The first year that John Calipari came to town was the most exciting season since the Wildcats won it all in 1998. Cal brought a rock star persona with him as well as new rock star recruits. The country was abuzz with his new look Kentucky Wildcats: Big, Brash, Confident and full of talent.
Most of the excitement came from a trio of freshman; John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. They were part of the #1 recruiting class that year and were thought to be the most talented group of players to have ever step foot in Lexington. The John Wall Team, as they are affectionately called, beat up and bullied almost every team they came into contact with and had a swagger that was rarely seem on a college court. They looked like the new version of the Fab Five.
This year Cal has another stunning #1 recruiting class that may be more talented and may have even more help around them. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marcus Teague and Kyle Wiltjer are this year's edition of the young Kentucky studs.
Let's compare the teams:2009/2010 Wildcats
Ramon Harris-3 star recruitPerry Stevenson- 4 star recruitJosh Harrellson- 3 star recruitPatrick Patterson- 5 star recruitDarnell Dodson- 3 star recruitDeandre Liggins- 4 star recruitDarius Miller- 4 star recruitDeMarcus Cousins- 5 star recruitJohn Wall- 5 star recruitDaniel Orton-5 star recruitEric Bledsoe- 5 star recruitJon Hood-4 star recruit
Average: 4.2 Stars2011/2012 Wildcats
Darius Miller-4 star recruitTerrence Jones- 5 star recruitDoron Lamb-5 star recruitKyle Wiltjer- 5 star recruitAnthony Davis- 5 star recruitMichael Kidd-Gilchrist- 5 star recruitMarquis Teague- 5 star recruitJon Hood- 4 star recruitStacey Poole, Jr.- 4 star recruitJarrod Polson- No rankingEloy Vargas- 4 star recruitSam Malone- No rankingBrian Long- No ranking
Average: 3.5 Stars
Average without 3 walk-on players (Polson, Malone, Long) 4.62009/2010 Recruiting Class Average: 4.8 stars
2011/2012 Recruiting Class Average: 5 stars
*Recruit rankings info gathered from Yahoo! Sports
As you can see, the 2011 Cats as a whole has a higher ranking average (not counting walk-on players) that the 2009 Cats. The 2011 Cats also have a higher recruiting class ranking that does the 2009 version.
If we look at the situation that the 2009 class was walking into compared to this year's class then the picture becomes a little clearer. The 2009 freshmen did not have the same type of supporting class that this year's recruits will have.
In 2009, Patrick Patterson was the lone returning 5 star player and there were three 4 star players coming back, two of which had significant playing experience.
Fast forward to this year. Terrence Jones is not only a five star player, but he was a stand out player for most of the year on a Final Four team as well as a preseason All American. Doron Lamb started a portion of the season for Calipari and is heralded by his coach as the best player on the team.
Darius Miller is a senior that has steadily improved during his time under Calipari and will be a three year starter, as well as the SEC Tournament MVP and in my view the most improved player on last year's roster. His size and speed will make him an almost impossible match up for anyone to guard this season.
The 2011 class will be coming into a more established team with better players in key positions. John Calipari has now been here three years and does not have to make any cultural changes or adjust the attitudes of his returning players. His system and personality are all they know.
The 2009 class had the consensus #1 NBA draft pick rolling into Lexington in John Wall along with the best big man recruit in the country in DeMarcus Cousins and one of the nation's top point guard recruits in Eric Bledsoe. Daniel Orton saw very limited playing time as did Jon Hood. Orton saw more of the floor and was more productive but he did not start a game.
This year's group again has the possible #1 NBA draft pick in Anthony Davis as well as the nation's top point guard recruit, the top small forward in the country and a top 11 player in Kyle Wiltjer. This group is more diverse in what they are bringing to the table.
John Calipari is also more vocal about this team's talent level than he was with his group two years ago. He is telling everybody within earshot that Anthony Davis is the real deal and is a more refined Marcus Camby. He is saying that Marquis Teague is the best pick and roll point guard he has ever coached. He is also high on Kidd-Gilchrist's hustle and work ethic.
And what about starting line ups? In 2009 we pretty much knew what it would look like:John Wall-Point GuardEric Bledsoe- Point Guard/Shooting GuardDarius Miller- Small ForwardPatrick Patterson- Power ForwardDeMarcus Cousins- Center
This year the talent is so rich that there is a line up controversy. There are a few options:Marquis Teague-Point GuardDoron Lamb-Shooting GuardDarius Miller-Small ForwardTerrence Jones-Power ForwardAnthony Davis- Center
This is the line up I think we will see the first game of the season. Which leaves the nations top small forward and #3 overall player on the bench.
John Calipari now also has the luxury of going big:Marquis Teague- Point GuardDarius Miller- Shooting GuardMichael Kidd-Gilchrist- Small ForwardTerrence Jones- Power ForwardAnthony Davis-Center
And what if Cal wants to go small and fast?Marquis Teague-Point GuardDoron Lamb- Shooting GuardMichael Kidd-Gilchrist- Small ForwardDarius Miller-Power ForwardTerrence Jones-Center
The great thing about this year's team is that there is a true veteran shooting guard with Doron Lamb instead of a hybrid that played out of his position like Eric Bledsoe.
Also, Miller really can play three positions. His size will give smaller players fits at the 2 and 3 spots while his speed will allow him to bring players out at the 4 spot in order to drive on them or shoot over them.
Kentucky has an embarrassment of riches this season. After analyzing everything I believe that this year's team has the potential to be more talented and the potential to rival the 1996 team as the best ever at Kentucky.
But March is a funny thing. The John Wall Squad was the overall #1 seed in the tourney but fell to a less talented West Virginia team in the Elite Eight while the 2010 Cats played with a talented but short six man rotation, earned a low, ludicrous 4 seed and made it all the way to the Final Four.
I think this year's mix of veteran talent and young talent will be the right recipe for a national title. Will they roll over everybody like the '96 team? I'm not so sure about that. But if the numbers and the mix are correct, then the NCAA needs to be on notice.
The Big Blue Nation is coming with a vengeance.
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