Kentucky once again has the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class after center Nerlens Noel picked the Wildcats over Syracuse and Georgetown on Wednesday.
Noel originally was in the 2013 recruiting class, but after transferring from Everett (Mass.) High School in Massachusetts to Tilton (N.H.) School, he decided to re-classify to the 2012 class and was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit because of his defensive skills that have had some compare him to legendary NBA center Bill Russell, former Ohio State center Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft; or Anthony Davis, Kentucky’s starting center last season and the projected No. 1 pick in the June draft.
NBA draft as well.
But Kentucky coach John Calipari made sure on ESPNU’s national signing day show Wednesday night to let everyone know that the three players who had already signed with Kentucky are not one-star recruits.
“Willie Cauley is a 7-footer who can run like crazy and has only touched how good he can be,” Calipari said. “With Alex (Poythress), I don’t know if he even knows how good he can be. At times I have seen him challenged and take his game to another level. He has great size and athleticism.”
Poythress was probably was the biggest surprise in the recent McDonald’s All-American Game and will also be playing in the Jordan Brand Classic Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., with Noel and Goodwin.
“Archie is a guy who has wanted to play for me since he was in the ninth grade,” Calipari said. “He’s all in. Watch him. He will be one of those players, like Alex, that everybody will be talking about (next season) just like the young kids we had this year.”
Kentucky could still add power forwards Anthony Bennett or Amile Jefferson to this class, and Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi has UK on his list of possible schools where he’ll transfer. Kentucky has also been involved with at least one junior college perimeter player.
Calipari’s challenge next season will be that he will not have a veteran upperclassmen like Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller or DeAndre Liggins to help lead the team. Instead, it will be a molding process — and one that will be easier with Noel with the expected departure of seven players off the national title team.
Noel is considered to be superior to Davis defensively but behind him offensively by most recruiting analysts.
“Coach Cal recruited me real hard. He is a good person who cares about his players, he helps them reach their goals and the team's goals," Noel said. “They play as a unit and are very unselfish. Also the fans were incredible on my visit. They are behind the program 100 percent. It's a big family down there, and I am excited to be a part of it.”
Noel runs the floor better than most centers, just like Davis did.
He is most comfortable down low where he can rebound and score with a jump hook, but he does not have the outside skills of Davis.
However, ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi says Noel is the perfect fit for Calipari.
“He protects the rim and gets down the floor. He’s just what UK needed to go with what else it will have,” Biancardi said.