Video: Kentucky Wildcats TV
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky men’s basketball program has put together one of the strongest recruiting classes of all time, signing six of the nation’s top players during the early fall signing period. Highly rated prospects Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk and Tai Wynyard have all signed with UK. All six players are consensus four- or five-star prospects, and four are ranked in the top 10 by the major national recruiting services. In a class stocked full of highly regarded players, national analysts are already calling this the nation’s top signing haul for 2016. “One of the things I loved about this group is they all want to play together,” head coach John Calipari said. “This recruiting wasn’t just coming from me and my staff; this whole group wanted to play together and wants to be one of the best groups ever. To make this work, they’ve got to like each other and want to play together, and this group already has that. “Part of that is they’re great kids, both on and off the court. They’re terrific students and get it done in the classroom. They’re high-character kids. They understand that what they do off the court is just as important as what they do on the court.” In every season in the Calipari era, the Wildcats have signed either the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class. UK looks to continue that streak with the latest additions of Adebayo, Fox, Gabriel, Killeya-Jones, Monk and Wynyard. “Every player in this class is different,” Calipari said. “They all have their own strengths. They all bring something to the table. They’re all different and they’re all concerned with being the best version of themselves. Each kid made a decision based on their goals and dreams and what’s best for them personally. As we bring this all together, I’m excited.” Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, F, 6-9, 230 Adebayo, a forward, could be one of the gems of the 2016 class. A physical specimen at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, Adebayo can not only run the floor well, he’s an athletic and explosive finisher around the basket who can score with both hands. “Of all the players I saw in the summer, no one had a combination of a dominating spirit and a physical presence like Bam,” Calipari said. “He has a skill level of a player that is normally four inches smaller than him. Aside from his rebounding ability, he plays positionless basketball, just like our other kids. Bam is going to be a big-time player for us.” Adebayo will join Kentucky out of High Point Christian Academy in High Point, N.C. He’s ranked in the top 10 by Rivals (No. 6) and ESPN (No. 6). 247Sports (No. 14) and Scout (No. 15) tab him as a top-15 prospect in the 2016 class. He has prior USA Basketball experience and was named a MaxPreps All-American in 2013. “They’re a winning program,” Adebayo said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on Tuesday. “They’re just a great all-around environment. I just like the staff and I like Coach Cal. … Whatever I need to do for Kentucky I’ll do.” De’Aaron Fox, G, 6-3, 170 Fox is an elite-level point guard considered to be one of the top overall players in the country in the 2016 class. The Katy, Texas product out of Cypress Lakes High School is blessed with exceptional speed, a knack for beating defenders off the dribble and a penchant for finishing at the basket. “De’Aaron Fox has speed, he has scoring ability, he can really pass and he can guard the ball,” Calipari said. “But those are things that can be said about different players. The intangible that I really loved is that every player wants to play with him. This whole class wants him to be the guard on the team. When I found out how much they loved him, I nicknamed him ‘the General’ because they all want to play for him.” Fox, measured at 6-3, 170 pounds, is rated as high as No. 2 overall in the rankings by 247Sports. Scout ranks him at No. 4, Rivals has him at No. 5 and ESPN tabs him No. 7. Scout and 247Sports both rank the five-star prospect as the No. 1 point guard in the talented 2016 group. He participated in the 2015 USA Basketball Junior National Team minicamp and made the 2015-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team in September. “It felt like a family there,” Fox said during his announcement on ESPNU. “When I went on my visits, every fan knew who I was. When I got off the airplane, people greeted me like I had been there my whole life. Getting to the players and Coach Cal – I felt like I had the best relationship out of any coach that recruited me with Coach Cal. That’s what set it apart.” Wenyen Gabriel, F, 6-9, 200 Gabriel is a 6-9, 200-pound forward who currently plays at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Mass. Ranked as high as No. 10 in the national rankings, Gabriel is an inside-out forward with a high motor, length to cause problems inside, and an ability to stretch opposing defenses with a great shooting touch for a big man. “When I saw Wenyen, I knew he had grown from 6-3 to 6-9,” Calipari said. “I see him as a 6-10 guard in the sense that, if we’re playing three guards, he’s one of them. He can really shoot it, he’s got a great shot and he’s a shot blocker defensively. He’s an energy guy who can guard multiple positions and is getting better by the day. Wenyen fits in perfectly with this class.” Scout ranks Gabriel as the 10th-best player overall in the 2016 class. 247Sports and Rivals tab him at No. 17 and ESPN places him at No. 23. He is a consensus five-star recruit. “Kentucky made it clear that they had a plan for me personally and for helping me take my game to the next level,” Gabriel told Adam Finkelstein of ESPN when he verbally committed in early October. Sacha Killeya-Jones, F, 6-10, 207 Killeya-Jones is a long, athletic big man considered to have a ton of upside. The 6-10, 207-pound forward is a highly skilled offensive post player who is a consensus top-35 player. 274Sports ranks him 16th overall, Rivals has him 26th, Scout tabs him at No. 29, and ESPN has him at No. 31. “When we learned about Sacha and were contacted about him having an interest in us, I asked him why Kentucky,” Calipari said. “His answer was, ‘Because you’ve coached players like me who have had growth spurts and all of those players have done well for you.’ You’re talking about a skilled player who can block shots. He can play multiple positions and fits in with the mold of kids we have, which are great kids, great students and great teammates.” Like Gabriel, Killeya-Jones is a consensus top-10 power forward. He currently plays at Virginia Episcopal in Lynchburg, Va. “I know going to play for Coach Cal at Kentucky means I will be playing against great players in practice,” Killeya-Jones told Reggie Rankin from ESPN in August. “That’s what I was looking for, because it will help me develop as a player and prepare me for the games. I know I have to earn my playing time.” Malik Monk, G, 6-4, 185 Monk is considered the top shooting guard in the class. At 6-4, 185 pounds, Monk is a long and athletic guard that can both shoot it and make plays off the dribble. The consensus five-star prospect is ranked No. 5 overall in the 2016 class by 247Sports and ESPN and No. 6 by Rivals and Scout. “Malik is a scoring point guard who can play both positions,” Calipari said. “Malik has Derrick Rose explosiveness. Think about that for a second. He’s as good of a scorer, as good of a shooter and as good of a shot creator as I’ve seen in a while. With his quickness and speed, he should be a great defender – a great defender.” Monk, a Bentonville, Ark., product, participated in the 2015 USA Basketball Junior National Team minicamp and was named to the 2015-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team in September. “Having the opportunity to win a national championship with my friends and the relationship I have with the coaching staff was very impactful on my decision,” Monk released in a statement on Twitter. Tai Wynyard, F, 6-9, 230 Wynyard is a 6-9, 230-pound forward. The Auckland, New Zealand native, who was a part of the World Select Team that edged the USA Junior National Select Team at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, is a physically imposing forward who does his best damage around the basket. “With Tai, you’re talking about a 6-9 physical athlete who is not afraid to get physical,” Calipari said. “He has good skills. The most exciting part is what he’s done with his country’s national team. Everybody that’s watched him recently has said, ‘Man has he gotten better. He’s competing at a high level.’ They’ve never seen him as physically fit. Tai is totally different than any player we have.” Wynyard played with the New Zealand senior national team in the summer of 2014 and was the first commit in the 2016 class. “Kentucky seemed like the best fit for me,” Wynyard told the Courier-Journal in January. “They are going to push you to their max no matter who you are or what you do. If you are the best player in the country or the world, they’re going to push you. That’s the thing that really got to me. No other college really said that to me, and that’s why I chose them.” With the latest additions, Kentucky has signed 37 top-50 recruits, 30 top-25 players and 20 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in Calipari’s eight recruiting classes at Kentucky.