Things got off to a good start for Calipari well before he finished off his 2010 class. On April 10, Mike Gilchrist pledged his services to the Wildcats. Most considered Gilchrist a lock for Kentucky leading up to the announcement, but Calipari and company still had to survive a strong push from Villanova to get the national five-star recruit.
Only days after reeling in Gilchrist, it was Marquis Teague that came aboard. The consensus top point guard in the country chose the Wildcats over Louisville in arguably the most heated recruiting battle of the entire year.
With two five-star prospects in the fold going into the spring, Kentucky set their sets on adding some size and skill to the roster. The emergence of Anthony Davis from Chicago proved to be the blessing that Calipari needed. Davis, who was an unknown in April, became the top prospect in the nation by the end of July, and after flirting with a commitment to Ohio State, Kentucky was able to get the job done thanks to a strong effort from recently hired assistant coach Kenny Payne.
Two weeks after getting the pledge from Davis, another five-star decided to come aboard. While the first three commitments had obvious ties to Calipari, his staff, or the region, Kyle Wiltjer was none of the above. The Portland native, who is as skilled at the power forward position as anyone, simply saw what was being built in Lexington and pulled the trigger on a commitment before another prospect could take his place. Wiltjer committed to Kentucky before even visiting campus, and much to the surprise of those in the basketball offices in Lexington.
While Kentucky is the obvious winner this November, the reigning national champions on the floor aren’t very far behind. The Duke Blue Devils are using the national championship to their advantage and flexing their muscle on Tobacco Road.
The biggest get for Duke came from the state of Florida where Austin Rivers, a long time Florida Gator commitment, decided to pack his bags and head to Durham. The commitment of Rivers gives the Blue Devils the top scorer in the class, and someone who will average double figures from the moment he enters Cameron Indoor Stadium. Landing right next to Rivers in the backcourt is Quinn Cook. The five-star point guard is one of the best floor generals in the entire class, and teams with Rivers to form an absolutely dynamic backcourt.
Those two five-stars are enough for a big time class, but Coach K didn’t stop there. Wing prospect Michael Gbinije is as solid as they come, and center Marshall Plumlee is big and athletic. Gbinije is a third five-star in the class while Plumlee is no slouch at all as a top 100 prospect.
While seeing Kentucky and Duke in this category of singing day winners isn't a surprise, seeing St. John’s is. New coach Steve Lavin hit the ground running and reeled in an extremely impressive five man class with small forward Jakarr Sampson leading the way. Also scorer D’Angelo Harrison, combo forward Maurice Harkless, freak athlete Dom Pointer, and JUCO floor general Nurideen Lindsey will join Sampson in Queens.
It isn't real difficult to decide who brought in the most talent in the frontcourt.
Most of the damage that Kentucky did was up front. Gilchrist is a do everything small forward who does most of his damage going to the rim using the bounce and off of offensive glass. Wiltjer is absolutely dynamic in the high-post area where he is a skilled passer and can score either facing the rim or using footwork to create space with and get shots off with his back to the basket. Then there is Davis. Probably best utilized as a power forward, Davis also could be a center or a small forward at times due to his combination of length, skill, and athleticism. Davis is one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the class, but also is more than capable of stepping out on the perimeter and taking his man off the dribble.
The beauty of this group is that they can easily be on the floor together, and they complement what each other do. While they might not be around Lexington for long, they should have a big impact in their time on campus.
Also doing a good job in securing a potential game changing frontline was the University of Illinois. Led by an outstanding job by ace Chicago recruiter Jerrance Howard the Illini pulled in a trio of excellent frontcourt players.
Maybe the biggest get of the three was Mike Shaw. The power forward from the Windy City is a high level rebounder who always brings it. While he can float at times on the offensive end, his strength and athleticism make him one of the best rebounders from the power forward position in the country. Joining Shaw in Champaign will be Mychael Henry. Henry and Shaw were teammates for a while with the Mac Irvin Fire over the summer, and Henry is an athletic energizer with long arms and the ability to score inside and out. The final piece to the puzzle up front for Illinois is center Nnanna Egwu. While raw on the offensive end, Egwu runs the floor as well as any center in the class and has the natural ability to block shots. Egwu will need a year or two to refine his game, but in a class not loaded with frontcourt talent his ceiling is extremely high.
Once again the winner in this category is clear, and it is the Duke Blue Devils.
A year after landing the nation’s premier point guard in Kyrie Irving, the Blue Devils did it again on the perimeter. Austin Rivers is the top scoring guard in the class, and a guy that simply can put the ball in the hoop from any spot on the floor. He is joined by Quinn Cook who is one of the best on the ball distributors and scorers in the country. Add in Michael Gbinije, who plays off the ball exclusively, and the Blue Devils are primed to keep things rolling in Durham.
One major plus for Duke with this group is that only Rivers projects to have a short tenure in front of the Cameron Crazies. Both Cook and Gbinije have next level talent, but neither of them projects to be ready to make that leap for several years, so that means the rich simply get richer.
Out West Sean Miller concentrated his efforts on securing two big time performers to run the show, and he did just that. First it was Arizona native Nick Johnson who came aboard. Johnson is an elite level athlete who plays on and off the ball, and has made huge strides in his game over the past 12 months. Later it was five-star floor general Josiah Turner who decided to play his college ball in Tucson. Turner is a big point guard with athleticism and the ability to score or distribute. The two were highly successful over the summer with the Drew Gooden Soldiers, and will look to continue those winning ways for the Wildcats.
Also doing an excellent job in locking down the perimeter was Arkansas. Head Coach John Pelphrey snagged Rashad Madden in a heated battle against Ole Miss. Madden, who can play anywhere from point guard to small forward will give great versatility and leadership to the Razorbacks. Joining Madden will be B.J. Young. Flying under the radar due to not playing much high school basketball, Young exploded in the spring, and continued his strong play in the summer to become one of the nation’s top recruits. Like Madden, Young provides versatility as he can play either point guard or shooting guard.
Best at the Mid-Major level
Defining a mid-major can be difficult, and for that reason Gonzaga, Butler, and Memphis were excluded from consideration along with schools hailing from the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West Conferences.
One school who definitely stood out this year on the recruiting trail at the mid-major level was Western Kentucky led by head coach Ken McDonald.
The Hilltoppers six man class is one that should make a big impact on the program. Local power forward George Fant is the type of undersized warrior that always makes an name for himself in the NCAA Tournament, center Deng Leek has size and athleticism to spare, and Vinny Zollo is a high effort player who lacks athleticism but knows how to be productive. In the backcourt McDonald went to the east coast to land Derrick Gordon who can be a big time scorer, and then put a talented point guard in Cezar Guerrero, and an excellent athlete on the wing in Nigel Snipes around him.
Joining Western Kentucky with a strong haul was Central Florida. The new UCF head man Donnie Jones made his return to the Sunshine State after a stint at Marshall, and immediately made his presence felt.
Combo forward Wayne Martin is the type of player who thrives in Conference USA. He is a high level athlete with long arms, and has the ability to play on the wing at times to go along with being very effective as a power forward. Next to him in the frontcourt will be Rod Days. Days spurned several high-major schools and decided on the Knights. While those two make for an impressive frontcourt alone, Jones and company also added Kasey Wilson. Wilson is a rugged energy guy who makes opponents work every time down the floor.
Along with those two schools, Southeast Missouri State, George Mason, Marshall, Harvard, and Southern Illinois deserve credit for brining in strong classes.
Best NBA Prospect: Anthony Davis - He is like Chris Bosh, but more skilled at a similar stage. Davis emerged in a big way late, and because of that he takes nothing for granted. He plays hard every time out on the floor, and has the size, athleticism, and skill that NBA teams love.
Best Shooter: Jabari Brown – All summer long Brown was absolutely on fire from deep nailing shot after shot. In fact he was such a good shooter that at times he didn’t take advantage of his full skill set. Brown is just an absolute weapon on the perimeter that will be able to take any team out of a zone defense.
Best Defender: Jamal Branch – A premium in college basketball is placed on stopping penetration from the perimeter into the lane, and no one does it better in this class than Branch. He has complete lockdown capabilities on the outside, and takes pride in shutting his man down.
Beast Rebounder: Branden Dawson – Rebounding isn't all about height and strength, it also has a lot to do with desire, and no one shows more of it than Dawson. The 6-foot-6 forward is an absolute beast on the offensive glass, and then on defense he routinely shows an ability to seal off bigger players and then start the break on offense.
Best Scorer: Austin Rivers – No one in the class can get going quite like Rivers. When he is feeling it there is nothing a defender can do to stop him. His pull-up jumper is simply un-guardable, and when things are going well as a defender you can simply forget about it. Rivers can be a bit of a volume shooter, but no matter what he is getting buckets.
Best Passer: Shannon Scott – There is no point guard in the class with a better IQ and feel for the game than Scott. While he isn't as aggressive scoring as he could be, and probably should be, Scott is always getting teammates involved. He knows how to make the right pass at the right time, and while not flashy is always effective. His assist-to-turnover ratio in college will be through the roof.
Best Ball handler: Marquis Teague – Teague defines having the ball on a string. He can do whatever he wants with the ball in his hands from crossing over opponents, to hesitation dribbles, to simply beating a man baseline to baseline. If Teague has the ball, there is no way you are getting it from him, and very few are quicker than him with the ball in transition.
Most Underrated: Elijah Carter – After deciding to prep at Brewster Academy, Carter re-opened his recruitment, and his stock should be soaring. He is a point guard who is also a big time scorer. At times this summer Carter was nearly impossible to guard, and is going to make coaches wish they wouldn’t have overlooked him.