College basketball begins today across the country, with unheralded teams practicing alone in small gyms while flagship programs like Kentucky set off fireworks and introduce players as if they were WWE Superstars heading into the Royal Rumble.
Last year, with a roster starring four future first-round NBA draft picks and four or five more players that could start on nearly any team in the country, Kentucky steamrolled through the regular season, won 37 games (losing just two), and captured the first national title in the coach John Calpari era. It probably won’t be the last.
Yesterday, a 6-foot-6 wing player from Rochester, Michigan named James Young committed to Kentucky’s class of 2013, calling it his “dream school.” Young is ranked 5th in the ESPN 100, and he dunks a basketball with about the same amount of effort as need to peel a banana. Young rarely seems as if he’s moving at full speed, yet he blows by defenders with ease. Against high-schoolers, Young looks like he’s operating a few seconds ahead of everyone else — he doesn’t quite fit on the floor with kids his age, it’s like a future version of himself has been transplanted there. Needless to say, James Young has the potential to lead Kentucky to a national title one day.
Oh, and he’s not even the most (or second-most) highly touted Kentucky recruit in his class. Before Young committed, Calipari landed the No. 2 and No. 4 players on the ESPN 100, twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, for the class of 2013. Andrew is the top-ranked point guard in the nation, and at 6-foot-5, looks like a stronger, slower Kyrie Irving. His highlight mixtape should induce nightmares for Florida or Vanderbilt fans.
Aaron, a shooting guard, is a similar player to his brother, but specializes in spot-up jumpers and carving through defenses off the dribble. Together, the twins averaged over 30 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists per game, and led their Texas high school to a 36-4 record as juniors. And the No. 3 player in the nation, power-forward prospect Julius Randle, still has yet to decide where he’ll play in 2013, but Kentucky is at the top of his list. If he goes to Lexington, every coach in the nation over the age of 60 might retire on the spot.
Just to be clear: if Randle were to commit, Kentucky would have the ESPN-ranked #2, #3, #4, and #5 freshman in the country. Thankfully, #1 Jabari Parker crossed Kentucky off his list.
What makes Kentucky nearly unbeatable, though, are all the remarkably talented players that recruits like Young and the Harrison twins make you forget about. This fall, Calipari welcomes three top-15 recruits, including Nerlens Noel, the high-topped shot blocker primed to fill the massive hole left by No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. On the flanks is Kyle Wiltjer, an elder statesmen on the team (he’s a sophomore) and top-25 recruit who has become one of the best shooters in the nation.
Sure, Kentucky isn’t the preseason No. 1 this year, and Noel could jump to the NBA after his freshman season and take some of his teammates with him, but it won’t matter. Coach Cal’s Wildcats have lost 14 games over the last three seasons and won 102 — that’s a winning percentage of 87.9% — and all signs point to Kentucky dominating for years to come. Resistance is futile, and Calipari will win.