Nerlens Noel had maybe the most creative public commitment in college basketball history. (via ESPNU)
Say — and speculate — what you will about how Kentucky does it, but once again, the 2012 national champs are both reloading and rebuilding at a ridiculous rate. With a commitment from Noel — Rivals.com's No. 2 overall prospect in the 2012 class — John Calipari's program is more than ready to absorb the impending hit from losing star freshman center and national player of the year Anthony Davis to June's NBA draft.
Roughly an hour after Rivals.com's top overall player in the 2012 crop — 6-foot-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad — committed to UCLA, Noel — a 6-foot-10 center regarded as maybe the best shot blocker to come from the prep ranks in the last decade — chose Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse.
It ended a whirlwind of a recruiting process that was sent into overdrive when Noel reclassified himself from the 2013 senior class back in early February.
Kentucky will lose senior glue guy Darius Miller to graduation, but will also say goodbye to as many as five underclassmen from a team that rolled through the NCAA tournament en route to its first national title since 1998 and won 38 games.
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However, Noel's commitment means that they have ready-made contributors everywhere on the floor.
Say all five underclassmen — point guard Marquis Teague, shooting guard Doron Lamb, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, power forward Terrence Jones and Davis — all leave. Here's the outlook …
• At the point, Calipari will have sophomore North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow, who averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman in the 2010-11 campaign.
• Explosive McDonald's All-American Archie Goodwin could start right from go at two-guard. The 6-foot-4 Little Rock, Ark., native is ranked No. 14 in Rivals.com's 2012 Top 150.
• On the wing, sophomore-to-be Kyle Wiltjer — surprise, surprise, another former McDonald's All-American — has a big offseason ahead of him. He was a reliable spark off of the bench as a sharpshooter (43.2 3-point FG percentage). Now, he needs to become more effective off of the bounce and stronger as a rebounder.
• Another five-star newcomer — 6-foot-9 Alex Poythress, ranked No. 8 in the Rivals.com Top 150 — should be able to fill Jones' shoes at the four right away.
• Noel is your likely starter in the middle. Davis led the nation with 4.6 blocks per game, and while Noel doesn't have to exactly match that number to be considered a success as a freshman, the comparisons will likely come right away. Like Davis was a year ago, Noel heads to Lexington pretty raw on the offensive end, but will also get plenty of on-the-job training. As a bit of insurance, Calipari also brings in another elite recruit in center Willie Cauley, who will have far less pressure on him right away and could take away the pressure to recruit another top-flight center a year from now if Noel turns out to be a one-and-done.
If Kentucky had lost out on Noel on Wednesday, it could have created a bit of panic in Lexington, but these pressure-packed signing days will likely be annual occurrences as long as Calipari is there.
But this also makes it three straight years in which he's come through in the clutch on the recruiting trail, yet again allowing Big Blue Nation to rest easy entering the summer months.
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- John Calipari