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Head of the Class?

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Dating back to the 1970s, I've always been something of a recruiting nut. My favorite sports talk shows were always when Bob Gibbons or Clark Francis were guests. In the last few years, my interest in recruiting has soured. It just wasn't as fun to follow Kentucky's basketball recruiting. Now that John Calipari is head coach at Kentucky, my interest in recruiting has returned. Here are my top 16 recruiting classes from 1970 to the present date:

1. 2009: John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Orton, Hood, Dodson
Wall is the top player in the country. Cousins is the second best player in he country according to Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Orton are all five star recruits. Hood is a four star recruit now but was a five star recruit. Darnell Dodson is arguably the best junior college player in the country. UK has never had a recruiting class like this. It could be argued that no school ever has.

2. 1974: Rick Robey, Jack Givens, Mike Phillips, James Lee and Dan Hall
There has been no recruiting class in UK history that has had the immediate impact that the 1974 class had. In an era when freshmen just became eligible to play on the varsity team and usually had a much slower impact, this class made an immediate impression. Kentucky was 13-13 the year before they arrived. Robey and Givens averaged double figures in scoring and were the third and fourth leading scorers on a senior dominated team in 1974-1975. Phillips and Lee were big contributors on that team too. Kentucky beat undefeated Indiana in the elite eight and lost to UCLA in the championship game. No great UK class has had a better four year run than the 1974 class either. They made it to the championship game in 1975, won the NIT in 1976, made it to the elite eight in 1977 and won it all in 1978. Robey was the third overall pick in the NBA draft while Givens was the 16th pick of the first round.

3. 1979: Sam Bowie, Dirk Minniefield, Derrick Hord, Charles Hurt and Tom Heitz.
Bowie, Minniefield and Hord would have been five star recruits if they rated players with stars back then. Bowie and Minniefield would probably have been one and done players if players went after one year back then. Minniefield was considered Isiah Thomas’ equal when they both graduated high school in 1979. The 1979 high school class may have been the best class ever (Ralph Sampson, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Clark Kellogg, Steven Stipanovich, Dale Ellis, James Worthy, Rodney McCray, etc.) and Kentucky’s class was easily the best.

4. 1987: Eric Manuel, Leron Ellis, Sean Sutton, Jonathan Pittman, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Jonathan Davis
This was probably the biggest class ever. Manuel was a top five recruit. Ellis would have been a five star recruit too. They had excellent freshman seasons on a really good team but we all know what happened after that. Feldhaus and Pelphrey would benefit from the scandal and go on to greatness in UK basketball history.

5. 1992: Roderick Rhodes, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty and Jared Prickett
This class produced three first round draft picks and the other guy, Prickett, was the only one who started by the end of their freshman year. McCarty had to sit out that year but would not have been a starter. Rhodes was a top five recruit and Delk would have also been a five star recruit.

6. 1971: Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Connor, Mike Flynn, Bob Guyette, Jerry Hale and G.J. Smith
Known as the Super Kittens they were not eligible to play their freshman year. Grevey, Connor and Flynn won honors as the best player from their respective states (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana). They combined with the 1974 recruiting class to form one of the best offensive teams in Kentucky history. In the elite eight, the 1974-75 team scored 92 points against an undefeated Indiana defense, before either the shot clock or the three point shot. It’s hard to imagine how many points Grevey, Connor and Flynn would have scored in that game if the three point shot was in place. Only Grevey went on to a NBA career but they were a super class.

7. 2004: Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo and Ramel Bradley
Morris, Crawford and Rondo were all five star recruits. Rondo was a fast rising recruit who became more highly ranked as his senior season progressed. By the end, he was rated the number two point guard in the country behind Sebastian Telfair. We know how that ended up.

8. 1980: Bret Bearup, Melvin Turpin, Jim Master and Dicky Beal
Bearup was considered the best power forward in the country. Some liked Turpin better than Bowie who signed a year earlier. Master was considered the best outside shooter in the country. Beal was considered the quickest player in the class.

9. 1983: James Blackmon, Winston Bennett and Paul Andrews
This is the only year besides this year, and arguably 1979, where Kentucky signed two top five recruits. After great all-star games, Blackmon and Bennett were in just about everybody’s top five recruits. As it turned out, Bennett was an undersized power forward, Blackmon was between a point guard and a two guard and Andrews was a role player. But we sure were excited about them in 1983.

10. 1978: Dwight Anderson, Clarence Tillman and Chuck Verderber
Anderson was best player in the country and an immediate star, per Al McGuire. Tillman and Verderber were also highly rated players. Too bad Anderson and Tillman were both gone by the second semester of their sophomore seasons.

11. 1988: Shawn Kemp, Chris Mills, Sean Woods and Richie Farmer
Okay, we all know the result of this class and the infamous Emory package. However, Kemp and Mills were super recruits. I still think Kemp was the most gifted player to ever sign with Kentucky. Mills had UK’s first recorded triple double as a freshman. Woods was a super quick point guard. Farmer was a legendary high school player and Mr. Kentucky. Some may penalize this class for Kemp not being eligible but I didn’t consider that. If I did, I could not have ranked this year’s class near as high yet.

12. 1984: Richard Madison, Ed Davender, Rob Locke, Cedric Jenkins, Gunther Buenke and Todd Ziegler
While none of these players were top five recruits, Madison, Davender and Locke were considered big time recruits. Gunther Buenke was the 7'4" monster from German who quit UK after a week of school. They were the number one recruiting class in 1984.

13. 1982: Kenny Walker, Roger Harden and Todd May
Walker was somewhat of a sleeper at the beginning of his senior year but really rose the ranks of the top players that year. By the end of his senior year in high school and the all-star games, UK fans wouldn’t trade him for any recruit in the country, even Oklahoma’s Wayman Tisdale or Louisville’s Billy Thompson. UK has done well with recruits whose stock was rising (Kenny Walker, Rajon Rondo, Kelenna Azuibuke, etc). Harden was also a top recruit and Indiana’s Mr. Basketball. May was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball and a super recruit too. He was ranked about where Jon Hood is today.

14. 1995: Ron Mercer, Wayne Turner, Nazr Mohammed and Oliver Simmons
Mercer was a co-number one recruit with Kevin Garnett. Wayne Turner was a five star caliber PG. Mohammed and Simmons were considered projects. Nobody expected Mohammed to be as good as he turned out to be.

15. 1999: Marvin Stone and Keith Bogans
Bogans was a top five type recruit by many. Stone was the opposite of Rondo and Kenny Walker. His star was fading. He went from the number one recruit in the country at the beginning of the summer between his junior and senior year to not even a top fifteen recruit. Still, they were both five star recruits.

16. 1998: Tayshaun Prince, Desmond Allison, Jules Camara and J.P. Blevins
Tayshaun Prince was the star of this class. UK almost landed Dirk Nowitzki but he chose the NBA over Kentucky. This would have been a top five class in UK history with him in the class. He would have dominated college basketball in his first year at UK. UK may have won a third NCAA championship in 4 years.

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Tags: Basketball, Bogans, Bowie, John, Keith, Kenny, Kentucky, Prince, Rajon, Recruiting, More…Rondo, Sam, Tayshaun, Walker, Wall


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Comment by C Dogg on July 17, 2009 at 10:16am
Thanks for the nice comments. I listened to Greg on the Dick Gabriel show and Gabriel was wondering about criteria. I went almost exclusively on their hype and potential and not on their results. However, on the early classes, I had to go a little more on results.

One interesting part of doing this was it made me realize how Pitino did not have a lot of great classes at UK. He recruited a lot of great players but he spread them out. Plus, it also shows the genius of Pitino back then in that he really had no underachievers and a bunch of overachievers. Roderick Rhodes is the only player I would consider arguably an underachiever and he was a first round draft pick after one year at USC. As for overachievers, he had Mohammed, Padgett, Epps (walked on), Mills (walk on) and even McCarty to a small extent. Pitino also had some great transfers in Travis Ford, Mark Pope, Derek Anderson and Heshimu Evans.

On Moses Malone, I've heard like Scott U has heard, from UK fans, that Malone would have come to UK. However, Lefty Driessell signed Malone to play for Maryland. Maryland had some great teams during that period with John Lucas as a point guard.

On a side note regarding Malone, one of my earliest memories of high school recruits was when James Lee beat Moses Malone in the finals of the one-on-one competition in Louisville's Derby Classic All-American game in 1974. The game was televised locally back then. High school basketball in Kentucky isn't what it once was.
Comment by scott u on July 16, 2009 at 5:25pm
I have always been told that Moses Malone was supposed to be in UK's 1974 recruiting class, but opted for the ABA instead. I don't know if it's true, but it gives you something to think about in regard to that season.
Comment by kyfan32 on July 15, 2009 at 3:13pm
Great job, my only argument would be the players would need to be to be eligable and play at leats one season, ie Kemp. I Was a fun article to read. Hard to argue with most.
Comment by 2cool4air on July 15, 2009 at 11:32am
Here's a challenge: Let's see the past recruiting classes in order back to say... 1970. And then an expose' on what the star players of each class successes on and off the courts wound up being. Oh and you can only do it in 1000 words or less ;) Great job C-Dogg!!!
Comment by Stephen on July 15, 2009 at 9:31am
C-Dogg I got to give it to you this was a well written piece. Good Job!
Comment by J-DAWG on July 14, 2009 at 8:12pm
I liked this blog also C Dogg, it is cool to look back at the past recruting classes in UK history, and see all of the great players UK has had over the years. I hope this class lives up to its hype, I just can not wait til next basketball season, as I am sure most of us on this site can't wait either!
Comment by The Krystal Ball on July 14, 2009 at 3:37pm
Kudos C Dogg this is a really great list. No doubt the 2008 class should be number one. If they can win a championship, they will rank as one of the best in college basketball history.

By the way, I can't believe you didn't mention the 2003 or 2005 classes. They had to be next on the list. LOL.
Comment by rphelps on July 14, 2009 at 3:26pm
Loved the post C Dogg. It was a nice walk down memory lane. Being 30 I was not around to see what a great recruiter Joe B was. Tubby really was a great recruiter when he wanted to be. It is a shame because I have never seen a better game time coach than Tubby, period. Anyway great job C Dogg, you just reinforced to me why you are the best.
Comment by Grammy Rosebud on July 14, 2009 at 3:01pm
I loved reading this post, C Dogg. I can't even begin to decide what my ranking of the recruiting classes are but I sure remember the players that you have mentioned. I'm usually not as interested in the recruiting process as I am the actual season stats but this year has definitely been an exception.

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