There was plenty of excitement in Lexington, Ky., last week when John Calipari arrived at the University of Kentucky. There should be just as much buzz today with elite recruit DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala./LeFlore) committing to the Wildcats.
Cousins, previously a Memphis commit, will give the Wildcats an incredibly versatile big man who makes everyone around him better. Pairing him with Patrick Patterson, should Patterson return to school for his junior year instead of entering the NBA draft, could give the Wildcats the nation's best interior tandem.
At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Cousins possesses an NBA body that allows him to control the paint on both ends of the court. He rebounds with the best of them and can score from the blocks almost at will. He has a strong frame, soft hands and solid moves on the blocks. He also can make the other team pay for double-teams with his passing ability.
His game is about more than size, however. Cousins exhibits the skills of a small forward in a center's body. He can score from almost anywhere on the court, which could make him a very effective player in a high-low set with Patterson. Moreover, Cousins is a very good passer. He should create space for Patterson down low. This past season, Patterson shot 60 percent from the floor, and he should improve upon that with Cousins on the court.
With Cousins, Kentucky's frontcourt depth is outstanding. Perry Stevenson was solid this past season. More significantly, top-20 recruit Daniel Orton also will join the team in the fall. Orton, the No. 3 center in the '09 class, is a true 5. He can block shots and defends the post extremely well. Like Cousins, he's a deft passer out of the post and displays the ability to finish close to the basket.
When Cousins initially committed to Memphis last month, I spoke with his mother, Monique Cousins, about how much the family trusts Calipari. She said he was upfront about the fact that DeMarcus would have to work hard but that DeMarcus would become a much better player on his watch. Clearly, the bond formed between the Cousins family and the new Kentucky coach was a strong one.
Cousins is the first piece of the puzzle in Lexington. Of course, Calipari would love to see both Patterson and All-American Jodie Meeks return to campus. (The two should look at how well that approach worked for Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington at North Carolina.) Additionally, he's making a run at bringing in Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City). The nation's top perimeter player, Henry committed to Memphis in the fall but recently was released from his letter of intent. Henry and his brother CJ both are considering the Wildcats and Kansas.
The search for elite talent doesn't end with Henry. Kentucky also is diligently pursuing point guards John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) and Eric Bledsoe (Birmingham, Ala./Parker). Much of Kentucky's struggles this past season were at the point guard position, and PG G.J. Vilarino (McKinney, Texas), a Billy Gillispie recruit, has been released from his letter of intent with Kentucky. Either Wall or Bledsoe really would help solve that problem. Of the two, Wall is more talented; he's athletic, great in the open floor and smart enough to have a Derrick Rose-type effect as a freshman. That's not to say Bledsoe can't be a very good college player. With all UK's returning talent, Bledsoe's quick, tough and has a good long-range shot. He'd also be a perfect fit.
Lost in the shuffle of all this are a few other 2009 recruits. Memphis signees Nolan Dennis (Richland, Texas) and Darnell Dodson and Will Coleman (both of Dade Junior College) are weighing their options. They could be on Kentucky's radar if they opt to look around. (Dennis, in particular, is getting over looked. The 6-5 slasher is a very talented player.) Jon Hood (Madisonville, Ky.), who committed to UK when Gillispie was coach, also is a solid 2009 recruit and capable contributor at the college level.
Only time will tell which pieces will fall into place. However, there could be something very special coming together in Lexington. From a recruit's prospective, this situation provides an opportunity to go to one of America's elite college programs and play right away. These circumstances are a tad unusual, but, if everything bounces Kentucky's way, the Wildcats could be the talk of college basketball in 2009.
Paul Biancardi is a veteran of the coaching ranks with years of college experience. He has recruited on a national level with stops as an assistant coach at Boston University and Boston College, associate head coach at Ohio State and most recently as an assistant at Saint Louis University. Biancardi was head coach at Wright State University from 2003 to 2006. In 2003, he was named Horizon League Coach of the Year. He is a selection committee member for the prestigious McDonald's All-America Game and the Gatorade Player of the Year award.