Dakari Johnson

2013 center Dakari Johnson commits to Kentucky, adds to greatest recruiting class ever?


Following a win against Jabari Parker and Simeon Career Academy (Ill.), the nation’s top center Dakari Johnson (Montverde Academy/New York, N.Y.) announced live on ESPNU that he has committed to the University of Kentucky.

Johnson, who reclassified to the Class of 2013 before the season, decided recently to end the recruiting process. The 6-foot-10 center picked the Wildcats over Syracuse and Georgetown.

Kentucky seemed the likely choice to land Johnson’s services. Syracuse is hitting the scholarship limit  and will be close even if Michael Carter-Williams jumps to the NBA following the season. Georgetown intrigued Johnson, as the Hoyas have a strong history of developing big men.

However, Johnson seemed set on Big Blue Nation. Johnson, who actually lived in Lexington briefly, told Seve Cousins of ZagsBlog.com earlier this week that Kentucky was still in the mix, even if Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein would leave for the NBA or return for their sophomore seasons.

Johnson is a very skilled offensive big. He’s not an overly-athletic big man, like a Noel or Anthony Davis, but he is strong presence inside, who can score in the paint and adds a good rebounder for John Calipari. He joins Marcus Lee and Derek Willis as part of the freshman frontline for the Wildcats in 2013-2014. Calipari has also landed commitments from the backcourt of Aaron and Andrew Harrison, as well as wing James Young.

Kentucky already had the best recruiting class entering today. Johnson strengthened it. But the scariest part of all, is that Calipari isn’t done.

Calipari is still a possible destination for the nation’s top player, Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (W.Va.), as well as the nation’s top forward, Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian (Tex.).

The 6-foot-9 Randle has Kentucky on a short list with Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida, N.C. State and Kansas, while many believe Kentucky and Florida State are the favorites for Wiggins’ services.

Not sure if there is room for both of these recruits, but if Calipari can land either Randle or Wiggins, this is probably the greatest recruiting class in history.

According to Rivals.com, Kentucky, if they land Wiggins or Randle – ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively – the Wildcats would have four of the top eight recruits in the nation and six of the top 20 (Johnson is No. 13, Lee is No. 18).

This is class is two years removed from Kentucky landing the two top picks in the 2012 NBA Draft – Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – and Calipari looks like he could outdo himself with this group of freshmen.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.