LEXINGTON, Ky. — Villanova just won its second national championship in three years and Jay Wright is the undisputed king of college basketball right now. But this notion that he’s just out there coaching up a bunch of hidden gems while John Calipari squanders superior talent is silly and untrue.
Consider that Villanova’s star, Jalen Brunson, was a McDonald’s All-American. And that he’s one of two former 5-star recruits — Omari Spellman is the other — who started for those Wildcats this season. And that five other contributors to this year’s team were 4-star recruits, four of them former top-100 prospects).
See, the secret sauce for Wright and Villanova is getting really good players and having them stick around. Brunson was a junior this year. Spellman redshirted last season, transformed his body and became a nightly double-double threat. Donte DiVincenzo, a 4-star recruit and star of the title game, is a third-year sophomore.
Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth, both top-100 recruits, are fourth-year juniors!
Why does this matter to Kentucky fans? Because you might be on the cusp of seeing what a veteran roster full of former top recruits looks like in Lexington. Even if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo leave for the NBA — which is not even a done deal yet — the Cats could end up with between seven and nine former 5-star recruits across three classes.
Was this season frustrating for fans — and Calipari? Sure. But was it a waste? Is it more proof that one-and-done has ruined college basketball in general and Kentucky specifically? Hardly. At least not if the bulk of the current Cats return. In that case, it was just a good old-fashioned rebuilding season.
Imagine what happens if a nucleus of talented veterans with something still to prove to the NBA come back from a 26-win, Sweet 16 team and add several talented freshman shooters/scorers.
Host Curtis Burch and beat writer Kyle Tucker do just that on the latest episode of Wildcat Country, your daily Kentucky podcast presented by SEC Country. We’ll also catch you up on the latest news regarding UK NBA decisions and talk a little Romeo Langford — or more specifically, why Calipari steered clear of Langford’s father and all the drama that clearly comes with that recruitment.