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Saturday, July 13, 2013
Lyles could be a Battle of the Bluegrass

By Jeff Goodman

Trey Lyles
No. 4 recruit Trey Lyles trimmed his list to Kentucky, Louisville, Florida and Butler this week, but it could come down to a battle between John Calipari and Rick Pitino.

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Trey Lyles cut his final college list to four earlier this week down here at the Peach Jam, and the onetime Indiana commit kept the dream alive when both Louisville and Kentucky remained in the hunt.

Lyles is a stud, ranked No. 4 in the ESPN 100. Think a 6-foot-9, 250-pound version of Tim Duncan. Not overly athletic, but super skilled and with an extremely high IQ. The senior power forward out of Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis can score with both hands in the paint, has terrific touch around the basket, can bury shots from midrange, and can even step out beyond the arc and drain shots from deep.

No. 1 point guard Tyus Jones and No. 1 overall Jahlil Okafor have soaked up the majority of the headlines in the 2014 class thanks to their talents and their willingness to play together in college, but Lyles could have as much of a winning impact as anyone in this entire group. He’s a versatile scorer who can rebound, pass and help lead a team. He’s more than capable of being a double-double guy as a freshman in college thanks to his rebounding instincts.

Florida and Butler also made the cut in Lyles’ final four, but this one could very well come down to a Battle of the Bluegrass. In fact, many of those close to this recruitment feel it will ultimately be John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino.

This one has already become entertaining, especially with the comments Lyles made in North Augusta about the difference between the two programs.

Trey Lyles
Trey Lyles has narrowed it down to Kentucky or Louisville, but has no timetable on a final decision.
"Kentucky has younger players and gets guys to the league faster, but Louisville might develop their players a little bit better,” he said.

Fans of both fan bases might take exception, but Lyles is a bright, articulate kid and isn’t off base on this one. Calipari is the superior recruiter, and Pitino does a terrific job maximizing his talent. That’s not to say Calipari hasn’t developed plenty of players recently (e.g., Josh Harrellson), but he’s certainly better known for bringing in elite talents to Lexington.

The last time Pitino and Calipari went toe-to-toe in recruiting circles was for Marquis Teague, who was a onetime heavy Louisville lean before opting to change course and head to Kentucky.

It's different now, though. Pitino and the Cards are riding high coming off a national title. In July 2012, no one could have envisioned Pitino even competing with Calipari for an elite prospect, never mind holding his own.

Lyles, a native of Canada, could be a game-changer for either program's chances to cut down the nets in 2015, and he’d obviously be a huge pickup for any of his four finalists. Here's a breakdown of how he'd fit in at each school remaining on his list:

Kentucky: The Wildcats could use a stretch 4-man, especially with Kyle Wiltjer gone. Lyles is a much more well-rounded version of Wiltjer anyway. Lyles can shoot it, will rebound and isn't a liability on the defensive end. We don't know exactly which other players Calipari will land in the Class of 2014, but Lyles -- with his unselfish approach and demeanor -- is someone other players want to play alongside. The question for Lyles is whether he'll roll the dice of joining a front line that should still have Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee with one year of experience, Alex Poythress with two years under his belt and top-10 center Karl Towns Jr. already committed in the 2014 class.

Louisville: Pitino already has a trio of top-50 commitments in the Class of 2014, and all are perimeter players. What the Cards need is a skilled frontcourt player who can score inside and outside. Louisville could lose Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell after this season, and Lyles would give Louisville a low-post threat who’d be given the green light to launch 3s. Pitino will have an abundance of perimeter players in 2014 with Wayne Blackshear, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, JaQuan Lyle, Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron.

Florida: The Gators have a bunch of frontcourt players, even with losing senior Patric Young, but Billy Donovan doesn't have anyone quite like Lyles. Donovan has done well with skilled forwards (Matt Bonner, Erik Murphy), but he’s never had anyone who brings so much versatility to the court. A potential starting group of Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier, Dorian Finney-Smith, Lyles and Chris Walker would certainly be among the best in the nation.

Butler: Brad Stevens couldn't land highly rated guys, so I just don't expect new coach Brandon Miller to be able to seal the deal. If Lyles did wind up pulling the trigger and remaining in state, it would be a huge coup for the new guy at Hinkle. Lyles would have this entire program built around his talent under Miller, which is different from the other three options on his list.

The Lyles recruitment is difficult to handicap. Obviously, Butler is the long shot here, and it’s likely a three-horse race between Calipari, Pitino and Donovan.

Lyles is a unique player with his array of skills. He won’t be your typical freshman, though, thanks to his maturity on and off the court.

Notes


Talk to any people at Missouri and they’ll tell you the same thing: Jordan Clarkson was the best player in the program last season. The 6-5 guard sat out after transferring from Tulsa, and Tigers coach Frank Haith plans to play Clarkson at the point this year, replacing Phil Pressey. “He finishes over big guys; he’s athletic; he can shoot it and is physical,” Haith said. Missouri likely will go with a perimeter trio of Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. The question comes up front after losing Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. Look for junior college big man Keanau Post to get a shot at taking Oriakhi’s spot and expect incoming freshman Johnathan Williams III and holdovers Tony Criswell and Stefan Jankovic to battle for the minutes at power forward.

LSU could be a dark horse team in the SEC, especially if incoming freshman big man Jordan Mickey wins his eligibility appeal with the NCAA. Coach Johnny Jones pulled off two significant coups when he signed local kid Jarrell Martin (No. 11 in the 2013 ESPN 100) and kept big man Johnny O'Bryant. “Some teams said they would have taken him in the first round,” Jones said of O’Bryant. Look for 6-9, 235-pound Martin to play both forward spots. “He’s better than Glen Davis and Brandon Bass out of high school,” Jones said.