Comparing the recruiting strategies at Kentucky and Kansas
It’s no secret that Lexington, Ky., has become to one-and-done college basketball players what Cancun, South Padre Island and Daytona Beach are to spring breakers.
And it’s not exactly breaking news that Kentucky coach John Calipari has figured out how to coach these players, be it one or two of them or a team with six or seven.
This weekend’s news that Kevin Knox was joining the Wildcats gives Kentucky a whopping seven of the top 28 players in the 2017 class, according to the 247 Sports rankings (see Tweet below for details).
Seven. That’s five starters and two more off the bench. Basically, that’s the entire KU rotation from the 2016-17 season. And, any way you slice it, that’s downright impressive.
I’m sure there are KU fans out there who rolled their eyes at that last sentence and thought to themselves, big frickin’ whoop. But if you’re one of them, ask yourself this question: If KU had signed seven of the top 28 players in this (or any) recruiting class wouldn’t you be (a) ridiculously fired up and (b) more inclined to call the feat impressive?
I’m not saying landing one-fourth of the best players in all the land in the 2017 recruiting class guarantees Calipari’s Wildcats a thing. It doesn’t. You never know how these things are going to play out. Some could become busts or get injured. Others could fail to crack Kentucky’s rotation and become two-, three- or even four-year players. It happens. And not just at Kentucky. Look no further than Carlton Bragg Jr., for proof of unfulfilled potential happening at Kansas during recent years.
Beyond the fact that landing all of those talented prospects does not guarantee Kentucky a thing is the realization that there is more than one way to skin a cat and programs all over the country — really good, really successful, really attractive programs — tend to prove that year after year.
Kansas is one of them. Again, I can all but guarantee you that if the Jayhawks had landed seven of the 28 best players in any recruiting class, the coaching staff would be jacked and the fan base would be clearing calendars to make sure they were off of work, in Lawrence or both during Final Four weekend. And those are just the humble ones. The more braggadocious KU fans already would be boasting about the Jayhawks being a lock to win the 2018 national championship.
And maybe they would win it. Maybe Kentucky will. Who knows? And that is the beauty of it all.
Right now, on May 8, 2017, the Jayhawks and Wildcats — as always — are among the betting favorites in Las Vegas to cut down the nets next April in San Antonio, separated at the top by just a couple of spots on the future betting odds.
One of them will be looking to do so with a team full of freshmen. And the other will be trying to do it with a mixed bag of four-year players, veteran transfers and talented newcomers.
Again, I’m not saying one way is right and the other is wrong. But, for my money, I sure like the roster construction KU coach Bill Self seems to shoot for — a couple of talented and proven veterans mixed with a few program guys all buoyed by highly rated incoming freshmen like last year’s Josh Jackson and this year’s Billy Preston.
There’s just something cool about a roster that has a little natural order to it.
Just look at the work the KU coaching staff did on the recruiting trail this year alone. The 2017 class includes a potential one-and-done player in Preston, a likely multi-year player in combo guard Marcus Garrett and a graduate transfer in Jack Whitman. Three players from various different places coming together to join the Jayhawks.
Beyond that, Self and company also brought in three more transfers in Memphis’ Lawson brothers and former Cal point guard Charlie Moore and their future paths at Kansas also figure to run different courses.
Bringing in that kind of diversity helps with roster balance and, perhaps most importantly, helps ensure that each future team will have at least a couple of veterans with the potential to become key leaders.
Could you even imagine the Jayhawks knocking on the door of national titles during the past couple of years without guys like Perry Ellis or Frank Mason? No chance.
Time will tell if that knock is answered in 2018. But, with Devonte’ Graham leading the way and the KU roster filling out from there, the Jayhawks certainly will have all of the pieces they need to make it happen.
In other, somewhat related recruited, we received another Trevon Duval update over the weekend and, believe it or not, it seems like the 5-star point guard’s big announcement is finally coming.
After revealing two weekends ago that he would make a decision, “soon,” Duval took that one step farther this past weekend by telling Krysten Peek, of Rivals.com, that he would announce his decision date in the next “couple days.”
Who knows if that means we’ll know where he’s headed by the end of the week or not, but it seems like we should at least know when he’s going to tell us.