Lyles decision holds key ramifications

Trey Lyles ultimately made the decision everyone expected he would, but that doesn't preclude a full examination of his recruitment.

Despite bellyaching from some Kentucky fans and the resultant grave-dancing from their rivals based on a few key recruiting misses this cycle, at this moment John Calipari's program holds the nation's best class.


Kentucky's recruiting stranglehold hasn't manifested quite as emphatically over the past few months, there's no question about that, but the Wildcats still have assembled a haul that includes two top-11 seniors along with two more in the top 35.

Apart from the ubiquitous horserace analysis pertaining to Lyles and UK's current class, the impact on the program largely has been overlooked. Kentucky's overtly one-and-done recruiting model resulted in national championship in 2012, but it also helped lead to an NIT appearance last season.

Some observers have compared the 2014 haul to that of 2012 — which didn't deliver superstar freshmen to the same extent the 2011 class did — but Kentucky ultimately may enjoy greater continuity if classes such as this one become an occasional staple.

No, Tyler Ulis isn't Emmanuel Mudiay, but he projects as a multi-year player who does possess blue-chip quality. Even if he doesn't deliver John Wall heroics, he could feature alongside a superstar point guard to be determined in future campaigns. Kentucky's national title didn't result only from Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Louisville proved last season that experience still matters.

Lyles may become a multi-year starter as well. He lacks elite explosiveness or perimeter skill and thus won't generate the same NBA fawning enjoyed by, for example, Julius Randle, but he certainly can score versus top opponents.

If there's a danger, Kentucky does appear to be getting less athletic. None of Lyles, Karl Towns or Devin Booker possesses big-time athleticism, and the Wildcats obviously don't want to sacrifice speed to gain experience. And Ulis, though very quick, lacks size.

So while everyone needs to evaluate this Kentucky class for what it is — an elite haul by any reasonable standard — at least some qualification does apply due to the lack of stylistic balance. Will the Wildcats surprise and get plus-athlete Stanley Johnson next spring, or will they be fortunate enough to return some athleticism from this season's team?

As for Louisville, Cardinal fans may be upset less with missing on Lyles — whom they never really expected to land in the first place — and more disturbed by the trend of losing head-to-head battles to Kentucky. Losing Marquis Teague to UK several years ago delivered more of a blow, but the Cardinals remain in search of the combination by which to solve the daunting Calipari riddle.

U-L fans can't complain too much, however. The Cardinals are the defending national titlists, after all, and they've secured three top-100 pledges from the 2014 class: Shaqquan Aaron, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

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