For the past two recruiting cycles, Kentucky coach John Calipari has done the majority of his work during the late signing period. It seems unlikely that will be the case in 2011.
Calipari, one of the college basketball's best recruiters, secured a commitment from Michael Gilchrist (Somerdale, N.J./St. Patrick), the nation's top-rated junior, on Wednesday. Gilchrist's announcement came on the heels of 2010 PG Brandon Knight (Coral Springs, Fla./Pine Crest) picking the Wildcats.
Gilchrist has been one of the most discussed players in the country since he debuted for St. Pat's as a freshman. As a long, gangly teenager, Gilchrist played power forward. Early in his career, he made his mark on the glass. He was a bit more of a role player alongside some of St. Pat's talented upperclassmen -- a group that included current UNC guard Dexter Strickland.
With each passing season, Gilchrist has refined his skills. These days, Gilchrist still is a ferocious rebounder, but his game is so much more than that. Gilchrist has great instincts and size (6-foot-7). He's an excellent scorer and his ballhandling skills have improved to the point that he now plays the small forward spot -- his likely position in college and beyond. That move to the perimeter required him to improve his ballhandling, shooting and passing, which he did. Gilchrist is an excellent finisher and one of the top scorers in the high school ranks. It's his versatility -- the ability to play inside and outside with equal effectiveness -- that separates him from other players in his class.
Gilchrist has the talent to get monster numbers each time out, but he has a higher mission. On the AAU circuit (with Team Final) and during the high school season, Gilchrist puts team achievements before individual accolades. In a January contest against Findlay Prep, the rising superstar showed his true colors. Despite turning his ankle badly early in the second half, Gilchrist gutted out what was likely his team's biggest game of the season. He finished with 19 points, eight boards and three blocks playing at much less than full strength. The bottom line is he is a winner.
He fits at Kentucky because of his versatility. This type of skill and size in the 2011 class is unmatched. In Kentucky's dribble-drive offense, Gilchrist will be able to take the bigger defenders to the basket off the dribble. Conversely, he will have little trouble posting up smaller wings. On defense, he will be a tremendous asset. Kentucky loves to apply full-court pressure. Gilchrist's length and athleticism will make him a terror in that system.
This development bodes very well for UK's 2011 class. The opportunity to play alongside Gilchrist -- and whichever players Kentucky returns from a talented 2010 class -- will be a major attraction to other top prospects.
With all his potential and his outstanding work ethic, Gilchrist could be one-and-done player. Calipari doesn't recruit guys to be one-and-done; he recruits guys to win big come March. Gilchrist could help UK attain that goal.
Throughout his career, Gilchrist has shown that he is willing to put in the work necessary to be great and that he is ready and willing to listen to his coaches. Those factors, combined with Calipari's ability to develop players, make this pairing a home run.
Paul Biancardi is a veteran of the coaching ranks with years of college experience. He has recruited on a national level with stops as an assistant coach at Boston University and Boston College, associate head coach at Ohio State and most recently as an assistant at Saint Louis University. Biancardi was head coach at Wright State University from 2003 to 2006. In 2003, he was named Horizon League Coach of the Year. He is a selection committee member for the prestigious McDonald's All-America Game and the Gatorade Player of the Year award.