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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
At the Watercooler: Freshmen buzz

Editor's Note: All week long we're taking an early look at the 2013-14 season and Wednesday's focus is on incoming freshmen. For much more on this subject, visit ESPN RecruitingNation.

Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? Another day, another Watercooler. I love the offseason, man. That's because it's never a real "offseason." We're always chasing something. One of the big storylines thus far has been the influx of talent that's coming in 2013-14. I think last year's crop of incoming freshmen was a bit overrated. This year's crew? My goodness, man. The hype is legit.

There are so many young players I can't wait to see. No. 1 on my list? Jabari Parker.

Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker with Coach K's tutelage? That could be scary.

A few years ago, I attended a Junior Olympic team tryout in Colorado Springs. I watched Parker for four or five days and couldn't believe how fluid and disciplined he was at that age. He's obviously evolved since that time. No player in this class has had a bigger target on their back. He has played in Chicago. Now, he's going to Duke. And the expectations for his first (and only) year on the collegiate scene are sky high.

I really believe he's equipped to meet them. Parker can create his shot. He's smart. He just gets buckets. And you know Coach K is going to mold him into a better defender.

You live in Chicago, man. Should I really be this excited about Parker?

Eamonn Brennan: Greetings again, Myron. Let me dive right in and answer your question: I think so.

Parker has lost a little bit of the luster he had as a sophomore and junior at Simeon for a couple of plain reasons: He suffered an injury that took him a little longer to recover from than he anticipated this past season. It also kept him from playing against Andrew Wiggins on the AAU circuit last summer, when Wiggins, who was still a class below Parker, basically shut the whole thing down. Wiggins later reclassified to the current class, rapidly took Parker's No. 1 spot in 2013, and everyone's attention span sort of shifted -- one "next" LeBron James rapidly replaced by another.

Don't get me wrong: Wiggins is that dude. But as we'll discuss, this class isn't really the kind where you should worry about the No. 1 or No. 2 player -- or where they're ranked and what that means for their future -- because by all accounts the class of 2013 includes a wide swath of NBA talents. Parker is obviously one of them.

I've seen him probably a dozen times now between attending or watching local games on TV and summer camps. He has weaknesses, including defending on the perimeter. He's athletic, but he isn't a Wiggins-esque freak show. But goodness can he do just about everything else. Parker has a real chance to be Carmelo Anthony: A small forward/power forward pure enough and smart enough and strong enough to score from any position on the floor despite being just a hair shy of elite athletically. His freshman season is going to be fascinating.

I can't remember the last time it felt like an unsigned prospect still had this much influence over a college hoops season. We need to get into Kentucky's incoming talent, and I need to reiterate the fact that if Wiggins goes to Lexington it will become almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Wildcats do not win the national title. Your thoughts?

MM: Well, you're right. Kentucky might be the favorite to win it all right now. If Calipari adds Wiggins … no question about it. Wiggins is legit. I saw him on the AAU circuit. He has unfair abilities.

But here's the thing: Kentucky doesn't need Wiggins, and that's scary. Where do you begin with this crew? Andrew Harrison is going to be a great young point guard. James Young has the size and skill set of an NBA wing. Aaron Harrison adds another McDonald's All-American to Kentucky's depth chart. And Dakari Johnson could really evolve into a force by the end of his first season.

If I had to pick one guy I can't wait to see, though, it would have to be Julius Randle.

He's ridiculous. No 6-foot-9, 230-pound athlete should be allowed to do this. He can put the ball on the floor and hit jump shots, too. Randle has the ingredients to be an effective and dominant and scary big man next season.

Eamonn, how on earth is Calipari going to find minutes for all of these stars?

EB: I love how you can watch that video for five seconds and see all you really need to see. Not that I'm recommending that approach, of course, but it is possible. Insane.

Andrew Wiggins
The hype around Andrew Wiggins couldn't possibly soar any higher.

Myron, you hit on the big question of Kentucky's season: How Calipari will manage to work in minutes for all of the future pros he currently has on the roster. This is one of the things people have said frequently about Wiggins -- that he shouldn't (or won't) choose UK because it would mean fewer minutes amid all that talent. I don't buy that. He might play marginally fewer minutes, sure, but he's Andrew Wiggins. He'll have first dibs on playing time wherever he goes.

Still, Wiggins or no, it is a question for UK. It's a great problem to have, because Calipari can pit his freshmen and returning players against each other and open up competition for spots and have a boatload of All-Americans competing against each other every day in practice. Another bonus is Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer have zero cachet. They lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Nothing will be guaranteed to them. I'm not saying it's going to be easy to keep everyone happy all the time, but that stuff is part of any team's season. Cal will figure out the best balance to strike, and Kentucky will be really good.

By the way, it is easy, given what happened last year, for rival fans to claim this year's class is fool's gold, that Calipari will struggle with freshmen once more. This is a silly argument, but I've heard it a few times. So, just to remind everyone: Last year's UK class wasn't even the best in the country. This one -- which features four of the top seven and five of the top 11 players in a class loaded with future pros, including the aforementioned Randle, twins (Andrew and Aaron Harrison) who could be the Sedins of college hoops, James Young and Dakari Johnson -- is arguably the best ever. So … yeah. They'll be good.

Anyway, enough about the Big Blue for now. Though it may occasionally feel that way, UK was in fact unable to sign every single prospect in the class of 2013; there are other interesting players headed all over the country. Which one most intrigues you, Myron?

MM: First, thanks for setting the record straight on Wiggins and Kentucky. Wiggins will play wherever he goes, and he'll play a lot. And Kentucky's '12 recruiting class and '13 recruiting class are apples and oranges. Gold-plated oranges that you don't eat but just set on top of a shelf and admire.

To your question: I'm most intrigued by a guy I saw for the first time a few years ago at that junior Olympic team tryout I mentioned earlier. (As you can see, I'm clearly trying to earn street cred by mentioning this event multiple times). Shortly after I'd arrived, I see this lanky young man on the sideline. He had a sprained ankle; it was quite swollen. Didn't look like he would be able to participate in the tryout at any point. I figured they would cut this kid because there were many other healthy players available.

I remember one of the coaches canceling that thought by telling me: "They're not going to cut him. That's Aaron Gordon."

Well, this young man endured the pain and competed in the final day of the tryouts, and it was clear he was special. Obviously.

Throw up the ball and Gordon will get it. He has freakish athleticism, and we say that a lot. But Gordon is a legitimate next-level athlete with NBA size, speed, talent and hops. When he is on the floor, Arizona will be must-see TV. Sean Miller's program will attract a bunch of casual fans who just want to see Gordon fly. "SportsCenter" will love him.

I think he will ultimately be a good player, but he has received mixed reviews. Some believe he's Blake Griffin 2.0, but I've also talked to some recruiting insiders who think he's just athletic without any real skills. Last year, Miller had a bunch of talented bigs who were supposed to do big things, and they all struggled to adapt to his system. Now, Gordon has a much higher ceiling than Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

But aerial acrobatics will take him only so far. Eamonn, are the Gordon naysayers crazy? And who are you most excited to see in 2013-14?

Noah Vonleh
Will Noah Vonleh be the next great Indiana Hoosier?

EB: Outside of the die-hard recruiting circles, Gordon has almost flown under the radar, hasn't he? He shouldn't have. You mentioned Arizona's other forwards. Even without Jerrett, Miller will have a ton of guys to throw at the rim, guys who I'm sure would happily take on some of that polished low-post scoring stuff if Gordon can't do it. He won't need to do much more than fly around and be athletic, and that's a baseline expectation.

One guy I haven't heard many people talk about is Indiana's Noah Vonleh. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that Vonleh is considered more raw than others in this class' top 10; he still needs to improve his long-range jumper and defensive footwork for starters.

But Tom Crean has a history of taking late-developing athletic talents and turning them into dominant college players -- hello, Victor Oladipo -- and it will be really interesting to see whether or not that can happen with Vonleh in one season at Indiana. (Or, conversely, if Vonleh is one of a few players who might not be ready for the league right away, which can be a blessing for IU in its own right.)

I'm likewise really interested in Kasey Hill. When you watch video, he actually looks a lot like a John Calipari point guard -- good size, great speed and handle, great finishing around the rim, so-so shooting. Only he'll be playing at Florida, in a backcourt that waved goodbye to Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario (aka a ton of shots and possessions) this summer. How Hill integrates into that backcourt could give Florida a whole new look. And Billy Donovan knows how to use guards with speed.

Honestly, as I wrote the other day, there's almost too much -- we could spend 5,000 words trading YouTube clips. Instead, unless you have an objection, maybe we should just say farewell to this.

MM: Oh. My. In the words of Kenny Smith after Vince Carter shocked the world in the 2000 NBA dunk contest, "Let's go home! Let's go home!"

Until next time, Eamonn.