Basketball Preview: Recruits aim to revive program

They’re the transformers, the rebuilders and the great hope. Whatever you want to call them, freshmen superstars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe are four of the most high-profile recruits to come to UK in years.

UK basketball fans were quick to call them the stars of what they considered to be the best recruiting class of all-time. The analysts said they might be right.

“It’s added pressure to the program, but we still have to work,” Cousins said. “No matter how good they say we are, we still have to work.”

The comparisons to Michigan’s “Fab Five” came quickly and should follow the Cats from the first game to the last. With four of the top 25 recruits in the country, according to Rivals.com, the comparison came naturally.

“We’re a part of history now, I guess you could say,” Cousins said. “They’re making us heroes before we even play a college game. It’s added on pressure, but none of us are worried about it. We’re just ready to get going.”

One concern for the young group of freshmen was how well they’d get along. With so much talent in one class, many believed personalities would clash. But the four said they constantly hang out together, even off the court.

UK head coach John Calipari likes the fact that the players all live together under the same roof. Calipari said it forces the team to work out its differences and talk things out like men. Cousins said everything’s been going well so far and he’s not surprised they’ve gotten along.

“That’s just the type of people we are,” Cousins said. “There’s no selfishness, there’s no arrogance, no big head, there’s none of that. We’re all just cool, down-to-earth people.”

Bledsoe, Cousins and Wall have become particularly close.

“They call us the three amigos,” Wall said. “We’re pretty close, even if it isn’t us three together, we try to help all the other freshmen out to bring them together.”

One relationship everybody is especially concerned about and eager to see how it develops during the season is that of Wall and Bledsoe. As the No. 1 and No. 3 point guard recruits in the country, according to Rivals.com, many critics were quick to say the two couldn’t co-exist. Those concerns haven’t proved true to this point, though things can change quickly in the season.

“I read what everybody said about ‘why am I thinking about going there? Why is he thinking about going there? It’s the same school, you all are some of the top two point guards in the country,’ ” Wall said. “We just look at it as he’s a competitive person, I’m a competitive person. When I stepped on the scene for pick-up in the summer I just said, ‘Let’s make each other better,’ and ever since that day we’ve just connected like we were brothers, like we came from the same mother. It’s great to have him and I can’t wait to play with him.”

And the upperclassmen can’t wait to play with the young guns. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament a year ago, a first since 1991, the Cats are ranked by many analysts in the top 10, and are among the favorites to make it to Indianapolis for the Final Four. For seniors like Ramon Harris, that’s a welcome change.

“The thing about our incoming new players is that they always listen,” Harris said. “There’s some things you can’t tell them and they’ll have to go through a game for themselves, but they try to listen as much as possible.”

See more from the Kernel’s 2009 Basketball Preview:

Degree, NCAA tournament keep Patterson from NBA

SEC rebounds from bad reputation

New coach gives sophomore a second chance at UK

The third time’s the charm: Harris, Stevenson cope with third coach in four years

UK Hoops looks to avoid injuries

Dunlap finds her voice as a leader

SEC East predictions

SEC West predictions