John Calipari’s 2021 recruiting class may end up being the worst ranked class of his tenure at Kentucky. From 2009-2020, Kentucky had the honor of having the #1 or #2 ranked class every single year. However, as it currently stands, the Cats would finish with the FIFTH best class for the upcoming season; finding themselves behind Michigan, Florida State, Duke, and Villanova. While there is still time for this to change, it is unlikely that even another signing from this class would move them up more than a spot or two.
The current class includes 3 signees (247Sports composite ranking): Damion Collins (#11), Bryce Hopkins (#27), and Nolan Hickman (#31). We decided to take a look at every recruiting class for the past 12 years, to see how other players turned out that were ranked in the same position as these 3. In other words, how did the players ranked #11, #27, and #31 each year do at their respective colleges. What we found was pretty interesting, and also provides some serious optimism about how good these guys could be.
Below we break down the good, the mediocre, and the ugly, for a best-case/worst-case scenario of how each of this year’s recruits could be looked upon after their time at Kentucky is done. Please note, each comparison is only based upon what a player did in college and with their originally committed school. If a player transferred for example, I viewed that as a negative, because well, we hope all of these guys have success while they are here at Kentucky and not at say, UCLA, where they set all-time scoring records in the NCAA Tournament and lead their team to a Final Four.
Damion Collins, PF. 247Sports Composite Ranking: 11
Best Case Scenario: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga (Ranked #11 in 2020)
You don’t have to go back far in history to find an 11th ranked player with mad success. Suggs was a 2nd Team All-American, led Gonzaga to the national championship game, and is a consensus top 5 pick in this years NBA Draft. Not to mention he hit one of the most iconic shots in the history of the NCAA Tournament. These all seem like reasonable expectations to place on our highest ranked commitment this year, right?
Mediocre Case Scenario: Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV (Ranked #11 in 2015)
This name was a blast from the past. At one time Zimmerman was highly coveted by the Cats but as many in the class of 2015 did, he decided to try his luck elsewhere and attend UNLV. In 1 season in Vegas, Zimmerman averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game. He then declared for the NBA and was picked in the 2nd round. It would be hard to complain if Collins finishes the year nearly averaging a double-double, but it certainly feels like his potential is much more and would be crushing to see us lose another player to the NBA who wasn’t a first rounder.
Worst Case Scenario: Kahlil Whitney, Kentucky (Ranked #11 in 2019)
I remember after Kahlil Whitney jumped over people’s heads at 2019 Big Blue Madness that someone said he had the potential to be the next Zion Williamson. OK, that person was me, and I had clearly had too much bourbon that night, because Whitney turned out to be one of the biggest busts in the history of Kentucky basketball. After averaging 3 points and 12 minutes per game, Kahlil decided that 18 games in Lexington was enough for him and he quit the team to prepare for the NBA. (How did that work out by the way?) If Damion Collins leaves mid-year it would be devastating, but thankfully Calipari always has a plethora of 6-9 power forwards on the roster.
Other players of note ranked #11: Kevin Knox (2017), Malik Monk (2016). 11 has been a pretty good number for Kentucky.
Bryce Hopkins, PF. 247Sports Composite Ranking: 27
Best Case Scenario: Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (Ranked #27 in 2016)
I know what you’re thinking, who the heck is Jawun Evans? But this is why our extensive archives and analytical research at Lex, Buds, & Pick ‘n Roll exists. Let’s imagine that in his first season in Lexington, Bryce Hopkins averages 12 points, is named SEC Freshman of the Year, and scores a freshman record 42 points against in-state rival Louisville. THEN returns for a sophomore season where he averages 19 a game! Well, just replace SEC with Big 12, and Louisville with Oklahoma and you have the college career of Jawun Evans. Sign me up. Right. Now.
Mediocre Case Scenario: Wayne Blackshear, Louisville (Ranked #27 in 2011)
Blackshear struggled in his freshman season at UofL, and only found 7 minutes of playing time per game. It’s not crazy to think that Bryce Hopkins sees a similar result this year playing behind Damion Collins, Oscar Tshiebwe, Lance Ware, Keion Brooks (hopefully), and Isaiah Jackson (prayerfully). But if that’s the case and Hopkins returns for a sophomore season and wins a national title as Blackshear did in 2013*, I think we could all live with that. Not to mention Blackshear stayed all 4 years and was a solid starter and contributor.
*Title vacated because of strippers.
Worst Case Scenario: Kameron Chatman, Michigan (Ranked #27 in 2014)
Chatman had 2 disappointing seasons in Ann Arbor where he averaged just over 3 points per game. He then decided to take his talents to…Detroit. Look, losing Brad Calipari to Detroit was hard enough. I don’t think I can stomach losing someone else. Let’s all hope that Bryce Hopkins realizes that success at the college level is earned and not given.
Other players of note ranked #27: Armando Bacot (North Carolina), Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), and Mason Plumlee (Duke). I considered listing Mason Plumlee as the best-case scenario, but threw up in my mouth a little bit at the thought of writing a paragraph about a Plumlee.
Nolan Hickman, PG. 247Sports Composite Ranking: 31
Best Case Scenario: Cassius Winston, Michigan St. (Ranked #31 in 2016)
This is almost the perfect comparison. Both are slightly undersized point guards who may not have the traditional 5-stars of point guards typically signed at their school. And, depending on who Calipari gets in the transfer portal, it may be end up being the case that neither player started in their freshman year. But if you can then sign me up for a two time 2nd Team All-American, Conference Player of the Year, and Conference Tournament MOP. Not to mention Cassius holds a special place in our hearts for ending Duke’s title hopes in 2019 when he had 20 points and 10 assists to knock out the Evil Empire:
Mediocre Case Scenario: Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia (Ranked #31 in 2019)
While the jury remains to be seen on what the Big O does next season at Kentucky, West Virginia fans certainly saw high and lows from his time in Morgantown. Tshiebwe had an above average freshman season, in which he averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds a game. Good enough for 2nd Team Big 12 honors. However, in his second season, Oscar saw declines in virtually every statistical category, and decided to call it quits playing for Huggy Bear after 10 games. Coach Huggins went as far as to say that his team IMPROVED after Tshiebwe’s departure because the floor was less crowded. Needless to say, it appears things did not end in good terms there. Let’s hope both Hickman and Tshiebwe shine in Lexington.
Worst Case Scenario: Brandone Francis, Florida (Ranked #31 in 2014)
With the Cats already in desperation mode at the point guard position, imagine if we found out this summer that Hickman was ineligible and had to sit out this season? It would be devastating, but that is what happened during Francis’ first year at Florida where he redshirted for academic reasons. The next season he averaged a mere 2 points and 10 minutes per game before transferring to Texas Tech. Francis did go on to play a key role in the Red Raiders run to the national title game in 2019. If we had to see another player leave and make a title run, a la Wiltjer, Matthews, and Juzang, it would just really stink.
Other players of note ranked #31: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky), Tyler Davis (Texas A&M), Otto Porter (Georgetown). Pretty impressive that Cassius Winston and SGA were both ranked 31. For what it’s worth, Devin Askew was ranked 32nd last year.
So in conclusion, if you’re an optimist, you could say that next year Kentucky could have the next Jalen Suggs and Cassius Winston. Or if you’re a negative Nancy, a team full of guys who struggle and then leave. Or maybe you’re the one person in your group of friends who is the Independent and can see the potential for both sides. Let us know what you think about the 2021 class in the comments or on Twitter @lexbuds.