Updated: Sep 8, 2021
It's no secret that when John Calipari shook up his coaching staff this off-season, bringing in Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman - two of the most well-respected recruiters in the sport of college basketball - it was with one intent in mind.
Get Kentucky back to the blueprint that got them to four Final Four's from 2011-2015.
That specific blueprint was to go out and recruit the best of the best in high school basketball, the true Top 5 players in America. The handful of difference-makers, that can truly impact college basketball in their one season on campus.
Well, consider that mission accomplished, as on Tuesday night, Shaedon Sharpe, the No. 1 high school player in the class of 2022 committed to... Kentucky. He chose the Wildcats over Arizona, Oklahoma State and Kansas, and also had an offer from the G-League Ignite program on the table as well.
Put simply, Sharpe is the exact kind of player Kentucky has been unable to get out of the high school ranks in recent years, a true difference-maker, who should be able to step in and be a star immediately. The Wildcats have brought in plenty of good players in recent years - Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro - but no one has quite come in with the acclaim that Sharpe has in the last handful of recruiting classes.
For those unfamiliar with Sharpe's game, he's a true new-age guard, a kid comfortable playing from a lead-guard position, getting buckets and setting others up as well. But, depending on who Kentucky brings in to play with him (either via high school recruiting or the transfer portal) is also a guy that can play off the ball primarily as a scorer as well.
In the lead-up to his commitment, I texted two prominent college hoops assistant coaches for their take on Sharpe. While neither was at a school that ended up in Sharpe's final five, they both were very familiar with his game.
Here is what they had to say:
"Dude is there real deal," the first coach, who is an associate head coach at a Power Six school said. "He pops and is smooth. Fits modern NBA as ball in hand guard. Can make tough shots, score all over the floor."
Here is the second coach, who has spent over a decade as a high-major assistant:
"Very talented young man," he said. "Can score at all three levels and can also score off the bounce. Outstanding young man who will have the opportunity to play in the NBA."
More than just how good Sharpe is, what he represents is just as important.
Again, it's no secret that last season was a complete dumpster fire at Kentucky, a season, where just about everything that could go wrong did. And when the season ended, John Calipari made a commitment to revamp everything about the program. He brought in several high-character veterans through the transfer portal, in addition to five-star guard TyTy Washington.
More importantly though, he brought in Antigua and Coleman - two guys who helped build Illinois into a national title contender last year - in, to do what Kentucky did best during the early years Calipari glory days. To recruit the best players in high school basketball.
What's fascinating now, is what's next.
Kentucky has begun to trend in recent weeks for Top 15 combo guard Cason Wallace from Texas, and the Wildcats are also in the mix for center Derek Lively II, the player that most recruiting services believe is neck-and-neck with Sharpe for the top spot in the class of 2022. Fellow Top 5 prospect Chris Livingston has Kentucky in his final group of schools, and who knows what the transfer portal will bring next spring and summer.
Kentucky is currently ranked No. 7 in my preseason Top 25, and I think they have a chance to be really, really good this season.
But it's clear also, that there will be no shortage of excitement in 2022-23 as well.
Kentucky fans are calling 2021-2022 "The Revenge Tour."
And it's officially under way.
Make sure to subscribe to the Aaron Torres Podcast for reaction to the Shaedon Sharpe news on next episode