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UK's Calipari rapidly reloads, but is his recruiting impact overstated?

"Can you imagine if I had this team for three years? Can you imagine??!! But the times, they are a-changin'. I'm just gonna have to keep recruiting. Figure out how many guys we're gonna lose, and replace them."

Kentucky coach John Calipari said that to SI's Tim Layden on the day before the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. That was before we knew the extent of the exodus from Lexington (so far it's John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, with Patrick Patterson expected to join them soon, and Darnell Dodson still on the fence). That was before we knew that Calipari would counteract those losses by getting the point guard some have ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2010, Brandon Knight, and the small forward everyone has ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2011, Michael Gilchrist, to both commit to Kentucky on Wednesday, the opening day of the NCAA's spring signing period -- a coup that Scout.com's recruiting guru, Dave Telep, called unprecedented.

"When North Carolina got John Henson, the Wear twins and Dexter Strickland all relatively close to each other [in one 10-day span in January 2008], I thought that was impressive," Telep said. "But getting Knight and Gilchrist on the same day? That cranks it up."

Calipari has been critical of the one-and-done rule (his preference: "I wish they could go straight to the NBA if they wanted to, and if they come to college, they've got to stay two years"), but we have never seen a coach so effectively replace one-and-done players with more of the same. From Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to Wall-Cousins-Bledsoe-Orton to Knight, Turkish star Enes Kanter and Gilchrist. Calipari is becoming college basketball's Mr. Spring, owning the late signing period for the second straight season since coming to Kentucky from Memphis.

Exactly one year ago on Wednesday, in the lead-up to the Jordan Brand Classic, I was in the lobby of the Westin Times Square, first to watch Cousins fax his letter of intent to Lexington, and then to interview Wall as he claimed to be still deciding between Kentucky, Duke, Miami, N.C. State and Kansas (but in retrospect was probably just pretending that he hadn't decided to play for Calipari many months in advance). No matter who else was in the Wall race, it seemed that all the talk was about Kentucky.

This Wednesday, then, seemed like more of the same. I came back to the Westin to see some of this year's crop of Jordan All-Americans, and found them in the same lobby, trying to get the flat-screen TV there changed to ESPNU ... so they could see the press conferences in which Knight and Gilchrist would commit to Kentucky.

Alas, the hotel couldn't accommodate that request -- they don't have ESPNU -- so Kendall Marshall, the North Carolina-bound point guard, followed the action on Twitter. He had given his followers his predictions for the uncommitted recruits earlier in the day: Knight and Gilchrist to Kentucky, Baltimore point guard Josh Selby and New York forward Doron Lamb to Kansas, Ray McCallum to UCLA, Trey Ziegler to Central Michigan, Terrence Ross and Terrence Jones to Washington.

"Some of those are educated guesses, some aren't," he said, and he was right on the UK kids and Ziegler, wrong on McCallum (he, like Ziegler, stayed home to play for dad, at Detroit), while Selby, Lamb, Ross and Jones remain uncommitted.

Marshall expressed amazement that Gilchrist, a 2011 recruit who didn't really need to make a decision until next spring, was committing so soon. Marshall said that he'd asked Gilchrist's high school teammate at St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, N.J.), Duke-bound point guard Kyrie Irving, if he knew it was happening, and even Irving had been unaware of the significance of the announcement date: it turned out to be the birthday of Gilchrist's late father, who passed away when he was two.

Because of Kentucky's recruiting momentum -- which started when Kanter dominated the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, and then picked up with Knight and Gilchrist -- the primary question for many of the uncommitted recruits at this week's Jordan Brand Classic is whether they're considering the Wildcats. Calipari said on ESPNU that he'd ideally like to bring in five players in his Class of 2010, which means there's room for two additional signees.

The heavy speculation this week is that Lamb -- despite Marshall's prediction of Kansas -- is the recruit most likely to choose Kentucky next, although West Virginia and St. John's are making late pushes for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. (He plans to decide at halftime of the Jordan Brand Classic.) C.J. Leslie, a 6-7 power forward who attended Wall's same high school in Raleigh, N.C., Word of God Academy, is also strongly considering the Wildcats and N.C. State, although the expectation is that he'll make like Wall and drag his recruiting process out into mid-May, with potential visits to Florida and UConn on the horizon.

I sat down with Jones, a 6-8 power forward, just after he flew in from his hometown of Portland, Ore., and he was eager to find out about Knight's decision. "It matters to me," Jones said, "because that's a possible future teammate, and that's a great thing for the Kentucky program."

Jones had reportedly been keeping his options open until Oregon made a decision on its next head coach, but he said on Wednesday that he "wasn't really waiting" for the Ducks, and wants to sign with a team by either April 23 or 30. The Wildcats, Washington, UCLA and Oklahoma are all in the running.

The one recruit who didn't care about the signing day madness was Selby, who's the second-ranked point guard in the Class of 2010, and a target of Kansas (his most likely destination), Kentucky, Tennessee and UConn. He was at the Westin, engrossed in a PlayStation 3 hoops duel between the Nuggets (using his fellow Baltimorean Carmelo Anthony) and Lakers, and made no attempt to check up on Knight's situation. When I asked Selby for his reaction on Knight, he said, "I didn't know that it happened. I don't have a reaction, because it doesn't have any effect on where I'm going."

What he meant by it not having any effect on him is that he feels he's good enough to earn time in any backcourt, whether it be alongside Knight or the Jayhawks' Tyshawn Taylor. But one could sense that Selby, who's going to announce his college choice at halftime of Saturday's Jordan game, wasn't too interested in Kentucky. He mentioned that while he'd spoken with Kansas coach Bill Self a few days earlier, he hadn't spoken with Calipari in a couple of months.

I asked if I should take that as a sign. Selby said, "Yeah, that's a sign."

Selby's impending commitment to Kansas will make less of a splash in the media than Knight's to Kentucky. But should it really be that way? Should we, like Selby, be more indifferent to Calipari's reloading day? Selby, after all, is more relevant to the 2010-11 season than Knight is; if Selby joins Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed and the Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff) in Kansas' rotation, the Jayhawks could be a top-10 team once again.

I'm not as sure about Kentucky being in the top 10. Knight is a step down from Wall; Kanter is a step down from Cousins; and the Wildcats won't have the same kind of depth as they did in '09-'10. Might we be wasting a lot of breath on a team that will be just decent, but not nearly Final Four-level good, and then faced with the same, "figure out how many guys we're gonna lose, and replace them" situation in the spring of 2011?

While all of this recruiting business is wildly entertaining, I fear that spring has become the time for overstating the potential impact of a small group of undecided prospects who hope to follow the Wall and Cousins route to the NBA. And I fear that we're paying too much attention to the wrong guys.

Farther down the recruiting rankings are a few names that have been committed for quite some time: Irving, the point guard who'll step into No. 1-ranked Duke's starting backcourt next season alongside Nolan Smith (and possibly Seth Curry). Irving settled on the Blue Devils in October 2009. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, the center and combo guard, respectively, who'll join Michigan State's title-caliber rotation. Payne committed in October '09, Appling in August '08. Terone Johnson, the combo guard who'll join a loaded Purdue team and give it a scoring boost on the perimeter. He decided on the Boilers in September '08. And Khyle Marshall, the 6-6 forward who's Butler's biggest recruit since Matt Howard, and should start from Day 1. Marshall picked the Bulldogs back in September '09, before their magical run to the title game.

Irving, Payne, Appling, Johnson and Marshall weren't newsmakers this April. But they're all joining contenders that aren't in reboot-and-reload mode, and therefore have a better chance of playing into next April. That, in the big picture beyond the spring madness, is all that really matters.

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