Forward Momentum: Justin Edwards’ Commitment in Context

The dedication of five-star ahead Justin Edwards final week presents Kentucky with a useful asset for his or her 2023-24 roster: defense-first expertise on the wing. Since the times of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, this luxurious has been scarce — and its absence has ceaselessly bitten the ‘Cats in March. As the circulate of school offense shifts more and more to the perimeter, securing two-way expertise on the three is turning into more and more essential.

Edwards’ arrival remains to be a 12 months away, and his skillset is not terribly flashy or distinctive. He brings a flexible offensive sport with catch-and-shoot potential, a stable deal with, and elite ball-hawking instincts on protection; however what he means is far bigger. For the primary time in almost a decade, Kentucky seems prepared to put that lacking piece.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Where did the UK’s sauce-less wing drawback start? The first three years of John Calipari’s tenure have been wealthy with dependable two-way gamers at small ahead. Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and MKG have been all dogged defenders able to locking down opposing scorers. But all three have been passed by the autumn of 2012, and so they ostensibly entrusted the function to Alex Poythress for a number of years.

Poythress was by no means a foul defender, however he was inconsistent, and never an ideal match. Missing out on the likes of Shabazz Mohammad, Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre in successive years clearly put a hitch in Calipari’s roster plans. Still, Poythress developed into a comparatively dependable frontcourt presence by his junior 12 months; if not for his brutal ACL damage in December of 2014, the 40-0 dream may effectively have change into actuality. Instead, the majority of his minutes that 12 months fell to freshmen Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, neither of whom had the energy and agility wanted to remain in entrance of Sam Dekker when he torched UK for 16 factors in… effectively, you realize the remainder of that story.

In the years that adopted, Calipari solid a wider internet in recruiting to attempt to offset his losses. He landed Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Keldon Johnson, none of whom have been in a position to absolutely gel as freshmen. Charles Matthews, Kahlil Whitney and Jarred Vanderbilt additionally projected effectively defensively, however they did not keep lengthy sufficient to comprehend that potential in Lexington. And high prospects continued to elude him, as studs like Jaylen Brown, Michael Porter Jr. and Cam Reddish dedicated elsewhere.

Last season, Kentucky had one in every of their most full groups in current historical past on paper; and nonetheless, they have been weak on the wing. Keion Brooks Jr., Jacob Toppin and Bryce Hopkins had all of the athleticism in the world, however not one of the essential velocity. And once more, we all know how that turned out.

This 12 months, Kentucky introduced in two probably high-impact wing defenders Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston. Both are top-15 recruits, and so they occur to be UK’s solely top-100 commitments in the category. The precise nature of their roles in Calipari’s protection remains to be TBD, but it surely’s encouraging to see these positions being centered on for a change.

Back to the Basics

Kentucky’s flurry of exercise in 2023 recruiting has been fascinating to look at. The dominoes are starting to fall for what Reed Sheppard and others have already dubbed a “dream workforce” of top-rated recruits, not like any we have seen since at the very least 2013. If the previous decade has confirmed something, it is that there is a tangible distinction between good and nice amongst five-star abilities. By most accounts, Edwards appears just like the latter.

According to 247 Sports, Edwards charges because the No. 3 gamers in his class. Rivals says the identical. If these scores maintain, will probably be the primary time since Kidd-Gilchrist in 2011 that UK has netted the top-ranked small ahead in any class. It’s additionally the primary time in that span that they’ve netted any top-5 SF (the closest being James Young, who rated ninth on Rivals in 2013).

All that to say, Edwards’ dedication means one much less crucial factor to fret about for subsequent season. In the meantime, I like to recommend trying out Brandon Ramsey’s movie breakdown from final week. Here’s a sneak preview of these defensive instincts:

Yes, please. Sign me up for extra of that… it has been too lengthy.

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