Cal lauds winning pedigree of incoming class

With Thursday’s official announcement of players in the incoming class of 2013, Kentucky Coach John Calipari lauded that group’s championship pedigree. Without saying so directly, he suggested the newcomers will provide a sharp contrast to the psychic surrender on display this past season.

“The thing I like most about this group is its competitive spirit and its will to win,” Calipari said in an official statement. “These guys are All-Americans and award winners, but more importantly they’re world champions, national champions and state champions. They know what it takes to win. The size and talent of the group will allow us to have tough, hard-nosed practices which will carry over to the games. I’m excited for the opportunity to coach this group.”

Dominique Hawkins, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle have officially signed, UK said Thursday. They join fall signees Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and James Young in what is viewed as the No. 1 class in the nation.

In leading Madison Central to the state championship, Hawkins was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball. He became the 17th UK player so named. He and Derek Willis of Bullitt East give the class a homegrown element. Both will play in the Derby Festival Classic Friday night.

“I kept hearing about Dominique from Marquis Estill and my good friend Dr. Robert Palmer,” Calipari said in the statement. “When I watched him play, lead his team, and play with a will to win and fight, I was totally sold. At the Sweet Sixteen, he made sure he got his teammates involved and was always happy with their success, but when it was time to take over the game – when it was winning time – everyone in the building knew they were going to play through Dominique, which they did, and they won. The last player who was named Kentucky Mr. Basketball and won a state title in the same year was Darius Miller. He went to two Final Fours, won a national title and is now playing in the NBA. My hope is Dominique will be on the same path.”

Actually, Hawkins became the fourth player since Miller  to win win a state championship and be named Mr. Basketball. The others were Anthony Hickey, Elisha Justice and Nathan Dieudonne.

Johnson, a 6-10 center from Brooklyn, N.Y.,  played his senior season at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla. He led his high school team to a national championship at the National High School Invitational where he claimed MVP honors.

Johnson began his high school career as an eighth grader player for Sayre, the Lexington private school.

“Dakari’s improvement over the last year and a half has been phenomenal,” Calipari said. “His ability to be a true low-post threat adds an important piece to what our team will really need. He’s patient when he gets the ball on the block and has a great understanding for how to use his size for a kid his age. Dakari is a great student and a great kid. He’s won a high school championship, a world championship with Team USA, and he said he wants to win a national championship with us and an NBA championship. That statement says a lot about the type of winner he is.”

Randle, a 6-9 forward from Plano, Texas, led Prestonwood Christian Academy to three state titles. The nation’s consensus top power forward is ranked the No. 2 overall player by Rivals, the No. 3 overall player by ESPN and the No. 5 overall player by Scout.

“Julius is another hard-working player who is a great student and person along with being a ‘dominator’ on the court,” Calipari said. “He has that will to win that the players I’ve had who have become special have all had. That motor will be important to our success next year. Julius has the skill set to be an inside-outside guy for us. He has the ability to put it on the floor and beat guys off the dribble, but he’s also got the toughness, size and ability to score against bigger defenders. At the end of the day, he’s a true leader whose personal drive is off the charts.”

The UK release noted that the class of 2013 joins returning players Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer who combined for 949 points, 40 percent of UK’s offensive output in 2012-13. The trio also accounted for 515 rebounds or the equivalent to 41 percent of the team’s total rebounds.

The spring signing period runs from April 17 through May 15.