(This is the latest installment of our Top Recruit Series, which has outlined the recruiting history since 2000 for each of the seven main basketball conferences. This column focuses on the SEC.)
What's amazing about this list of the top 25 recruits to sign with SEC programs since 2000 isn't that 15 of the 25 are Kentucky players. It's that all 15 were enrolled by John Calipari, who didn't get the Kentucky job until 2009. In other words, Calipari has out-recruited the entire rest of the SEC since 2000 even though the rest of the league has nine more years of recruiting classes under consideration here than Calipari.
That seems ridiculous.
And, frankly, the disparity would grow larger if the list expanded to 3o prospects. Or 40 prospects. Because Kentucky alums like James Young, Dakari Johnson, Archie Miller, Jamal Murray and Terrence Jones just barely missed the top 25 and would certainly make the top 40. Bottom line, when analysts suggest Kentucky is consistently recruiting about two levels above the rest of the SEC, they aren't lying. The list below serves as proof.
|1. Anthony Davis||Kentucky||PF||2011|
|2. Ben Simmons||LSU||SF||2015|
|3. John Wall||Kentucky||PG||2009|
|4. DeMarcus Cousins||Kentucky||PF||2009|
|5. Julius Randle||Kentucky||PF||2013|
|6. Skal Labissiere||Kentucky||C||2015|
|7. Nerlens Noel||Kentucky||PF||2012|
|8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||Kentucky||SF||2011|
|9. Gerald Wallace||Alabama||PF||2000|
|10. Karl-Anthony Towns||Kentucky||C||2014|
|11. Brad Beal||Florida||SG||2011|
|12. Brandon Knight||Kentucky||PG||2010|
|13. Tobias Harris||Tennessee||SF||2010|
|14. Andrew Harrison||Kentucky||PG||2013|
|15. Aaron Harrison||Kentucky||SG||2013|
|16. De'Aaron Fox||Kentucky||PG||2016|
|17. Richard Hendrix||Alabama||PF||2005|
|18. Chris Walker||Florida||PF||2013|
|19. Bam Adebayo||Kentucky||PF||2016|
|20. Marquis Teague||Kentucky||PG||2011|
|21. Renardo Sidney||Mississippi State||PF||2009|
|22. Mario Austin||Mississippi State||C||2000|
|23. Alex Poythress||Kentucky||SF||2012|
|24. Malik Newman||Mississippi State||PG||2015|
|25. David Lee||Florida||PF||2001|
A few thoughts:
* Twelve NCAA players have been selected No. 1 in the NBA Draft in the past 17 years, and four of them are on the list of above -- John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012), Karl-Anthony Towns (2015) and Ben Simmons (2016). That means the SEC is responsible for 25 percent of the past 12 NCAA players to go first overall. And John Calipari is actually responsible for 25 percent of them himself when you add Derrick Rose (2008), whom he coached at Memphis, to his list of Wall, Davis and Towns. For what it's worth, no other college coach has produced more than one No. 1 pick since 2000. And no other league has produced more than two.
* Recruiting analysts are typically reliable when it comes to opinions on the best of the best. But it's reasonable to suggest Karl-Anthony Towns was underrated, isn't it? Most services had him fifth in the Class of 2014 behind Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and Cliff Alexander. But Towns has already proven to be better than them all. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year. Barring injuries, the Kentucky alum already looks like a future face of the sport and possible Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer.
* Two of the players on the list -- No. 16 Bam Adebayo and No. 19 De'Aaron Fox -- are freshmen who just enrolled at Kentucky. So now you know why the Wildcats are the clear favorites to win another SEC title.
* Florida won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 with a starting lineup of Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. And yet none of them were top-20 national recruits in their high school classes, according to 247Sports, which is why they're not on the list above. Brewer was the only five-star prospect of the bunch. Green and Humphrey, the starting backcourt, were both three-star prospects.
* Go through the entire list above and what you'll find is that only five of the 14 SEC schools -- Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU -- are represented. And I know Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison didn't develop into lottery picks like so many anticipated, but it's still wild that a set of twin brothers are two of the top 15 recruits since 2000 for an entire Power 5 league.
1. Renardo Sidney (Mississippi State): Sidney is an all-time waste of talent and cautionary tale of what happens when prospects are labeled elite early and are then mishandled by their parents or guardians. He was ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2009, according to 247Sports. But the 6-10 forward was forced to miss his entire freshman season, and nine games of his sophomore season, because of an NCAA suspension. The most notable thing he did in college is fight with a teammate on national television. Sidney eventually declared for the 2012 NBA Draft but was not selected. He's never appeared in an NBA game.
2. Malik Newman (Mississippi State): To be fair, it's way too early to write the final chapter on Newman. But, clearly, things haven't gone as planned to date. He enrolled at Mississippi State as a five-star in-state product projected by most to be a one-and-done player. Instead, the 6-3 guard finished fourth on the team in scoring and wasn't even the Bulldogs' top freshman. After last season, he left Mississippi State and enrolled and Kansas. Newman will now sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
3. Alex Poythress (Kentucky): Poythress had a four-year college career in which he averaged 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds and played in one Final Four. That's not terrible. But he was the No. 7 prospect in the Class of 2012, according to 247Sports. So the bar was set high for this 6-7 forward who never became a high-level college player and did not get selected in the 2016 NBA Draft.
4. Chris Walker (Florida): Walker was a consensus top-10 recruit in the Class of 2013 and, at the time, a projected lottery pick. But things never clicked at Florida. He averaged 1.9 points as a freshman and 4.7 as a sophomore before entering the 2015 NBA Draft. Predictably, the 6-10 forward went unselected. He's now in the D-League.
5. Kasey Hill (Florida): Hill, like Walker, was a consensus top-10 recruit in the Class of 2013. Unlike Walker, he's still at Florida. But the 6-1 guard has never averaged double-digits in points in a season. The final line of his Wikipedia page currently reads this way: "His collegiate career has thus far been somewhat disappointing after such a prolific high school career." Seems about right.
1. Scottie Wilbekin (Florida): Wilbekin was a zero-star recruit in 2010, according 247Sports, yet he developed into a player who started in both his junior and senior years. Florida won the SEC in each of those seasons. The Gators went 18-0 in the league in 2014 -- when Wilbekin was named the SEC Player of the Year.
2. Marcus Thornton (LSU): Thornton was nowhere to be found in 247Sports' database coming out of high school in 2005. And he was just a three-star recruit when he exited junior college in 2007. But he was awesome in two years at LSU while averaging 19.6 points as a junior and 21.1 points as a senior. The 6-4 guard was the SEC Player of the Year in 2009. He's spent the past seven years in the NBA.
3. Chris Lofton (Tennessee): Lofton was ranked 140th in the Class of 2004, according to 247Sports. But he was impactful from the moment he stepped on campus. The 6-2 guard averaged 13.2 points as a freshman, 17.2 points as a sophomore, 20.8 points as a junior and 15.5 points as a senior. He finished with 2,131 career points and was the SEC Player of the Year in 2007. He also beat testicular cancer.
4. Joakim Noah (Florida): Noah was ranked 76th in the Class of 2004, according to 247Sports, and guys ranked there don't usually make the NBA. But Noah developed into a player who was the ninth pick of the 2007 NBA Draft after leading Florida to back-to-back national championships. He was the emotional leader of those teams and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 Final Four. The 6-11 center is now a starter for the New York Knicks. He was an All-Star in 2013 and 2014, First Team All-NBA in 2014, and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
5. Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky): Bledsoe was ranked 57th in the Class of 2009, according 247Sports, which made him the lowest-rated high school prospect in Kentucky's six-player class that year. Regardless, he was a key component who averaged 11.3 points while sharing shots with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson in his lone season at Kentucky. The result was a team that won 35 games and advanced to the Elite Eight. Bledsoe then entered the 2010 NBA Draft and was selected 18th overall. He signed a $70 million contract with the Phoenix Suns two years ago.
I remember watching Kasey Hill and Chris Walker on the summer circuit before their senior years of high school and thinking, "Man, Florida is just going to keep rolling when those two enroll."
I was wrong.
Walker made no impact at Florida.
Hill has been little more than an average player in three years.
And it really is strange, if only because I can't think of other examples of top-10 prospects enrolling at the same school together and neither living up to expectations. Hill and Walker weren't Mike Conley and Greg Oden, exactly. But they were supposed to be closer to that than what they've been. That they weren't is the main reason Florida has missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Again, Hill has one more season with the Gators.
So perhaps things will end on a high note for him.
I hope so.
But, either way, the Hill-Walker duo never materialized.
And that's both surprising and kind of sad.