Eric Bledsoe

Please don’t count John Calipari and Kentucky out of the race for the Harrison twins

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Yesterday, NBCSports.com took a look at the recruitment of the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, and the possible connections that could land them at Maryland when they announce their decision Thursday evening.

But what about the other horse in the race for their commitment? If we have learned anything, it’s not to bet against John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats.

Maryland might have deep connections from Texas, close ties to the family, a geographic advantage, and the Under Armour card in its back pocket, but the defending national champions have ruled the recruiting world since Calipari took over in Lexington.

The fact of the matter is, aside from Shabazz Muhammad, the Calipari we’ve come to know at Kentucky has never lost out on a prospect that he truly wanted. If a top prospect hears Kentucky calling, he usually answers with a verbal commitment.

Say what you will and allege what you will about Calipari’s behind-the-scenes recruiting tactics, but there’s plenty to legitimize the flood of recruiting heading to Calipari’s program.

Plainly put, Calipari and Kentucky turn the nation’s best players into NBA first-rounders.

Don’t believe it? Ask John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Eric Bledsoe, and the list goes on.

The same way that the country’s top students flock to the Wharton Business School because it’s almost a guaranteed ticket into their desired field, Calipari is now running the equivalent in basketball.

And that’s the draw for the Harrison twins.

Under Armour aside, personal relationships dismissed, Calipari would give the twins an opportunity to be surrounded by some of the country’s best talent for (if all goes as likely planned) one season, compete for a national title, and be NBA lottery picks.

Perhaps that can pull harder than anything Mark Turgeon could do at Maryland.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Are Kentucky players really overrated and underprepared?

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Kentucky has become the go-to program for players looking to get onto the fast-track to the NBA.

In 2010, John Calipari sent five players to the first round of the NBA Draft. Last year, Kentucky had four more players draft, two of which went in the top eight. This year, as many as six former Wildcats could find themselves getting picked in the first round of the draft.

But according to one NBA scout, Kentucky’s system hides the flaws of those players.

“The interesting thing, and its not a knock, but there is this Kentucky mystique that Calipari has done a great job creating and perpetuating.  The best part about Kentucky’s system is that can hide so many flaws at first glance,” the scout told Larry Vaught. “MKG is a good defensive player, but he isn’t as good as people believe.  Having Davis camped around the rim allowed players to play defense in a way which minimized their weaknesses. … The threat of the lob made Teague out to be a better point guard than he really is.”

That line of thinking really doesn’t make much sense to me.

For starters, the job of a head coach is to mask his player’s flaws. He is paid to find a way to utilize the strengths of the players on his time in unison, to whole team greater than the sum of its parts. If the threat of the lob makes Teague better, than it is in Calipari’s interest to make the lob a threat on every possession possible. If Davis’ presence around the rim makes his teammates better and more aggressive defensively, than Calipari better have Davis around the rim on every possession possible.

The other issue with that line of thinking is that the players that are being drafted out of Kentucky are freshmen and sophomores. Were you, as a 19 year old, ready to be a professional anything, let alone a professional athlete? How many players drafted after their freshmen or sophomore seasons are finished products as basketball players?

But my arguments are moot once you take a look at the results.

Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall haven’t exactly struggled in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight aren’t on the same level, but they are quality back court players. DeMarcus Cousins averaged 18 points and 11 boards last season. Daniel Orton has been disappointing, but Josh Harrellson was a revelation as a rookie.

It would be easy to argue Kentucky players are overrated and underprepared if they weren’t so, you know, good.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

After ’12 Draft, Kentucky will have most alums currently in NBA

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A national championship, a No. 1 recruiting class, six players headed to the NBA draft, and now this:

After Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller are drafted into the NBA, as they are expected to, Kentucky will overtake Duke as the team with the most former players who are currently in the NBA.

As Rick Bozich of the Courier-Journal points out, Duke leads with 16, but will only be adding one player, Austin Rivers, to that number in the 2012 draft.

They could, on the other hand, lose an aging Elton Brand or Grant Hill to retirement.

Kentucky boosts its stock by adding six on the draft end, but could lose a few to retirement as well, with big men Jamaal Magliore and Nazr Muhammad reaching the ends of their careers.

By Bozich’s estimation, that would put Kentucky at 18, ahead of trailing schools that include Duke, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, and North Carolina.

Of course, there is a flood of Kentucky blue that has come into the NBA draft in the past few seasons, with the Wildcats under the direction of John Calipari.

Calipari’s first team at Kentucky produced five first-round picks, including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe.

Rajon Rondo is perhaps the most productive Kentucky alum currently in the NBA, as he is averaging 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game for the Boston Celtics.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

How do other hauls compare to Kentucky’s recent classes?

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Some things never change.

Kentucky landed 2012’s top prospect in Nerlens Noel Wednesday night, a move that’ll almost certainly give the Wildcats the top-rated recruiting class in college basketball. Consider coach John Calipari four-for-four while in Lexington.

(He’s not done yet, either. Power forward Anthony Bennett, another 5-star player, is considering Kentucky, as are 5-star forwards Amile Jefferson and Devonta Pollard. Bennett is the best bet for the Wildcats, though.)

That’s a run unlike any other in college hoops history and gives the Wildcats four of the top recruiting classes the game’s seen since 2002.

Per Drew Cannon, who’s done work analyzing prospects for Scout.com and Basketball Prospectus, only North Carolina’s 2006 class and Duke’s 2002 class can compare to any of the last four groups Kentucky’s gathered. He places all of the ‘Cats classes ahead of 2007 Ohio State – the Greg Oden-led group that reached the title game – and ’06 Texas, which boasted Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and Dexter Pittman (!).

Here’s his rundown of the top 16 classes since 2002, a combination of highly rated prospects and number of guys in said class:

That makes 2012 the closest hoarding of elite talent at a select group of schools since 2006. And those were some good groups in ’06.

All of the above classes include at least one 5-star guy, most have at least two or three. Some, like ’05 Kansas, feature four 5-star guys. And many were extremely successful. At least four (’11 Kentucky, ’06 UNC, ’05 Kansas, ’06 Duke) provided the backbone for national title teams.

The only question I have: Where will Kentucky’s 2013 class fall on this list?

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Is criticizing John Calipari’s ability to coach unfair?

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John Calipari is an easy coach to dislike.

If the fact that he has slid by unscathed as the programs that he ran prior to Kentucky had Final Fours vacated isn’t enough, the fact that he is the face of Big Blue Nation and completely unapologetic for recruiting players with the main goal being to get them fast-tracked to the NBA while rumors swirl about the NCAA violations he commits on a daily basis is probably enough to put him on your bad side.

Perhaps the harshest criticism that Coach Cal has taken over the course of his career is the fact that he cannot coach. That he’s a recruiter, a coach that simply rolls the balls out onto the floor and allows the talent he has amassed to take over. As one columnist put it, Coach Cal runs “a glorified AAU team.”

And that is, perhaps, the most inaccurate critique of Coach Cal. When it comes down to it, Coach Cal can coach. As Luke Winn (and John Ezekowitz before him in the College Basketball Prospectus season preview) noted, the past two seasons, he has changed the style that his team plays during the season to highlight the strengths of his team. More specifically, he’s slowed down the pace that his team plays at. This season, Kentucky has gone from a team that averaged 70.7 possessions in non-conference play to one that averages 62.6 possessions in SEC games — a massive change — and it has resulted in Marquis Teague becoming a much more effective point guard. He did the same thing last season and it was a key factor in Brandon Knight’s transition form an overwhelmed freshman to the No. 8 pick in the draft.

Calipari took the time to sit down with Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News for a long question and answer session, and he addressed this very topic.

“They’re not ‘all one-and-dones,'” he said. “That is the disclaimer so you don’t have to say, ‘Boy, he really gets guys better. Their program, their style, prepares kids.’ You’re telling me that Eric Bledsoe was a “one-and-done”? You’re telling me Daniel Orton was a ‘one-and-done’? You’re telling me Shawne Williams, when I was in Memphis, was a ‘one-and-done’? Can you tell me who thought that? Because they need to be drug-tested.”

You can dislike the way that Coach Cal runs a program. That’s your prerogative.

But criticizing his ability to develop talent and coach a team is both unfair and incorrect.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

NCAA offers closure on Bledsoe case

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Regarding Eric Bledsoe’s high school grades: case closed.

The Birmingham school board decided last week to let the former Kentucky freshman keep a grade that helped him gain eligibility to play the 2009-10 season. And that – as expected – was enough for the NCAA.

“In talking with Birmingham school officials, we confirmed they plan to take no further action in the Eric Bledsoe case,” Chuck Wynne, the NCAA’s director of communication strategy, said in an email to ESPN.com Tuesday. “With that in mind, the NCAA considers the matter closed. The original decision on Bledsoe’s initial eligibility stands.”

Bledsoe, who was cleared by the NCAA’s Eligibility Center after his initial transcript was received, had his transcript reviewed by a Birmingham law firm. Lead investigator U.W. Clemon called the review “one of the more challenging things I’ve done” because some grade books from the two schools Bledsoe attended were missing.

In the end, the review found that the was no documentation to justify an improvement from a “C” to an “A,” but there was nothing to show it was improper, either.

The school board’s moving on. So’s the NCAA. Let’s all do the same.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.