Kentucky freshmen: early look

When John Calipari signed the nation's best recruiting class from the 2013 crop, no one was even remotely surprised.

Kentucky's dominance on the trail has become a belabored topic due to the Wildcats' ceaseless excellence, and some scouts considered last year's class to rank among the very best of all-time.

Through the opening few games this season, the results have been mixed but mostly positive. The most touted prospect to sign with UK last season, No. 2 Julius Randle, has played like a potential national player of the year candidate.

Matched against Michigan State in a heavyweight tilt last week, Randle poured in 27 points and 13 rebounds on 9-14 shooting. He brought Kentucky back from a sizeable deficit almost single-handedly, utilizing his powerful physique to barrel through foes several years older than he.

The one downside — and not at all to my surprise — is that Randle has struggled at times to reconcile his body and greatest effectiveness with his preferred style, which is to face the basket. Clearly, catching and attacking off the dribble will remain a mainstay of his game for many years, because his first step and overall quickness are exceptional.

But he'll never be a wing, and the more he handles on the perimeter setting up jump shots, the less effective he tends to be. He committed eight turnovers versus the Spartans due in large part to ballhandling miscues.

Inside, he's already an elite rebounder. Randle is averaging 21 points and 15 boards per game, numbers that become all the more impressive when you factor in what's around him. When he sets up shop in the post, no one has been able to slow him one on one.

Shifting to the backcourt, the Harrison twins ranked Nos. 5 and 6 in the 2013 class, with Andrew being the club's projected point guard and Aaron a wing scorer. Aaron tops 14 points per game but is struggling with his jump shot, including an 0-5 night from deep versus MSU. His athleticism is easily apparent, however, and his efficiency should improve as he refines his shot selection.

As for Andrew, he's averaging 10 points, three rebounds and three assists per game. Those aren't scintillating numbers, but he's attempting to manage an offense that obviously features significant inexperience. His effectiveness as a distributor will improve as Aaron and others settle into their own games.

Surprisingly, though, Andrew has converted 5-9 on threes. He didn't enter college with a reputation as a shooter, but though obviously very early he has impressed with his shot selection and accuracy through four games.

James Young was the other top-15 signee for the 'Cats, and like Aaron he has struggled identifying good shots versus the volume style he employed in high school. Early season games provide learning opportunities for freshmen, however, and a key for Young will be to become more balanced. To this point he has taken well over half his shots from behind the three-point stripe, despite being athletic enough to incorporate more action off the bounce.

The team's touted center, Dakari Johnson, will need a month or two to adjust to college conditioning. His No. 17 ranking was based mostly on his long-term potential, and expectations for modest early season returns appear to be accurate. He has blocked only one shot this season and is struggling big-time (8-15) at the foul line. Nevertheless, he has demonstrated flashes of the immense ability we believe he possesses.

Skinny big man Marcus Lee finished at No. 24 in the 2013 class and, as expected, hasn't played as much due to his lack of physical maturation. He did start for the first time this past Sunday and appears to be earning Calipari's trust, however. Lee is an outstanding shotblocker and possesses top-shelf mobility, and now he must build an offensive repertoire.

Two unranked signees joined that class as well. Neither Derek Willis nor Dominique Hawkins has contributed much statistically, but Hawkins has carved out a small-but-significant backup niche to Andrew Harrison and may emerge as a valuable four-year player, something that has proved elusive at Kentucky.

It's early to draw strong conclusions on anyone other than Randle, who is the real deal and will generate national dialogue throughout the season. For Kentucky to cut down the nets next April, they'll need the Harrisons to pack more punch and Young to hit shots more consistently as well as create for himself more consistently.

Scout Hoops Top Stories