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Ryan Clark: As John Calipari’s latest five-star recruit, Shaedon Sharpe needs to pay off for Big Blue Nation

Hear that?

It’s the rumbling of the Big Blue Nation’s interest coming around again in basketball recruiting. Seems like it’s been a while. People have been a little ho-hum since last season’s 9-16 debacle.

Although, just this week, the head man himself, John Calipari, reminded fans that he’s got a pretty good track record when it comes to these things. He pointed out that he’s brought in the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting classes nearly every season he’s been the Coach at Kentucky. That’s a fact. So why worry, right?

Ryan Clark has been writing sports stories and books for 20 years. After graduating from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, he went on to write for The Clarion-Ledger, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Sports Radio, WCPO.com, Saturday Down South and ESPN.com, among others. He’s covered Kentucky Wildcats basketball, Ohio State football and the Cincinnati Bengals for various outlets. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including the local bestseller 100 Things Wildcats Fans Must Know & Do Before They Die.

But others say that lately, UK recruiting seems to have been a quantity over quality kind of thing, with the highest, top talent, time and again choosing other programs. Even this fall, Kentucky has seen the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked recruits commit to Memphis. Two other top 10 players are committed to Duke — and Coach K won’t even be there when those guys get to campus. He’ll be retired.

So what gives? Why the renewed interest in basketball recruiting (right when a promising football season has just gotten underway, no less?). 

It’s because of a 5-star recruit from Canada named Shaedon Sharpe, who many say is the No. 1 ranked high schooler in the country. Sharpe, a 6-5, 185-pound shooting guard, pledged Tuesday night that he would play his college basketball at UK. And for the first time since 2015, the Wildcats will bring the No. 1 player to Lexington.

Hear that? It’s UK fans rejoicing. For the first time in a while, they got their guy. A difference-maker. A game-changer. 

At least, that’s what we’re being told. We’re hearing it’s a Cade Cunningham or James Wiseman kind of guy. And Kentucky fans should be thrilled that once again, they’ve got a legit alpha dog in the fold. UK will once again be the talk of the college basketball world (for a positive reason). And that’s a good thing.

But forgive me if I hedge my bets — just a little.

I will point out that you never can predict how a recruit will translate to the court. For every Malik Monk and Jamal Murray, Kentucky has also seen its share of recruits that did not pan out, like Skal Labissiere for one. (In fact, you only need to look at B.J. Boston from last season — everyone was convinced he would be an amazing college player and he just wasn’t. Unfortunately, the team desperately needed him to be).

Still, the importance of landing Sharpe cannot be overstated. It announces to rivals that UK is still in the recruiting game, but it may also signal a new era — that of Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman and Jai Lucas, the superhero recruiting trio Calipari put together earlier this year. We may see Sharpe as the first domino of many to fall, similar to Antigua’s first go-around as a Wildcat coach, when he was helping bring in athletes who won a national championship in 2012 and reeled off 38 consecutive wins in 2015.

Sharpe will also use his talents to try and lure others to UK, and right now, this class looks to be the beginnings of a monster. It very well may be the start of something huge.

No matter what happens, the Cats will ride this wave of momentum for all its worth. And they should — Sharpe is their biggest get in years. But in order for all of this to truly work, Calipari needs Sharpe to be the real deal. He needs him to be more Monk and Murray, less B.J. or Skal. 

Hey — I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. Just as we can say that we’ve seen the disappointment of a recruit who did not pan out, there have also been plenty of instances where our players have succeeded. When Jamal Murray committed to Kentucky, the team desperately needed a scoring leader and a dynamic backcourt mate for Tyler Ulis. Murray was all of that and more. He became part of one of the most entertaining backcourts we’ve ever seen.

Do I think Sharpe can make that same kind of difference? I do. He’s a dynamic and explosive scorer. Plus, he will have lots of help based on the other guys he’s trying to bring with him to Lexington.

So have a day, UK fans — this is a time for celebration in Lexington. Sharpe can be one of the best we’ve seen in a while.

And if he is? Then college basketball needs to be ready for another Big Blue Wave.

It’s coming. You can hear it.

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