another who’s outside shot is as quick and pretty as anyone’s (Dodson), and one last guy (Bledsoe) who’s getting better and better as he learns a new position (shooting guard).  If Miller can become the guy to fill in those gaps, the guy who can get in the lane and knock down mid-range jumpers, as well as the occasional three-pointer, then Kentucky becomes scary-good on offense.

Georgia Flashback: 2008 SEC Tournament

This is probably the most memorable SEC tournament in my mind that UK didn’t win.  A tornado that onlookers said sounded like a freight train ripped through the Georgia Dome while Mississippi State was playing Alabama in overtime, forcing the rest of the tournament to be played at Georgia Tech.  I remember watching the game; suddenly everyone had a panicked look on their faces and cameramen were moving and zooming in every direction.

As if Mother Nature having her way with man-made structures mid-game wasn’t bizarre enough, the Bulldogs’ Sundiata Gaines and Dave Bliss led (and maybe Dennis Felton coached?) their team to four victories in four days, including, because of the circumstances brought on by the twister, two wins in one day.  The first game of their doubleheader included a win over Kentucky in Billy Gillispie’s first season, a year that seems to have graced us with its presence much longer ago than is actually true. The Dogs were the 6-seed in the East and came into the tournament with an astoundingly bad losing record of 13-16.  They shocked everyone by beating John Pelphrey’s Razorbacks in the championship game, 66-57.  Looking back, it almost seems like it was meant to be — there’s no other way to explain it.  And I must say, it was fun to watch. I pulled a little harder for Georgia in the NCAA tournament too. I’d be willing to venture a guess that that weekend was the most positive press the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team had ever received.

UK Basketball 101 (Part I)

Recently, it was brought to my attention–by some of the more avid, voracious readers of this site–that a small percentage of our readership may not be quite as in tune with the history and tradition of Kentucky basketball team as we’ve been giving them credit for.  You see, I pass this blog along to my friends—not all of them lucky enough to be born in the Commonwealth—and they all get back to me with pretty much the same response: Yeah, I guess the blog is okay, but I really don’t know who any of these people are.

In an effort to remedy that, I will do my best to give the readers–through a series of posts–a crash course in Wildcat Hoops—a UK Basketball for Dummies, if you will.  I will make it as comprehensive as possible.  We will cover everything from general tradition, beloved players and coaches, to the status and roles of our current Kentucky Wildcats.

This is Part I: Tradition, Past Coaches, and Past Players.

Tradition

I’ll keep it short: The University of Kentucky is the best men’s college basketball program of all-time.  Not of the last twenty years, not of the last decade, not of the post-Wooden era…All-Time. The only other program with an argument is UCLA, who, despite having eleven championships (which, I admit, is a lot), have two glaring negatives working against them:

1) Inconsistency
2) A lackadaisical, fair-weather fanbase.

Kentucky has neither.  The only other school that comes close to matching them in terms of consistency is Kansas (FYI, Kentucky’s never finished lower than tenth when it comes to number of wins in a given decade), and if you want to talk about passionate fanbases (and I will, especially later on), the conversation begins and ends with the Big Blue Nation.

Other schools that sometimes like to pretend they have a case:

North Carolina – We have more wins and more National Championships.  Eat it, Tar Heels.

Duke – Coach K’s done a hell of a job, single-handedly bringing them into this conversation since he became the coach in 1980, but unless he suddenly finds the energy to turn them into the team they were ten years ago for the next twenty years, this case doesn’t make it to trial.

Indiana – There for awhile, they were tied with Kentucky for 2nd place on the National Titles list, but UK snagged two more in the 90’s and took a healthy 7-5 lead.

Kansas – They’re the 3rd winningest program of all-time, but they only have three National Titles.  Plus, pathetically, they still count their Helms Foundation National Championships, which is akin to counting your girlfriends from 8th grade when someone asks you about your past relationships.

Louisville – Just kidding.  Even they know better than that.

Kentucky’s resume for the top spot is too lengthy to effectively put in paragraph form, so bullet points will have to do:

– NCAA Men’s All-Time Leader in Wins (1,999)
– NCAA Men’s All-Time Leader in Win Percentage (.760)
– NCAA Men’s All-Time Leader in NCAA Tournament Appearances (49)
– 7 National Championships (won in four different decades, by four different coaches)
– 13 Final Fours
– 98 NCAA Tournament Wins (2nd to North Carolina)
– 1 Gold Medal (the ’48 team represented the U.S. in the London Olympics)
– 43 Southeastern Conference Regular Season Championships (More than all other SEC teams combined)
– 25 SEC Tournament Championships (Ditto)

Coaches

I mentioned above that Kentucky has had four different coaches lead them to National Titles.  Here they are, plus a couple of other guys that popped up in between:

Adolph Rupp (1930 – 1972) – Fifteen different guys actually coached the Wildcats before Adolph Rupp took the helm in 1930, but—and this is for all you beginners out there—when you’re talking about the history of Kentucky Basketball, the era of importance begins with the hiring of Rupp.  The Baron of the Bluegrass would accomplish a fair bit in his 42 years as head coach: Four National Championships (’48, ’49, ’51, ’58), six Final Fours, 27 regular season SEC Championships, 13 SEC Tournament Championships, and four National Coach of the Year Awards.  Rupp would be forced into retirement at the age of 70 (the mandatory retirement age for University of Kentucky employees at the time), and would leave the game with more wins than any coach before him (Dean Smith and Bobby Knight have both surpassed him since).  All in all, a very impressive 42-year run.

Joe B. Hall (1972 – 1985) – Joe B. Hall, one of Rupp’s former players, as well as his top assistant since 1965, was given the keys to the program in 1972. Unfortunately, Hall was also saddled with the impossible task of following a coaching legend.  In his thirteen years as Head Coach, Hall would win one National Championship (’78), finish as the runner-up to UCLA in ’75, and win four National Coach of the Year awards.  Despite that, Kentucky fans were never completely satisfied with Hall, juxtaposing his every move with those of Rupp, who had set a nearly impossible standard.

Eddie Sutton (1985 – 1989) – The former Arkansas coach succeeded Hall and delivered moderate success in his four years as coach, going to one Elite Eight (’86) and recruiting a slew of talented players to Lexington.  Of course, there was good explanation for the latter: Kentucky was found guilty of committing several NCAA violations, the biggest being the cash-filled Emery Worldwide package–on its way to super-recruit Chris Mills–that somehow popped open and revealed several high-numbered pieces of American currency.  Kentucky was placed on probation and both Sutton and A.D. Cliff Hagan were forced to leave.

Rick Pitino (1989 – 1997) – I plan on delving much deeper into this topic in the coming weeks, so I won’t say nearly as much as I’d like to.  Pitino left the New York Knicks job to come to Kentucky behind the reasoning and promise that he would get Kentucky back to its rightful spot atop the college basketball world. Suffice it to say he would deliver on that promise.  All things considered, Pitino’s eight-year run at UK is one of the best eight-year runs of any coach in college basketball history.  He inherited a team completely depleted by scandal, and, through a fast paced, full court trapping style of ball, got them back to the Elite Eight in three years (the first year they again became eligible for post season play).  UK would make the Final Four in ’93, another Elite Eight in ’95, National Title (and the best college basketball team ever) in ’96, capping his run with another Final Four and runner-up finish in ’97.  Pitino left after the ’97 season to coach the Boston Celtics and would eventually make his return to college basketball at the University of Louisville (which, for all you neophytes out there, was absolutely, emphatically, 110% not okay).

Tubby Smith (1997 – 2007) – Smith was a former Pitino assistant and the current Head Coach at Georgia when he left to take the Kentucky job.  Smith inherited a ton of talent and won the ’97 National Championship in his first year on the job.  Unfortunately for Smith and Kentucky, that would prove to be the apex of his run with the Wildcats.  Despite having several talented teams, Smith never made it back to the Final Four.  Despite his teams’ shortcomings, Tubby was and still is a beloved figure in the Bluegrass State.  His teams and coaching methods were always a source of controversy for the fans, but all in all, most people–at the very least–appreciated Tubby for his ridiculously righteous nature.  Smith left Kentucky to take the Minnesota job in ’07.

Billy Gillispie (2007 – 2009) – At the time of the hiring, everyone called it a match made in heaven.  Gillispie was a self-professed workaholic with the reputation of a recruiter (something his predecessor was not), chomping at the bit to get his chance at a big time college basketball program.  Things didn’t work out quite as well as people expected; Gillispie went 40-27 in his time at UK, missing the NCAA Tournament completely in ’09.  Somewhat in his defense, he did inherit an untalented team (by Kentucky’s standards).  People recognized this, but they still got impatient, and Gillispie really couldn’t have done a worse job of handling their impatience.  He was not, what you might call, a People Person, and had a tough time with all the off-the-court commitments and expectations that come with being the Head Coach at Kentucky.  He was fired at the end of the ’09 season.

Five Players Every UK Fan Should Know

Ralph Beard (1945 – 1949) – Beard was the floor general that helped lead Kentucky to back-to-back National Titles in ’48 and ’49, popularizing, in the process, a fast break style of play that went against the grain of the conventional basketball thought of its era.  But what makes him matter is not the National Titles, but the point shaving scandal he would admit to (sort of) years later; Beard would admit to taking money from bookies, but insisted he never did anything to affect the outcome of a game.  His punishment was a ban from organized sports, an essential death penalty to the basketball-obsessed Beard.  Although, in typical Kentucky fashion, fans across the state still adored Beard, showering him with love and support until his death in 2007.

Dan Issel (1966 – 1970) – Issel competed in an era when freshman were not allowed to play, yet he still managed to become (and remains) Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer (2,138).  In other words, Issel did more–at least in terms of putting the ball in the basket–than any player before him or since, without the built-in advantages of a 3-point line or a fourth year of eligibility.  He also holds the record for most rebounds in a career at UK (1,078), was a two-time All-American, and would go on to a Hall of Fame career in the ABA & NBA.  Until this past season, Issel also held the single game scoring record (53), which was broken by Jodie Meeks (54) against Tennessee.

Kyle Macy (1977 – 1980) – I remember it took me about ten years of life to notice that there were an inordinate number of Kyles running around my rural Kentucky town, almost all of which falling between the ages of 5 and 15. “You can thank Kyle Macy for that,” my Dad always told me.  Although I don’t have the statistical name/date data to back it up, there’s little reason to doubt the veracity of that statement.  Besides leading the ’78 squad to a National Championship and being named All-American in the process, Kyle Macy was the quintessential corn-fed, blue-collar Kentucky basketball player–a workmanlike point guard who rarely turned the ball over and never missed a free throw.  These days, he’s probably better known for his color commentary on the UK games for WLEX, or, perhaps, as the mysterious figurehead and namesake for the wildly popular basketball camps that run every summer across the Commonwealth.  Regardless, there’s a reason that thousands of kids across the state are still told it’s good luck to rub their socks before they shoot their free throws, and that has to count for something.

Rex Chapman (1986 – 1988) – Ask any male Kentucky fan between the ages of 45 and 55 who their all-time favorite UK basketball player is, and there’s a better than average chance the answer will be Rex Chapman.  King Rex, as he was affectionately tapped, was a homegrown kid (Apollo High – Owensboro, KY), as well as being one of the biggest recruits in the nation at the time of his signing.  He really did have it all: Seemingly limitless shooting range, a 39-inch vertical leap, a flair for the spectacular, as well as a clutch element to his game that anyone who watched him play will tell you far more about than you would ever care to hear.  As if that wasn’t enough, as a freshman, Chapman led UK into Freedom Hall and blew out highly ranked Louisville, cementing his legend through a barrage of 3-pointers and run-out dunks against the defending National Champs.  Devastatingly–at least for all those King Rex sycophants out there–Chapman bolted for the NBA after only two seasons at Kentucky, just in time for people to wonder what might have been had he stuck around long enough to play for Rick Pitino, a coach who’s system was tailor-made for a guy with his skills.

Jamal Mashburn (1990 – 1993) – The general consensus around the Bluegrass is that Jamal Mashburn is the most important Kentucky signee ever, and it’s tough to disagree.  Mashburn was the first blue chip recruit Pitino signed at Kentucky (his first two seasons were spent on probation), and he delivered in a way that exceeded everyone’s already absurd expectations.  He would go on to become an SEC Player of the Year, 1st Team All-American, as well as the centerpiece of those great, overachieving ’92 & ’93 teams, leading UK to an Elite Eight (vs. Duke) and Final Four (vs. Michigan) in his only two years of post-season play.  More importantly, Mashburn gave Kentucky the go-to threat it so desperately needed, almost single-handedly making Kentucky relevant again, morphing them back into the kind of powerhouse the Big Blue Nation recalled and yearned for.  Mash was the prototypical inside-outside threat: A 6’8’’ point-forward that could handle the ball, shoot the 3, rebound, slash, and defend the way Pitino demanded.  Mashburn would get in three years in Lexington before becoming the 4th pick of the 1993 NBA Draft.

Making a Case for DeAndre Liggins

It’s easy to forget now just how big of a recruit DeAndre Liggins was two years ago.  Before John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, Liggins was all set to be Kentucky’s Point Guard of the Future.  He was a super-recruit with loads of potential, a stud ready to take the reins of College Basketball’s All-Time Winningest Program.  Now, he’s a benchwarmer playing behind both Wall and Bledsoe, and, possibly, another off-the-court incident away from being off the team completely.  Most people are fine with this.  I am not.

I realize that it’s tough to play up a sympathetic angle with Liggins; he’s done more than his share to make that pretty much impossible.  Between his refusal to enter a game in Las Vegas, his disappointing play on the court last year, and whatever he’s done to get in Calipari’s doghouse to start this season,  he’s not left much room to squeeze in reason to feel bad for him.  He is, almost by definition, an unsympathetic figure.

But when I think back to the summer of 2007—when Liggins gave his verbal to UK—I can’t help but remember how excited I was to hear about him.

Kentucky’s recruiting over the past decade had been, to put it kindly, shaky.  In fact, I wrote a post dedicated entirely to this.

But Billy Gillispie vowed to change that.  Gone were the days of competing with UABs and Georgias for recruits; we were Kentucky, dammit!  At the turn of the millennium (which, at the time of Gillispie’s arrival, was just seven years ago), we were signing whoever we wanted.  North Carolina, Duke, Kansas—all those schools took a back seat to us.  We’d come within an overtime period against Mike Bibby and Miles ‘I’ll Just Conveniently Play the Fucking Game of my Life Tonight‘ Simon of winning three straight National Titles.  Now, we were competing with (non-Memphis) C-USA schools for recruits.

True to his word, Gillispie snagged Patrick Patterson (a Top-10 player) and Alex Legion (a Four-Star shooter who’d recently de-committed from Michigan) within his first 100 days on the job.  Kentucky was starting to look like a place that could attract blue chip talent again.

I saw DeAndre Liggins as not only a continuation of this success, but as the potential game-breaking recruit every school needs. He could be someone Kentucky would eventually point to as evidence when they said, ‘I know you want to get to the next level, and we know how to get you there.’  Some of the stuff I read suggested Liggins had the potential to be a future lottery pick—something Kentucky hadn’t had in a long time.

But as Liggins’ senior year at Findlay Prep progressed, not much good news seemed to make its way out.  The thing most people remember was the year-long concern that Liggins wasn’t going to academically qualify.  He ended up making it, but what was more troubling to me (which, I suppose, says a lot about my priorities) was the lack of hype surrounding his senior season and subsequent downgrading of his Rivals’ ranking.  I attributed this demotion to his unselfishness:  Everyone called him—more or less—a glue guy, the kind of player that makes others around him better, be it by passing, rebounding, or just old fashioned basketball acumen.  The latter of those attributes is an especially tough one to evaluate, given the AAU-heavy recruiting circuit of today, and has a history of being overlooked by analysts.  I conveniently told myself that Liggins’ game was unselfish to a fault, and that was the real reason his rankings fell.  I convinced myself he was the rarest form of superstar:  The kind that worried little about numbers and personal achievement.  He would be blessed with an innate love for the assist and an altruism that is damn-near impossible to find amongst prep stars today.  Liggins was Scottie Pippen: The Relentlessly Loyal Sidekick who did all the little things and—to those who watched closely —was just as important as the supposedly Fearless Leader.

Of course it’s easy to see now how skewed my perception really was.  I was seeing Liggins’ game through a rose-colored lens.  My logic made zero sense–even if he was a so called ‘glue guy,’ did the same recruiting analysts who’d loved him for his adhesive-like qualities suddenly lose their ability to appreciate them?  Of course not.  What was much more likely: He was playing against better competition and the flaws in his game suddenly became illuminated—but more on this later.

Flash forward to Liggins arrival on campus.  As mentioned earlier, there was some speculation over whether or not he’d even be eligible, and those questions remained unanswered until literally days before the start of school.  But now that he’d made it, the expectations came with him. People were ready to see UK’s Point Guard of the Future.

But in a move that would become indicative of Billy Gillispie’s strange two-season run with Kentucky, the coach started Michael Porter, a UK player most famous for being recruited to play football at USC (which, just for the record, I’ve never believed) at PG to open the season.  Now, I don’t want to say too much negative stuff about Porter because, by all accounts, he was and is a fantastic kid who was always willing to do whatever it took to help the team—and kudos to him for that.  In his defense, Gillispie was guilty of asking him to do too much.  And even though I tend to put the blame on Porter for this, the fault falls squarely on Gillispie—he knows enough about basketball to see what a player isn’t capable of.  So, in the interest of not dragging a good kid’s name through the mud, I’ll just stick to the facts.

Porter was, by just about everyone’s account, one of the worst starting guards in UK history.  His numbers for the ’08-’09 Season: 4.1 Points, 2.5 Assists, and 1.7 Rebounds/Game to go along with 2.2 Turnovers/Game, a 36% Field Goal Percentage, and 33% from behind the 3-Point line.  Porter shot a grand total of 139 Field Goals in 36 games and 847 minutes that season, an average of 3.86 shots per game, or one shot per every 6.09 minutes played.  Numbers like this make it all the more remarkable that Jodie Meeks was able to do the things he did last season; if nothing else, they illustrate just how little the other team had to be concerned with when they doubled Meeks, because the other player in Kentucky’s backcourt was scared to shoot (or instructed not to).   Michael Porter should’ve had a hard time making it as the 12th man on Kentucky’s team. Instead, he started all 36 games last season.

Gillispie defended this decision to start Porter with what would become his trademark logic: Those who earn it, get it.  Most people (i.e., everyone) had a hard time accepting this answer.  One look each of the guys told you everything you needed to know.  Liggins was a 6’5’’ athletic specimen; Porter looked like he’d have a tough time making the golf team.

At least early on, Liggins made Gillispie’s decision look foolish.  In the season opener—a home loss to VMI—Liggins went for 6 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 27 minutes of action.  In another home loss—this time to Miami—Liggins tallied 18 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds, a block, and a steal in 32 minutes.  It’d be misleading to leave out his 10 combined turnovers in those games, but the potential was there.  He was one of the few guys on the floor (the others being Meeks and Patterson) that visibly stood out from the rest of the team.  He was long, athletic, and the upside to his game was there for everyone to see.  How could Gillispie not play him?

Suffice it to say he found a way.  Things only got worse from there.  Liggins’ minutes started to dip. He played less than ten minutes in thirteen of Kentucky’s games, bottoming out with three DNP’s against Florida, Tennessee (Meeks’ 54-Pointer), and LSU in the SEC Tournament.  This was the guy that virtually everyone expected to open the season as the starter at PG. He would finish the year with one start.  His averages for the season looked like this:

Games Played: 33

Minutes/Game: 16.5

Points/Game: 4.2

FG Pct: 36.2

3FG Pct: 23.5

FT Pct: 67.3

Rebounds/Game: 2.4

Assists/Game: 2.8

Turnovers/Game: 2.2

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 1.2

Steals/Game: 0.7

Blocks/Game: 0.4

Given, it wasn’t the worst freshman season in the history of college basketball, but it was a far cry from the kind of debut campaign we were hoping for.  But—fortunately for Liggins—there were still many who refused to give up on him for one reason: Billy Gillispie was insane.

The tyrant coach and problem-child player had created an interesting divide amongst the Kentucky Faithful:  You were either in the Liggins Is Overrated and Brought This All on Himself Camp or the Gillispie Is An Idiot And Running Our Star Recruit Into The Ground Camp.  Liggins wasn’t doing himself any favors with his attitude or erratic play, but Gillispie’s constant nonsense did more than enough to counteract that.  Billy Clyde Gillispie was slowly but surely destroying every ounce of credibility he had; his team was losing, his press conferences were becoming more and more inane, and rumors surrounding his personal life were getting nasty.

At the end of the season, Billy Gillispie was fired.  This had as much to do with the off the court stuff than the losses that came on it.  Several players, including Liggins, were rumored to be out the door if Gillispie was brought back.  But he wasn’t.  John Calipari (the same guy who’d recruited Liggins two years earlier) was brought in, and a whole new era for Liggins and Kentucky began.

The Pro-Liggins Case

The case for Liggins is pretty straightforward:  Gillispie stunted his development as a player.

I don’t want to speak for everyone on this, but I feel like I developed an eye for this sort of problem from seeing our previous coach—in my opinion—do this with more than his share of players.  Whether it was Antwain Barbour, Joe Crawford, or Rajon Rondo; Tubby Smith—again, in MY opinion—had a bad habit of keeping the reins a bit too tight.  As any former basketball player can attest, there are few things harder in life than playing for a coach that wants you to be both 1) aggressive and 2) to completely avoid turnovers and missed shots; almost by definition, they’re two contradicting philosophies.  Moreover, they’re two contradicting philosophies that a ridiculous number of coaches still employ.  Without going too far into this, it is beyond me why any recruit would want to play for a guy who coaches this way, as opposed to say, a Rick Pitino or a John Calipari, who both seem to almost encourage aggressive mistakes.  One of my all-time favorite coaching quotes is from Rick Pitino, and it deals with the importance of a Shooter’s Mentality.  It goes, ‘If you miss 15 in a row, know the 16th is going in.’ In short, this means that you can’t be preoccupied with making mistakes, because if you’re worried about messing up, you’re incapable of being wholly aggressive.  There’s another phrase of the same ilk that just about every basketball player has heard: You’re thinking too much.  And I think that if there’s one thing just about every basketball coach can agree on, it’s this: Good basketball is about reacting, not thinking.

With that said, my point is that Liggins started thinking too much.  He stopped reacting, and he became afraid to make mistakes.  One of the best ways to gauge a player’s fear level for mistakes is how quickly his head shoots to the bench after committing a turnover or missing a shot.  Liggins, along with just about everyone else on the team, practically game themselves whiplash last season.  Gillispie had all of them afraid to make mistakes, and that’s why they all looked like poorly-programmed robots towards the end of the season.

The Anti-Liggins Case

Of course, the case against Liggins is pretty straightforward too:  He sucks.

While I don’t side with this group, I’d be lying if I said they don’t have some strong points.  Liggins is a tweener in the ultimate—and worst—sense of the word.  He was billed as a Point Guard coming out of high school, but it didn’t take long for even the most novice basketball fans to see the problems with that:  He doesn’t handle the ball exceptionally well and he’s turnover-prone.  After awhile, people started making the argument that Liggins was better-suited to play Shooting Guard or Small Forward.  It didn’t take much longer for people to pick that one apart: He doesn’t shoot, get to the rim, or score particularly well. Why would you put him at a position that asks him to do all of those things?

He handles the ball well, but not that well. He’s not a terrible shooter, but he’s certainly not a good one either. He has a gift for getting past his defender, but he has a tendency to be out of control and make bad decisions once he gets in the lane.  In short, Liggins does a lot of things that might be rated as Average to Pretty Good, but very few things you’d rate as Pretty Good to Excellent.

And while I certainly hear this side of the argument, there’s a part of me that can’t shut the door on his raw ability.  He’s a long-armed, 6’5’’ Point-Forward that sees the floor exceptionally well.  He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s a good one (think a less-skilled Tyreke Evans).  His shot isn’t consistent, but the form is good (a solid sign that it could become consistent).  He doesn’t always make great decisions with the ball, but I honestly believe a lot of that will be remedied by the coaching change.  He was scared stiff out there last year; I don’t expect that to be a problem this season.

Where That Leaves Us

All of that brings us to our current problem:  Liggins has yet to see the floor this season.  There’s been no official word as to why, but most speculate that it’s a consequence of off-the-court behavior.  All of this comes after an off-season full of stories on how he was one of the guys who set to benefit most from the coaching change, how he’s taking the high-road and not blaming Gillispie for his problems last season, and how he’s been the one guy in practice so far who’s been able to keep up with John Wall.

Last year, he was a highly touted newcomer that everyone wanted to see do well; this year, he’s just another one of many highly touted players, and one that most people could care less whether or not he finally puts it all together.  He’s yesterday’s news.  We signed two of the three top Point Guards in the country last spring–our hopes and dreams are no longer dependent on DeAndre Liggins.

But I guess I’m an anomaly in that sense– I’m still very invested in Liggins.  I’m not totally sure why, but I think part of it is why I also find myself rooting particularly hard for Daniel Orton and Jon Hood: They were big time recruits who signed with Kentucky before we became Kentucky again.  As much as I’d like to convince myself otherwise, those other guys (Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and Dodson) wanted to play for Calipari, not Kentucky.  Don’t get me wrong, no one’s happier to have them than me.  This will almost definitely be the most exciting Kentucky team to watch in over a decade—nothing makes me happier than that.  But the other guys—Patterson, Liggins, Orton, and Hood— they signed with UK when it was still a visibly up-hill battle.  There wasn’t a ton of talent on the team or even any coming in the foreseeable future, but they still wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process at Kentucky.

Liggins, at one time, was viewed as the potential centerpiece for the new-era Kentucky Wildcats.  I’d hate to see him not even be a part of it.

Why So Positive?

Bashing UK fans is probably not the best way to bring more readers to this site but I do have an issue with a certain segment of Big Blue Nation. I’m referring to those whose devotion to the Wildcats has caused them to reject anything but the most positive news regarding their favorite team. (Grammatically incorrect, longwinded rant coming). These people include those who defended Gillispie to the bitter end (not because they necessarily liked him, but simply because he was The Coach), those who equate Jerry Tipton with Satan, those who view any criticism of a UK player as an act of terrorism against the state and use the defense that, ‘They’re just kids’… Actually, they’re not. It’s called Men’s basketball. If you’re old enough go to war you’re probably old enough to have your jump shot critiqued, and generally just anyone whose greatest fear in life is that which may ‘hurt the program’, their precious, precious program.

Not one of our starting five.

Now, before any of you start calling for my deportation back to New England, I want to stress I really do love UK basketball and UK sports in general. As I mentioned in my first post, I consider myself a loyal Kentucky fan since 1996. Despite my passion for the team, I don’t live in the fantasy world that some fans seem to. Kentucky is not infallible and those that want to pretend it is are actually doing a disservice to the program, and being bad Christians (!!!) The logic here being that holding people (players, coaches, World Wide Weses) accountable for their actions will help prevent these negative actions, whatever they may be, from occurring in the future. It is possible to be critical of a team while still being a true fan of that very same team. Pretty crazy, I know.

I’m sure many of you don’t see how any action that brings us closer to a championship could be negative. A common sentiment seems to be that player/coach transgressions should be overlooked/downplayed while recruiting violations should be almost encouraged. The problem with this thinking, aside from the blatant moral shadiness, is that in the long run it won’t even help win games. The more bad behavior is accepted, the more prevalent and worse it becomes. (Pretty sure I got that from Dr. Phil.) The counterargument to this, at least in regards to the recruiting aspect, was summed up fairly accurately by the great Sir Charles Barkley. He said something to the effect of, ‘You ain’t tryin if you ain’t cheatin.’ There is some truth to this. In the hyper-competitive world of big time college sports, a program must constantly be willing to push the envelope, not just to get ahead, but simply to keep up. While this drive to succeed should be commended, it must also be watched. Doing whatever it takes to win can quickly become a very slippery slope. One day John Wall is suspended for an exhibition game, next we’re vacating Final Fours, losing scholarships, and all going to Hell. I know that was a rather insane leap but my point is that if we create a culture where UK can do no wrong, we’re going to be destined a for a rude awakening. That said, Go Cats!

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+)