LEXINGTON — He’s seen all of Kentucky’s highly-touted freshmen play before in high school all-star games, but ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes was as eager as the 23,000-plus UK fans to watch Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer and Marquis Teague on Friday at Big Blue Madness.
“I wanted to see what they look like now. It has been six months since I have seen any of them. I want to get a feel for how they will act, look and respond to a huge crowd,” Dykes said before the two-hour extravaganza started. “It’s a show. No basketball is being taught or learned from anything going on in Rupp Arena tonight. The real stuff begins after this, but you can still get a feel for a team’s potential watching Midnight Madness.”
Kentucky’s recruiting class is ranked as the nation’s best, and Dykes, a former UK assistant coach, confirmed that all four are elite players.
“Kentucky fans are well educated about basketball. They are as good of fans as there are out there,” Dykes said. “They will immediately recognize the talent of Davis. He is outstanding. He is as talented as anybody in college basketball this year, and I don’t just mean in the freshman class.
“He is not a finished product yet, but it is hard to find someone with his combination of size, length, running ability and footwork. He is the total package. He’s coachable and hungry. He is going to jump out at folks. I will be shocked if he does not jump out at Kentucky fans and make a major impact on college basketball immediately.”
Dykes likes Kidd-Gilchrist, who was once the top-rated player in the 2011 recruiting class before Davis rose to the top in many rankings.
“I think he is a warrior. He’s a great, great athlete,” Dykes said. “He could become one of the best defenders Cal has ever had. He plays really, really hard. He does things to help you win games. He will put points on the board because of his effort. His effort alone will get you points. Who would not want to coach him?”
He has few doubts that Teague will be another marquee point guard for Calipari just as Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Brandon Knight were.
“Teague is just as fast or faster than the ones he has had. He is in (the) same mold of being a leader by how he goes about his business,” Dykes said. “Defensively, he may be a little big progressed over Wall, Knight, Evans and Rose compared to where they were before practice begins. He is already in good shape defensively.
“He is a great distributor of the ball and has great players around him. He will benefit by having those great players around him. With Davis and (Terrence) Jones inside and (Doron) Lamb knocking down shots, it could be something. He does not need a lot of help to be great, but he will have plenty of help to make Kentucky successful.”
Wiltjer is not quite as highly rated as his freshmen teammates or as well-known nationally. However, Dykes thinks he’s special, too.
“He is one of the best all-around freshmen in the country. He’s a legit 6-9. He is maybe one or two of the top 3-point shooters (in the freshman class). Other than Lamb, he shoots as well as anybody Kentucky has,” Dykes said. “He’s smart, knows the game, is a good passer. There will be a lot of possibilities with him setting screens and putting stress on defenses.
“I know he is really, really good. I don’t know if he’ll even start on this team, but he is as good an all-around player as there is in the freshman class. Davis, Austin Rivers (of Duke) and James McAdoo (of North Carolina) might be better in one or two specific areas, but he is as good an all-around player as anyone, or maybe the best.”
Dykes says all the freshmen, as well as Calipari, will benefit by having Jones and Lamb back for their sophomore seasons and Darius Miller returning for his senior season.
“It’s easily the best three older players he has had to work with in his short time at Kentucky,” Dykes said. “All three are starters and big-time players in what they do and bring to the team. That’s why Kentucky has a great chance to get back to the Final Four. They are not starting over like they did last year. Even the first year with Patrick Patterson, it was still his first year in the program, too.
“Now Calipari is almost like a year ahead. He has three guys that have been there and are great teachers themselves. They will be like fourth, fifth, sixth assistants on the staff. That is a huge plus for Kentucky. Not only are they back, but they are three really good players.
“That’s why I have them in my top five to start the season and clearly No. 1 in the SEC (Southeastern Conference). It just seems to be a really good team. I see four or five potentially really good teams in North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio State, Syracuse, and certainly Kentucky is in there. Those five all have a chance for a special season.”