September 28, 2012

Examining the class of 2014: who has offers?

Now that we know who the remaining targets are for Kentucky in the class of 2013, let's move on to the current juniors, the class of 2014. There has been a lot of chatter recently as to who does, and does not, have official offers from coach John Calipari. After spending days researching to confirm or disaffirm scholarship offer reports, here are the only players in 2014 that the Wildcats have offered.

Class by Himself
For a long time now, the talk about who the top 2014 prospect (and really the top overall prospect regardless of class) has begun and ended with Canadian native, and Huntington (W.V.) Prep star wing Andrew Wiggins.

The big talk surrounding Wiggins has been if he will stay in the class of 2014, or move up to 2013 to get to college early, as well as if he'll attend one of his two leaders in Kentucky and Florida State. Not to be counted out, sources from the North Carolina program contend that Wiggins is also very much considering the Tar Heels.

A future superstar in whichever class he ends up in, it's no secret that Calipari would love to earn a commitment from Wiggins.

Windy City Bigs
Once the Chicago teacher's union strike ended Calipari was on the first flight to the Midwest's most fertile recruiting ground to chat up five-star, and top five overall, prospects Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander. On that visit Okafor received his scholarship offer from Calipari, while Alexander has held his for some time.

Alexander, an offensively raw but dynamic athlete with great power, has publicly declared that he favors Kentucky and Michigan State over other schools on his list; but sources that are close to Alexander have said that also has expressed interest in helping become a part of a rebuilding process at one of two in-state schools in Illinois or DePaul.

Okafor is constantly being linked to schools in the Big 10 conference, as well as North Carolina and Duke, but is thought to be wide open with his recruiting right now. While he isn't as athletic as former UK big man DeMarcus Cousins, Okafor is that level of a scorer and could be an immediate dominant force on the inside for an elite college team.

The top two big men talents in their class, Okafor and Alexander are considered to be as good of big men prospects as anyone who has come out of high school in the last several seasons.

Point Man
One thing that we at Cats Illustrated have gone over several times is the 2014 point guard competition between two elite prospects in Texas' Emmanuel Mudiay and Minnesota's Tyus Jones. While we can go on and on with comparisons and contrasts between the two players, it's obvious that both of them are elite talents and would be great recruiting coups for the Wildcats.

Jones has been linked recently to Jahlil Okafor, with sources claiming that the two would like to head to school together (in that scenario Michigan State, Ohio State, Duke and North Carolina have all been mentioned as possible destinations). More of a scoring guard, Jones is a great shot-maker who plays with supreme confidence and is a very versatile offensive weapon.

Mudiay will be the next big thing in Texas after the graduation of Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison. An athletic guard with great size and natural court-vision, it is thought that Calipari favors Mudiay but would love to get a signature on a letter of intent from either guard.

Calipari has made personal visits to chat with both lead guards this fall; and like with the Harrison twins in 2013, Calipari is not recruiting any other true point guards in that class.

New to the Table
Two prospects that entered the UK recruiting scene this fall are Indiana combo forward Trey Lyles and Minnesota wing guard Rashad Vaughn. Lyles received his scholarship offer shortly after the five-star prospect de-committed from Indiana, while Vaughn, a fellow five-star, received his offer just a week ago when Calipari came to visit him at his high school.

Lyles is one of the most promising members of the 2014 class as an athletic 6-foot-10 forward who can play on the wing or the post, and has a matured skill-set with an aggressive mentality. Vaughn is also a mature player, possessing the rare mid-range skill-set that is often missing from the games of elite young prospects. While several media members expressed surprise at the fact that Calipari offered Vaughn so early, it was a foregone conclusion that Lyles would receive an offer almost instantly after spurning the Hoosiers.

Both of these prospects are going to stay near the top of UK's recruiting board. If Wiggins reclassifies to 2013 then Vaughn easily could become the Wildcats top wing target; while Lyles will already be their top four man target as the other big men in the class with offers, Okafor and Alexander, are traditional post players who operate solely on the low block.

California Love
There's no secret that Calipari covets athletic and high energy combo forwards with versatility. The success that Calipari has had with guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, and looks to have with Alex Poythress, is evident. The next person in that group could be Californian forward Stanley Johnson. Johnson received his offer late in the summer, making him one of the first 2014 prospects that Calipari gave the verbal offer to.

While he'll be difficult to lure from the West Coast, as top prospects from that area often are, Johnson has been quoted by Cats Illustrated as calling Kentucky a, "dream school."

Offers on the Way?
Just because a prospect doesn't have an offer this early in their junior season does not mean that Kentucky is not recruiting them. In fact, the list of players who Calipari's staff has had at least some contact with could fill up half a page. With players like Marcus Lee and Tyler Roberson from the 2013 class not earning offers until September of their senior seasons, it could be a waiting game with several of these prospects.

Here are some of the targets who we at Cats Illustrated feel are closest to eventually earning a scholarship offer.

-D'angelo Russell: The five-star combo guard from Louisville, who attends Montverde Academy in Florida, makes it no secret that he would love to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. While he can score the ball, Russell excels in the all-around game with his versatility at the guard spot. Look for him to make his decision between Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State and possibly Indiana; with an offer from the Wildcats more than likely coming before any of the aforementioned targets get theirs.

-JaQuan Lyle: Lyle is an intriguing combo guard who can play the point, the two or the three spot. He has size, skills and is a solid athlete who excels at scoring the basketball from all three levels of the floor. What we like best about Lyle is his ability to handle the ball and create offense; which is rare for a young guard with his size. It might be tough to keep Lyle from the in-state schools, or Louisville who has shown him a lot of love, but if Calipari extends an offer to Lyle expect the five-star to take a long hard look at UK.

-Chris McCullough: A 6-foot-10 big man who we don't know a ton about, McCullough burst onto the scene later in the AAU season as one of the top forwards in the class. Playing some summer ball alongside fellow UK target Isaiah Whitehead, McCullough looks like a guy who Calipari and staff will spend a lot of time evaluating this coming spring on the AAU circuit; but with the promise he shows he easily could become 2014's version of Lee or Roberson.

-Dakari Johnson: There's always been talk of a Kentucky connection between former Bluegrass State resident Johnson, who claims New York City as where he did most of his growing up, and the Wildcats. Another 6-foot-10 prospect, Johnson is more similar to Jahlil Okafor because of his wide-body, skill-set and soft hands around the rim. The general consensus is that he's not quite as good of a prospect as Okafor or Alexander; but he's a no-brainer top ten prospect in what looks to be a very good 2014 class.

Note: Remember that former 2014 five-star Noah Vonleh made the move last week to the class of 2013, essentially removing himself from the Kentucky recruiting board as the Wildcats are already pretty set with the forwards that they're recruiting in that class. Vonleh has been heavily linked to Indiana, North Carolina, Duke and several other high profile programs; and is thought to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Wildcats.

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