If someone were to say that Kentucky Basketball has depth issues, a lot of people would laugh or say “yeah, right”. The Wildcats are well-known for bringing in a plethora of new 5-4 star talent every season. But therein lies the problem. With Kentucky’s reputation as a bridge to being a lottery pick, most players come into the program with the intention and mindset of playing for one year, then leaving to get drafted. This leaves Coach Calipari with fresh new faces at the start of every season. Most years losing over 80% of the previous season’s scoring, this new bunch of freshmen have to learn the system quickly and adapt to the college game. This has been the root cause of many of UK’s tournament losses, and is the key factor behind John Calipari and Kentucky not winning more championships.
This season, Kentucky actually returned a couple of talented players from last year. Nick Richards is a rare junior. EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, and Immanuel Quickley are sophomores. It’s not good when we start calling sophomores “veterans”, but that’s where we’re at now. Even a tiny bit of experience that they’ll have from last year will really help the Cats, but I just don’t think it’s enough.
So What’s The Solution?
In a recent press conference, John Calipari addressed his depth and experience issues. He said that it’s hard to be consistently successful with so many new faces each year. Cal acknowledged that it’s difficult to get top players to admit that they may need a couple years to develop, and that most won’t accept a bench role. He claims this is the main reason behind why he can’t keep players for very long.
I have a simple solution, and it’s something that a lot of people are calling for. The answer is in-state recruits. Calipari is notorious for not even looking at some of the top players in the state of Kentucky unless they’re a 5 star. Signing players from the state who may not be future NBA stars is the way to go if we want to fix the depth and experience concerns. Solid role players, who have always dreamed of wearing Kentucky Blue, who would be willing to stay 3-4 years.
It’s worked in the past for Calipari, which is what makes it so baffling that he doesn’t do it anymore.
Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins were two pivotal bench players for Calipari. They developed and by their senior seasons, they were key contributors off the bench. They were lifelong UK fans, and played with heart and passion for the program.
Darius Miller was a Kentucky native who was signed by Billy Gillespie. He stayed once Calipari came aboard. By his senior season, Miller was the 6th man for the 2012 National Championship winning Kentucky team. He loved UK as a kid, and ended up staying for four seasons before becoming an important piece of that team. He’s also carved out a lengthy NBA career for himself, so it worked out for everyone.
Kentucky’s roster this year includes one Kentucky native, former 4 Star Dontaie Allen. While he is out for awhile due to injury, it’s good to have him, because he will likely be a 2-4 year player who is living his dream of being a Wildcat. Unfortunately, he’s the only one. There needs to be more.
Looking at In-State Recruits Who Are Playing Elsewhere
Since I’m so adamant on this point, I want to back it up with some stats. There are a bunch of former Kentucky natives who got overlooked by Calipari and Kentucky, and are excelling elsewhere.
Braxton Beverly was a 3 star recruit in high school in Hazard, Kentucky. He was never even remotely recruited by Kentucky and ended up committing to Ohio State. He changed his mind before signing day and decided instead to go to NC State. Through his 3 year career at NC State, Beverly has been one of their best players, averaging 9.3 points and 3 assists per game. He’s a great play-maker and shooter, and would’ve been valuable to UK at a time like this.
Taveion Hollingsworth was another 3 star recruit in the same class as Beverly. Coming out of Lexington, Kentucky, he was lightly recruited by UK before contact was lost between the two parties. The 6’2 PG is having a good career at Western Kentucky, averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Would be nice to have him in blue.
CJ Frederick was a 3 star out of Alexandria, Kentucky. The 6’4 sniper wasn’t recruited by Kentucky at all, and ended up going to Iowa. As a Redshirt Freshman this season, Frederick is averaging 11 PPG and 3 APG. He is also shooting a whopping 58% from the field, and 56% from beyond the arc. For a Kentucky team that is struggling to hit threes, we could’ve used him.
In the 2019 recruiting class…
The top two players in the state went elsewhere. David Johnson was a 4 star recruit who ended up at Louisville, and KyKy Tandy went to Xavier. Like I said, Kentucky actually signed a player from the state in this class, landing 4 star Dontaie Allen who was the #3 player in the state. However, letting the top player in Kentucky go to Louisville should never happen. Tandy was in heavy consideration for UK and it’s rumored that Kentucky almost landed him, but he ended up at Xavier instead. We’ll see how they play this year.
It’s no secret that Kentucky’s depth and experience issues would be solved by signing top in-state players who would come and contribute for 3-4 years. Experience is the most valuable thing in the NCAA tournament, and any successful team will have some experience. The formula for championships is combining elite young talent with experienced veterans who can stay calm and know the system. If the Wildcats want to see a banner hung any time soon, we need to start signing more in-state players.
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