Kentucky met its top remaining recruiting need on Wednesday when Eric Bledsoe signed with UK.
Bledsoe, whom the recruiting service Rivals.com ranks as the third best point guard in the high school class of 2009, picked Kentucky over Memphis.
Bledsoe’s commitment is not expected to adversely affect Kentucky’s pursuit of another point guard, the celebrated John Wall.
Bledsoe, a native of Birmingham, Ala., cited new UK Coach John Calipari and Kentucky’s love for basketball as factors.
“When Alabama recruited him at the end, he said, ‘Coach, it’s pretty much football, football, football all the time,’ ” said Maurice Ford, Bledsoe’s coach at Birmingham’s Parker High School.
“ ‘I’m a basketball player. Every time I pick up the paper, they’re writing about football. Coach, I want to go where basketball is important, where everyone knows and loves the game.’ ”
Calipari, who earlier recruited Bledsoe for Memphis, played a “big role” in the decision, Bledsoe said.
“I hung out with him a lot when I was up there,” he said of an official visit last weekend. “He told me I’d be his starting point guard.”
Calipari, whom Bledsoe called a “really funny dude,” spoke of playing more than one point guard should Wall also sign with Kentucky.
“He’s very competitive, very tough,” Rivals analyst Jerry Meyer said of Bledsoe. “He understands how to win basketball games. He can do pretty much everything you need a point guard to do except shoot. He’s not a great shooter. But he’s good enough to keep the defense honest.”
Another analyst, Brick Oettinger of Prep Stars, cited shooting as a reason his recruiting service only rated Bledsoe at No. 80 among the prospects in the Class of 2009.
“I don’t think he’s a very good shooter,” Oettinger said. “That was the major thing. What he’s best at is pushing the ball on the break and dishing. When having to set up in the halfcourt, he’s not as effective. But he’s quick.”
Bledsoe, a 6-foot player from Birmingham, Ala., did well in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic in April. He scored nine points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and had four assists in 24 minutes.
“What makes him special is he’s a competitor,” Meyer said. “He’s a down and dirty, gritty player.”
Rivals ranks Bledsoe at No. 23 among the nation’s prospects in the class of 2009. Prep Stars rates him “around No. 80,” Oettinger said.
Bledsoe averaged 20.3 points and 11. 5 assists as a senior in leading Parker High to the Alabama 5A state championship. The Birmingham News named him No. 1 in its annual Super Senior listing.
Bledsoe has not yet gained his academic eligibility as a college freshman. His coach at Parker High in Birmingham, Maurice Ford, voiced confidence that Bledsoe will be eligible.
Ford told the Birmingham News that Bledsoe had scored a 17 on the ACT and passed the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. Ford told the newspaper that Bledsoe has to make at least a B in a core-cirrculum math course he’s taking now to reachy the grade-point average he needs to be eligible as a college freshman.
“He’s on track,” Ford told the Birmingham News. “This is the first time he’s been challenged academically. He knows what he has to do.”
Of course, Bledsoe’s commitment does not end Kentucky’s search for help at point guard. UK has been prominent in his pursuit of John Wall, a player from Raleigh, N.C., and a consensus choice as the nation’s best player.
Wall is expected to narrow his list of eight schools any day.
Meyer dismissed the thought that Bledsoe’s commitment might cause Wall to drop Kentucky.
“I don’t think John Wall is really worried about any player in terms of competition for playing time,” Meyer said with a chuckle.
Calipari has reportedly been trying to sell Bledsoe and Wall on the idea of playing together on the court.
The analysts disagreed on how plausible that scenario might be.
“Kentucky could definitely play the two together,” Meyer said. “The dribble-drive is the ultimate offense to play two point guards because it’s dribble based. . . . Guys are expected to put it on the floor and create plays.”
Oettinger was more dubious. He suggested another selling point to Bledsoe could pack more power.
“You’ll get to practice against Wall every day,” he said. “See how good you’ll become.
“I can see that argument rather than playing them both together.”
Bledsoe joined a Kentucky recruiting class that includes big men Daniel Orton of Oklahoma City, Okla., and DeMarcus Cousins of Mobile, Ala., plus wings Darnell Dodson of Greenbelt, Md., and Kentucky Mr. Basketball Jon Hood of Madisonville.
Like Cousins and Dodson and perhaps Wall, Bledsoe’s arrival at Kentucky can be linked to Calipari becoming UK coach.
“If Cal had stayed in Memphis, I would have signed with Florida,” Bledsoe said. “I wanted to play in the SEC.”