Kentucky will have its hands full with five-star freshman foes this season


By Ben Roberts - Lexington Herald-Leader



Kentucky’s roster this season boasts eight of the top 100 basketball recruits from the class of 2017.

The Wildcats’ opponents have a total of 27 such players.

Add it all up, and UK fans who watch every game this season will see more than a third of the nation’s top-ranked newcomers.

Here are the 10 toughest freshmen that UK will face:

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10. Darius Perry (Louisville)

Perry — a 6-foot-2 guard — isn’t Louisville’s top-ranked recruit and he’s ranked much lower than several future UK opponents that didn’t make this list, but he’s a player Wildcats’ fans will see plenty of during his time with the Cards. The shifty, score-from-all-over freshman should be U of L’s most productive newcomer while five-star center Malik Williams develops his game and five-star forward Brian Bowen sits due to a suspension.

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9. Chuma Okeke (Auburn)

The No. 46 overall player in the 2017 composite rankings, Okeke showed off his powerful game at John Calipari’s USA Basketball camp this summer before being sidelined with a knee injury. He should be fine to start the season, and the 6-8, 230-pound forward will be a handful in the paint.

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8. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech)

Alexander-Walker — the cousin of UK’sShai Gilgeous-Alexander — is a 6-5 guard who should be a dynamic offensive player for the Hokies, both as a scorer and a passer. His size and quickness make him tough to defend on the perimeter.

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7. Billy Preston (Kansas)

Listed at 6-10 and 240 pounds, Preston was one of the best offensive players in high school last season and can score from all over the court. His defense still needs some work, but he finished the 2017 cycle as the No. 20 recruit in the country.

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6. JJ Caldwell (Texas A&M)

The 6-1 redshirt freshman sat out last season due to academic issues, and the Aggies could have used him at the point guard spot. Now a year older, look for Caldwell to be a key player for what should be one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference.

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5. Kris Wilkes (UCLA)

The Bruins list the 6-8 Wilkes as a guard, and his size and versatility will give opposing players fits this season. A McDonald’s All-American selection, Wilkes visited UK multiple times as a recruit — though never received a scholarship offer from the Cats — and was pegged as the No. 21 player in the final 2017 rankings.

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4. John Petty (Alabama)

One of Calipari’s earliest recruiting priorities in the 2017 class, Petty instead chose to stay in his home state and play for the Crimson Tide. The 6-5 guard is an unselfish player who can impact the game in many ways, and he should be one of the most important freshmen in the SEC.

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3. Jaylen Hands (UCLA)

The 6-3 newcomer will share point guard duties with veteran Aaron Holiday, but Hands is a five-star recruit, a McDonald’s All-American and a dynamic talent who should be an impact player right off the bat for the Bruins.

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2. Collin Sexton (Alabama)

The No. 1-ranked point guard in the 2017 class, Sexton is a trash-talking, in-your-face competitor with the game to back it all up. The 6-3 freshman led the Nike league in scoring last year and should blossom even more under the tutelage of Bama Coach Avery Johnson. ESPN already projects Sexton as the No. 8 pick in next year’s NBA draft.

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1. Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri)

Rivals.com ranked Porter as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2017 class. ESPN projects him as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft (behind only international star Luka Doncic). The 6-10 forward can score from anywhere and is tasked with turning around the Tigers’ program. He’s good enough to do it, too. Porter averaged 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game in high school last season, earning multiple national player of the year honors. He’ll be one of college basketball’s best this season.

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TOP RECRUITS IN 2017 CLASS

1. Marvin Bagley (Duke)

2. Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri)

3. Mohamed Bamba (Texas)

4. DeAndre Ayton (Arizona)

5. Collin Sexton (Alabama)

6. Trevon Duval (Duke)

7. Wendell Carter (Duke)

8. Jaren Jackson (Michigan State)

9. Mitchell Robinson (No college)

10. Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky)

11. Kevin Knox (Kentucky)

12. Jarred Vanderbilt (Kentucky)

13. Troy Brown (Oregon)

14. Brandon McCoy (UNLV)

15. PJ Washington (Kentucky)

16. Lonnie Walker (Miami)

17. Gary Trent Jr. (Duke)

18. Nick Richards (Kentucky)

19. x-Brian Bowen (Louisville)

20. Billy Preston (Kansas)

21. Kris Wilkes (UCLA)

22. Jaylen Hands (UCLA)

23. Trae Young (Oklahoma)

24. Emmanuel Akot (Arizona)

25. Jontay Porter (Missouri)

x-Suspended indefinitely

Source: 247Sports composite rankings

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(c)2017 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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By Ben Roberts

Lexington Herald-Leader