LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) John Calipari’s rebuilding project at Kentucky is well under way.
The Wildcats signed center Enes Kanter and received a commitment from guard Brandon Knight on Wednesday, two players Calipari hopes can step in and fill some of the holes left by the defection of five players to the NBA.
Knight, a McDonald’s All-American and a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year, donned a blue Kentucky hat after making his nationally televised announcement at Pine Crest High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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“I just chose Kentucky because I felt it was a place that had great players, a great environment and a place where I can elevate my game,” Knight said on ESPNU.
Knight chose Kentucky over Syracuse, Connecticut, Kansas and Florida. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Knight was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the country by Rivals.com. He averaged 32 points a game last year at Pine Crest and ended his high school career as the second-leading scorer in Florida history.
Knight will have some big shoes to fill at Kentucky, which loses three players to graduation and could have five underclassmen – guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, forward Patrick Patterson and centers DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton – leave early to head to the NBA. The departing underclassmen were the core of a team that went 35-3 and won the Southeastern Conference tournament before advancing to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
Knight cited the success young point guards have enjoyed in Calipari’s “dribble-drive” offense – namely Wall and current NBA stars Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans – as a major factor in his decision.
“The things that’s done with previous players … I think that’s what entices a lot of players with that situation,” Knight said.
Calipari could not comment on Knight’s commitment because the school had not yet received Knight’s letter of intent. However, he told ESPNU he’s not worried about Kentucky’s ability to sustain its success.
“When you get this kid and a few other kids signed with the kids we have coming back, I think we’re going to be fine,” he said.
Knight will join a freshman class that includes swingman Stacey Poole and Kanter, a Turkey native who starred at the Nike Hoops Summit last weekend in Oregon.
Kanter scored an event-record 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while playing for the International Team in a loss to the United States. Kanter spent last season at Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, Calif.
Calipari said Kanter has the body and potential to be “special.”
The Wildcats are expected receive several more commitments during the late signing period.