For next season, coach Gillispie is off to a big start by gaining the commitment of DeAndre Liggins, whom Scout.com ranks as a top five player in the country at his wing position. And Kentucky is heavily involved with other top names like Tyler Zeller and Darius Miller. If the truth be told, if you scan Scout.com's top 25 players for 2008, you'd be hard pressed to find a player not listing Kentucky as one of his options.
But another area of Kentucky recruiting has developed, one that Kentucky fans aren't used to seeing – is getting early commitments from juniors and even sophomores-to-be. Coach Gillispie's first commitment as UK coach came from G.J. Vilarino, a 2009 Texas point guard he had recruited while at Texas A&M.
But then something very rare began to happen. Gillispie started making offers to, and getting commitments from, 2010 players. The Wildcats first landed Kentucky native Dakotah Euton, a 6-foot-7 forward, then most recently another Texas product, K.C. Ross-Miller, a 6-foot-1 guard, both sophomores. While it is not unheard of for sophomores to commit early, it has certainly been fairly rare at Kentucky. And Gillispie may not be done yet.
But the commitments have caused some to wonder about how wise it is to take commitments from players so young. And I understand those questions. Personally, when I was a sophomore in Alberta, Georgia in the early 80's, I was in no position to make a commitment. I was a late bloomer and did not come into my own until later. But today, a lot of youngsters are developing quicker. They have more coaching resources and play in more tournaments against tougher competition. Some players of today have certainly developed enough for coaches to see their potential.
While I do believe it can be somewhat scary, I think it's a good thing for coach Gillispie to gain commitments early in the process. As some people who oppose the idea would point out, a lot can happen between the time a sophomore commits and when he is ready to play. The player could not develop as planned or get hurt or fail to develop academically. He may just change his mind. If you don't get that player early when you have the chance, however, somebody else could slip in and take him. If the player is really good, I am of the mind that I'd rather have the commitment and deal with the potential roadblocks later, than to wait and have to get into a heated recruitment with schools like Florida, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas. There are risks either way but overall, I think coach Gillispie is going down the right path.
It appears to me that one thing the fans of Kentucky basketball are not going to have to worry about is recruiting. Gillispie has been a prime time player and shown he is more than capable of getting the job done. He has shown the fans that he is a very good judge of talent. I am sure that not everyone will pan out as expected – it doesn't work that way. He is a risk-taker, and I think as far as recruiting goes Kentucky fans are more ready for that than to have a coach that is not aggressive and playing catch up.
Kenny Walker is one of the most beloved players in Kentucky basketball history. He has been a guest columnist for Kentucky Sports Report, the website and magazine. Kenny's next column will appear in the next magazine. Kenny will break down this year's Kentucky basketball team, analyze the returning veterans and potential impact of newcomers Patrick Patterson, Alex Legion, A.J. Stewart and Mike Williams and give his opinion on the outlook of the 2007-08 season for Kentucky. This issue will hit mailboxes and newsstands on August 19.
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