- Paul Biancardi, Basketball Recruiting
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John Wall's commitment to Kentucky on Tuesday provided the final piece to an outstanding recruiting class in Lexington. Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) becomes the sixth recruit in Kentucky's 2009 class. Four of those players have committed to the Wildcats since John Calipari took over as coach in April.
What separates Wall, the No. 5 player and top point guard in the 2009 class, from his backcourt peers is his speed with the ball. Many people compare him to Derrick Rose in this area, but to me he might be more like Allen Iverson in terms of end-to-end speed. (In fairness, that's where the Wall-Iverson comparisons stop.) Wall's overall athleticism and size do indeed compare favorably with Rose's.
Wall is most deadly in transition. He pushes the ball faster than any other guard in the country and has excellent peripheral vision that allows him to find the open man and hit him on time and on target. If he takes the ball to the hoop, the opposition must keep him out of the lane; once he gets into the paint he can slice and dice his way through multiple defenders, often finishing with thundering dunks or creative acrobatic layups.
When the dribble-drive offense Kentucky uses was invented, it seems to have been with Wall in mind. He can beat you with blazing speed or he can change his speed and go by you to his right or left. (Although he's better going right.) He can create for himself and his teammates and is always in attack mode. The past two seasons, Calipari has had Rose and Tyreke Evans thrive as lead guards in his system. Look for Wall to have similar success.
An underrated aspect of Wall's game is his rebounding ability. He is a willing and tenacious rebounder on the defensive end. This is a major advantage for his team; once he gets a rebound, Wall runs with it and starts the break. I expect him to average five or six boards per game in college.
Defensively, Wall's physical attributes should allow him to be an excellent on-ball defender and to deny his man the ball one pass away. In UK's system -- which emphasizes full-court, man-to-man pressure, trapping and rotating and contesting all shots -- Wall should be able to be one of the better defenders in the program even as a freshman.
In terms of his weaknesses, Wall could stand to add a bit of strength. (I believe he has the frame and willpower to do so.) More important is his need to develop a consistent jumper. With Wall's explosive athleticism, defenses might be willing to sag off him and surrender jumpers. When he's hot, Wall's range extends well beyond the 3-point arc, but he's not very consistent. He needs to hone his midrange game first, then work his way out. If he adds a midrange pull-up to his arsenal, we're looking at a player who could be the top-scoring freshman in the nation next season.
From Kentucky's perspective, this is another improbable, impressive development in what has been a remarkable run on the recruiting trail. Keep in mind that when Calipari took over, some of Kentucky's committed 2009 recruits opted to go elsewhere, but that only seemed to strengthen his resolve on the trail. Take a look at what he has done in a few short weeks:
• He brought in Memphis verbal commitment DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala./LeFlore), the No. 4 player in the Class of 2009 and an instant impact big man.
• Another Memphis commit, junior college prospect F Darnell Dodson (Miami-Dade, Fla.), opted to follow Calipari to Kentucky.
• Sought-after point guard Eric Bledsoe (Birmingham, Ala./Parker) committed to Kentucky. He did so knowing the Wildcats were still after a blue-chipper at his position in Wall.
• Finally, Calipari was able to bring in Wall, the most prized recruit still available.
All this serves as evidence that Calipari is the best recruiter in college hoops. Keep in mind that he was on the verge of compiling the best 2009 class at Memphis -- with Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City) and Cousins among his commits -- before taking the Kentucky job. Now, in a completely different situation, Calipari is compiling the top recruiting class in the country with an entirely new group of players. This turn of events is a remarkable one.
Last week, when Kentucky got a commitment from Bledsoe, it was a major coup for the Wildcats. With his commitment, Kentucky added a true point guard to a roster in serious need at the position. With Wall now on board, too, the Wildcats will have two very good players at the position who can make each other better each day in practice. Both of these guys are winners; they aren't afraid of competition. They are both going to go in there and make each other better and make Kentucky better. Although Wall and Bledsoe are both point guards, they can play together because both are unselfish and capable scorers. The dribble-drive system is about playing at a frenetic pace and working a two-man game (mostly on pick-and-rolls) in the half court. These two will be extremely successful together.
With Patrick Patterson electing to pull his name out of the draft, Jodie Meeks is the only remaining question mark. If Meeks follows Patterson's lead and comes back to school instead of going pro, Kentucky might have the nation's most talented roster.
Teams don't win on talent alone, however. The question will be how long it is going to take for all these new players to mesh. Also, the holdovers from the Gillispie era will have to learn Calipari's system. This might sound trivial, but the process of learning a new philosophy and terminology is vital. If anyone can build and foster chemistry and cohesiveness, it's Calipari. When everything comes together, you're going to be looking at something very special happening in Lexington!
With all this elite talent, Kentucky is a legitimate contender, if not the front-runner, for the SEC title. That said, it's hard to project how far UK can go. The first key, of course, is getting to the NCAA tournament. Through this recruiting process, Calipari has built a team that is likely to do that.
Kentucky's youth will remain a question mark. Freshmen do struggle at certain points in the season. So although UK will be extremely talented, it will go as far as the freshmen can support the upperclassmen. This will be a very exciting situation to watch.
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.