No one has been busier covering college basketball recruiting than Adam Zagoria — and that means he’s seen plenty of the recruiting targets Kentucky coach John Calipari has in the 2013 and 2014 classes.
Like most recruiting analysts, he sees the potential for a “monster” 2013 recruiting class for Kentucky.
“It’s like a best case-worst case scenario,” said Zagoria of www.zagsblog.com. “At best, it will be an embarrassment of riches. The worst case scenario for Kentucky fans would be Julius Randle goes to North Carolina or Duke, Andrew Wiggins stays in the 2014 class and the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) pick Maryland. All that is possible, but not likely. Kentucky is going to get players. It is Kentucky and they are the defending national champion. They will get players.
“I thought last year if Shabazz Muhammad had picked Kentucky, it would have been the best class ever. Some think Nerlens Noel is a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis. I think Shabazz is just going to kill it at UCLA. If Kentucky had him to go with Noel and the others, it would have been the best class. But who knows? It may fall into place that Calipari’s 2013 class will be.
“As good as Calipari’s recruiting has been at Kentucky with No. 1 recruiting classes every year, this next class has the potential to be the best ever. Whether it turns out that way, we’ll have to wait and see,” Zagoria said. “To me, the key is Andrew Wiggins.”
Wiggins, who seems to have UK¿and Florida State, where his father played, as his clear top college choices, is a phenomenal wing player who attends school at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep. During Canada’s junior national practice in June, Canada’s team coaches measured Wiggins’ vertical jump at 44 inches. There seems to be no weaknesses in his game and that’s why many are speculating he may now reclassify from the 2014 recruiting class to 2013 — a move that incoming UK¿freshman Nerlens Noel made to get to college a year earlier.
“He’s keeping his cards close to his vest. If he reclassifies and goes to Kentucky and then Kentucky adds whoever whether it is the Harrison twins, Randle, (James) Young, that is a special class. But a lot still has to happen,” Zagoria cautioned. “I think he will reclassify, but like Nerlens we may not know until spring. He is going to sit down with his parents and make that decision about whether he wants to be in the NBA in 2014 or 2015.
“It is clear to everyone that he is going to be in the NBA. It’s just a question of when. He’s always been a quiet, reserved kid who likes playing (basketball) with his friends and going to high school. So it’s not a given that he will reclassify.”
One of those friends is 6-4 Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a Huntington Prep teammate who is now on UK’s recruiting radar. Mayes is a prolific outside shooter. Rathan-Mayes has offers from Florida State, Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, Baylor, Kansas, Alabama and UCLA.
“I think he is a very good player on his own. I have watched that team (with Wiggins and Rathan-Mayes) six to eight times in the last few weeks,” Zagoria said. “Xavier is one of the best players on the team. He is a great shooter. He can score in a variety of ways. He’s also close to Wiggins, so that probably doesn’t hurt (in recruiting). I¿know Calipari called and has watched him.
“But Xavier wants to play and if Kentucky gets the Harrisons and a bunch of other players, he may not play as much there as he would want. If I am a guy like (Maryland coach) Mark Turgeon,¿I am going to the Harrisons and saying Wiggins may reclassify and how would that impact you guys. That’s the one dilemma Calipari does have.”
Zagoria says the Harrison twins, who are from Texas, continue to say there are “open” in their recruitment despite speculation it is a two-team race between UK¿and Maryland.
“I have heard rumors it is done for Kentucky and they are just waiting to announce,” Zagoria said of the two guards. “But I¿have talked to the Maryland, Baylor, Villanova and SMU¿staffs and they all think they are still in it. None said there’s not a chance they get them.
“They are both really good. I recently saw Aaron come out in a game and hit five or six 3’s and score 28 points. They can both flat-out score and play. They will make an instant impact wherever they do.”
He says SMU¿believes it can sign both players because their mother wants them to stay close to home to play, a factor that also could benefit Baylor. Their father has family in Baltimore and they are already friends with one current Maryland player.
“It wouldn’t shock me if they ended up at Maryland, but I am not sure Villanova or Baylor really has a chance. But that’s just my guess,” Zagoria said.
Another potential wing target is James Young, a player Zagoria says reminds him of J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks “because he is not afraid to shoot” a lot of shots.
“He will have games where he goes like 6-for-19, but he also went off against Wiggins. He took that game over this summer,” Zagoria said. “He is a scorer. He can put points on the board. He handles it well.¿He is a big physical kid with a body to play two guard in the¿NBA.
“I saw where he said he would not announce until the spring. A lot will depend on how other stuff unfolds and what happens with certain players. It looks right now like the Harrisons will be the first to announce, then maybe Jabari Parker in November. I do not know when Young and Randle will announce and I guess Wiggins will wait until spring.”
The 6-9 Randle, another player from Texas, recently noted that Calipari “is a great coach” and that he could see a mega recruiting class coming for UK. He also has interest in Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Baylor and Texas.
“Randle is a definite possibility for Kentucky, but he has his pick of Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Baylor. Anywhere he wants to go, he can go,” Zagoria said. “And there really is not a bad choice on the schools he has.”
He doesn’t think Parker, a Chicago product considered the top player in the 2013 recruiting class by most, will pick UK¿over Duke and Michigan State.
“He has strong relationships with coaches at Duke and Michigan State. Academics are very important to his family, and that helps Duke,” Zagoria said. “I have even had sources close to Calipari tell me that he believes Duke is the favorite. I¿honestly don’t think Jabari Parker goes to Kentucky.”
He also honestly believes that expectations for success at UK this year should be reeled in just a bit despite the arrival of a No. 1 recruiting class that includes Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin along with Willie Cauley-Stein, a player Zagoria admits he has not seen much of.
“I think those guys (Poythress, Goodwin, Noel) are great players, but Kentucky fans should temper their expectations about winning another title,” Zagoria said. “Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller won’t be there to provide that veteran leadership. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis were such special players. You are asking a lot of new guys to replicate that along with Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow.”
Of course, tempering expectations at Kentucky under Calipari is a bit different than it is at other schools.
“They may only get to Elite Eight and Final Four instead of winning the championship,” Zagoria said. “That’s how good Kentucky’s program is right now.”
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Follow Zagoria at www.zagsblog.com or on Twitter at @AdamZagoria.