UK coach John Calipari has been on the job less than two months, but already, he and his Wildcat basketball program are the talk of college basketball. Saying he was hired to replace Billy Gillispie "because I can recruit the best," Calipari has done just that.
Last Wednesday, the final day of the national signing period, John Wall completed what is being hailed as one of the best recruiting classes ever. With four 5-star players, Calipari's class of 2009 easily is the best this year.
Calipari's recruiting was done in short order, which has many wondering how he could have pulled it off, how he could top this feat? Certainly, it clearly sends a message that UK will be a force in recruiting circles again in the future.
So how is the UK program being perceived now, nearly 60 days AB (after Billy)?
Rex Chapman is pleased with the direction of the program. He told Sporting News that Calipari is the answer. "I believe given the circumstances that Cal is the right guy at the right time for my former school. It should be an enjoyable experience for all. I have faith that Cal and Co. will have them back in the title hunt sooner rather than later."
"The Southeastern Conference needs Kentucky to be Kentucky," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said, in an interview with Sporting News. "I think John Calipari will most certainly take Kentucky back to the standard that's expected."
"If you think about it, North Carolina needs to be good in the ACC. The Pac-10, until UCLA became UCLA again, everybody was saying the Pac-10 is down. I think everybody in our league would say Kentucky, based on the sheer numbers and the passionate support, it needs to be Kentucky. And it's certainly well on its way."
Former Wildcat and current Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, seemed amazed at UK's recruiting haul, which includes Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Darnell Dodson, Jon Hood and Daniel Orton.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure this has ever been done before or will be done again," Ford told ESPN.com. "Everything was lined into place. It all worked out great. I think this is why he went to Kentucky -- to have his pick. I'm excited for my alma mater. It's going to be them and Kansas (for the title). I wouldn't be surprised if either one didn't lose a game."
Providence coach Keno Davis had similar thoughts: "I can't compare it to anything. It shows why he was highly sought after. They knew what they were getting, but I'm not sure anyone thought it would be this kind of quantity and quality. To have the top names surpasses anyone's early expectations."
Wall, Bledsoe and Cousins represent three top-25 players. Dodson is a highly-regarded JUCO player. Orton and Hood are also top-50 caliber players. "When you look at the first three kids, it's as good as any threesome," said recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hoopmasters.com. "They're all going to be pros. It's going to be the other kids who have the chance to lift it into one of the best ever."
With Bledsoe already in the fold, Wall's signing was seen as the coup de grace. Rated by many as the top overall player in high school, Wall likely will be the opening night starter at point guard for the Cats, when they take on Morehead State.
"Kentucky is going to do a lot of good for John," his adviser, Brian Clifton told Sports Illustrated. "I think he's going to do them proud, because there are a lot of people who've been thirsting to get back to the days of old, when Kentucky was king of the hill."
Certainly, Billy Gillispie had many quirks, including his desire to remain anonymous despite the trappings of being the Kentucky coach. Like Calipari, Gillespie was hired because of his perceived recruiting prowess and relentless work ethic at such. While some fans questioned his recruiting methods, it's worth noting Gillispie did bring in some talented players during his brief two-year stay.
In looking back at ESPN's Top 100 players in each of the last three seasons, Gillispie did quite well, even by UK standards.
Here are the recruits and their ESPN rankings:
2007 - Patrick Patterson (#9), DeAndre Jordan (25) (signed by Gillispie at Texas A&M), Alex Legion (28)
2008 - Darius Miller (33), DeAndre Liggins (57)
2009 - Daniel Orton (13), Jon Hood (92)
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.