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In His Words: Calipari on Historic Class

Since signing what many think is the best class in college hoops history, Coach John Calipari has been uncharacteristically mum. He recently opened up to the media and offered some candid thoughts on each player. We offer them here, along with our own comments. Print this out and revisit in a few months...

Aaron Harrison:
Coach Cal: “Aaron is more of a scoring guard who can make shots and make plays at the rim. He can also play some point in a pinch. Like his brother, Andrew, he has the ability to physically dominate the opponent.”

Our take: Aaron Harrison will play 30 minutes a game from the start and lead the team in scoring on many nights, if not for the season. He has long arms, a fluid jump shot and great hops at the rim. His keys for success will be feeding off his brother’s playmaking abilities and getting enough production from other players so that he does not have force anything a la Archie Goodwin this past season. With the talent on this roster, on paper, this should not be a problem.

Andrew Harrison:
Coach Cal: “Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He’s a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders.”

Our take: Will rarely come off the court. The difference between Cal’s first three seasons and last year was at the PG position. Harrison salves that wound immediately. Barring injury, Harrison has the potential to be a first team AA type of player. He is big, strong and athletic, has a ridiculous handle and can get around anyone with an NBA ready first step. If he takes a pass-first mentality, he will lead the SEC in assists.

Dominique Hawkins:
Coach Cal: “When I watched him play, lead his team, and play with a will to win and fight, I was totally sold. At the Sweet Sixteen, he made sure he got his teammates involved and was always happy with their success, but when it was time to take over the game — when it was winning time — everyone in the building knew they were going to play through Dominique, which they did, and they won.”

Our take: A great signing by Kentucky. Hawkins is strong and athletic enough to push for playing time his freshman year, and certainly will make practice more interesting for the Harrisons. While he does not possess the overall defensive and shooting polish of the twins, he has the raw physical skills to develop over time, giving Calipari a solid backcourt option for the next four years. Having a serviceable in-state kid on the roster also never hurts.

Dakari Johnson:
“Coach Cal: Dakari’s improvement over the last year and a half has been phenomenal. ... Dakari is a great student and a great kid. He’s won a high school championship, a world championship with Team USA, and he said he wants to win a national championship with us and an NBA championship. That statement says a lot about the type of winner he is.”

Our take: Dakari Johnson is a work in progress. Potentially a little overrated from a prep standpoint, Johnson is not an explosive athlete nor does he possess a well developed overall game. He has a knack for the basketball and could become a rebounder and situational post defender early in his career. But he doesn’t have the offensive gifts or overall speed to figure to take many minutes away from a frontcourt nucleus of Cauley-Stein, Randle and Poythress. Still, with good hands and a huge frame, Johnson could eventually develop into a big-time center both at UK and the next level.

Marcus Lee:
Coach Cal: “He gets to the basket, he’s a terrific shot-blocker and he can rebound above the rim. Marcus has unlimited upside because he’s going to get stronger and he’s going to improve his skill around the basket.”

Our take: Another freakish athlete with a frame that needs time to develop. Similar to Johnson, Lee is also very raw. The difference is primarily that Lee has the speed and quickness of a much smaller player. With his rail thin frame, Lee may take some time to develop. But we think he will get in the game and make some occasional highlight reel plays his freshman season. Over the long term, Lee can be a triple-double type player as he appears to also possess good floor vision and the ability to score and play defense. Will need to work on his mid range jumper and back to the basket game.

Julius Randle:
Coach Cal: “He has that will to win that the players I’ve had who have become special have all had. That motor will be important to our success next year. ... At the end of the day, he’s a true leader whose personal drive is off the charts.”

Our take: This guy is a grown man. Randle’s presence is what will make UK a championship contender.  He is a difference maker. Appears to possess the competitive fire necessary to push his team to great heights. It is not a coincidence that his HS team won three titles in four seasons. This guy is a legit man-beast. Big, strong, fast, good passer, good handler, soft touch, finishes around the rim, leaps, blocks shots and finds open guys. Add that the motor and quickness to be an elite defender. Just not a lot of faults in his game at this point. Kentucky needs to send a thank you note to the state of Texas because Randle and the Harrison twins would keep this team highly ranked even without the supporting cast. And yes, we expect Randle to play in Lexington for one season only.  

Derek Willis:
Coach Cal: “He’s a long-armed basketball player who can get his hands on balls and really pass. Like Marcus, he has a tremendous upside because he’s going to get stronger and be able to play more physical and really use his size and his shot-making ability to spread the court for us.”

Our take: Willis is another guy who puts the transformational job Calipari has done at UK in stark relief. At nearly any other program, Willis would be a nice piece in the foundation. A big man with good hands, a great shot and body that can be developed. A talented guy who could have a nice career at a lot of BCS schools. At Kentucky, however, it will be an uphill journey for four years for Willis. He will need to make crazy strides with his body and really dedicate himself to outworking everyone on the roster. Even if he does that, there is no guaranteeing he will be able to carve out a niche in the endless talent train that keeps running through Rupp. But again, we like to see an in-state kid and hope he can work his way into a Harrellson-like performer by his junior or senior year.

James Young:
Coach Cal: “James is a long, athletic and skilled wing. He’s a lefty who can shoot it and get in transition. You can throw it ahead to him and he can make basketball plays. He rebounds the ball for his position as well anyone in the class.”

Our take: Young is an intriguing player in that he is not expected to be an immediate high impact player from day one at Kentucky, but there is certainly a chance that he will be. In other words, Kentucky probably doesn’t need Young to be a “diaper dandy” but if he is, there is no limit to what this team can do. Young is a smoove lefty combo guard who can leap and make showtime plays in transition, while also sporting a nice jumper and ability to get to the rim in a halfcourt set. Can he play bigtime defense consistently for long stretches? If the answer is yes, then he could be one of college basketball’s biggest revelations in 2013-14. As it is, we expect him to have moments where he catches fire and absolutely goes off. More than likely will start the season as a Sixth man.

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