By: LARRY VAUGHT
During his visit to Kentucky for Big Blue Madness, California power forward Marcus Lee put a picture on Twitter of himself with four players — Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Derek Willis and James Young — already verbally committed to the Wildcats and wrote, “That’s just scary.”
If he was right, then Kentucky’s 2011-14 roster got “scary” because the 6-9 Lee made his commitment to UK official today during a press conference at his California high school. He picked the Wildcats over nearby California after eliminating several other schools in the last few weeks.
He’s a consensus top 30 recruit and is ranked as high as the top 15 by at least one recruiting service. He averaged 13.9 oints, 13.9 rebounds and 9.1 blocks per game last year.
“It’s not a major surprise he did this,” said FoxSports recruiting analyst Evan Daniels. “In fact, Kentucky really made a strong play once they offered in September. Lee needed to see Kentucky's campus. He did that this past weekend and ended his recruitment just a few days later.”
Kentucky had already had three of the nation’s elite perimeter players in the Harrison twins and Young along with the 6-7 Willis, who can play inside or outside. Now the Cats have added a needed inside player.
“Everyone made me feel like I was part of their family,” Lee said during his press conference. "Being far away from home, that was important. The coaches treated me like I was their son."
Daniels says Lee’s commitment does not rule out five-star recruit James Randle, one of the nation’s top five players and top-ranked power forward, still picking UK even though Daniels has him favoring Florida and Texas.
“They certainly could play together. They actually complement each other quite well,” Daniels said.
“Lee is a very good athlete that runs the floor and impacts the game defensively. Randle is the more physical post prospect that can score and board it. They would make a heck of a interior duo.”
Lee values defense and liked that UK led the nation in blocked shots during its championship season.
"Kentucky is a defensive-minded team, and that's what I do best," Lee said. "I am not the biggest or strongest guy in the world, so the faster pace of the game fits me."
Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who is now an analyst with ESPN, says there’s no way to truly appreciate the way Calipari has recruited at UK. Kentucky could be in line to have a fifth straight No. 1-ranked recruiting class under Calipari.
“It’s hard to predict something like that could even happen,” Pearl said. “Certainly John at a place like Kentucky is a perfect marriage. I said the day they hired him that they could not have put anybody better in that position. Kentucky fans worry if you are winning so much that you will leave and if you are losing they pack your bags. But John is great with all that.
“John loves the game and the history of the game. He also wants to put (national championship) banners up on his watch. I think he is working harder now than he ever has. I coached against him a long time. He did one of the best coaching jobs in the history of college basketball when he was at UMass (and took the team to the 1996 Final Four). It’s one of the top four all-time coaching jobs. They didn’t do much before he got there or after he left.”
Pearl says he has seen Calipari “evolve” into a truly elite coach in recent years.
“I see John Calipari running better stuff and he’s much tougher to coach against now than he was when he first started coaching at Memphis,” Pearl said. “They did a little bit of everything then, but they don’t do as much now. However, what they do, they do very, very well. They do fewer things and do them so well that’s why everybody wants to play for him.”
Calipari not only is still in the mix for Randle, but Kentucky is also considered one of the favorites for top 10 prospect Aaron Gordon of San Jose. Indications are, too, that Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout Andrew Wiggins is leaning to reclassifying to the 2013 class and would become the No. 1 player in the class. He has his list trimmed to UK and Florida State with Kentucky believed to be the solid leader.