Kentucky Basketball: Which Star Freshman Will Have the Most Struggles?

Ryan CuriSenior Analyst IIApril 2, 2017

John Calipari has done it again. The Kentucky Wildcats once again boast the nation's top recruiting class, adding seven top-150 recruits, according to, six of whom are ranked in the top 19 alone. Kentucky does bring back Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress for their sophomore seasons, while fellow 2012 recruits Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin were selections in the NBA Draft back in June. Former NCAA Champion reserve Kyle Wiltjer has also left the program, taking his game back west to Gonzaga.

So what players make up this historically unbelievable recruiting class that Coach Cal has brought to Lexington? According to Rivals, here is some basic information on each of the seven freshmen:

No. 2 Julius Randle-PF

No. 5 Andrew Harrison-PG

No. 7 Aaron Harrison-SG

No. 9 Dakari Johnson-C

No. 11 James Young-SF

No. 19 Marcus Lee-PF

No. 115 Derrick Willis-PF

Assuming Willis takes a redshirt this upcoming year, or sits at the end of the UK bench, the other six freshmen, along with Cauley-Stein and Poythress, should make up the team's rotation. Jarrod Polson could also see the floor, though briefly, as a backup point guard. As it stands, with depth at power forward, Marcus Lee could be perceived as the freshman who will have the most struggles this season.

When Kentucky won it all back in 2012, Calipari used a starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores, which could be the same case in 2013-14. The team's sixth man was Darius Miller, a senior, though this year's Cats won't have as skilled a veteran at their luxury. Wiltjer was the team's seventh man as a freshman, playing just 11.6 minutes per game, which is where the rotation ended.

You could argue that this year's team is deeper than the 2012 one, though the 2011-12 squad does have six players in the NBA currently. A starting five of the Harrison brothers, Poythress, Randle and Cauley-Stein would leave Johnson as the team's first big off the bench, while Young would be the first perimeter player to enter the game off the pine. This leaves Lee as the eighth man, something Calipari may or may not use, though it would seem that there's too much talent here to leave Lee wearing his warmups all game.

Truth be told, Lee has plenty of promise, as evidenced by his five-star rating. When called upon, Lee should be a perfect energy player off the team's bench.

He is an explosive athlete, who can run the floors offensively and block shots on the defensive end. He is a highlight reel dunk waiting to happen and has drawn comparisons to former Arizona Wildcat star Derrick Williams. The fact of the matter is that there just simply won't be enough minutes for all of Kentucky's studs this season. As playing time may be at a premium, Lee will have to adjust to a lesser role than he is used to and adapt, which is not an easy task for an 18-year-old kid.

As far as weaknesses in Lee's game go, his shooting is extremely poor. As a high school player, Lee shot 48 percent from the free-throw line for his career. He was consistent in his low mark from the charity stripe, connecting on 47, 40, 49 and 48 percent, respectively, over the course of four prep seasons. In total, Lee only converted on 191 of 399 free throw tosses.

Unsurprisingly, Lee also lacks any perimeter or mid-range game, which more and more power forwards (stretch 4s) have in their repertoire in today's college and professional game.

Lee's other obvious downside is his strength. He stands 6'9" and weighs 200 pounds. While both Noel and Anthony Davis also lacked upper body strength, they were taller and had greater wingspans than Lee. While Lee is a good finisher around the hoop, he does struggle with contact in the paint and can get pushed out of position by bigger bodies. Kentucky's toughest test in the SEC this year should once again be Florida. The Gators boast a frontline of Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Damontre Harris, all of whom have at least 30 pounds on Lee. 

Lee will be a good player for Kentucky this season and will step up when called upon in his role. He will have a good collegiate career in Lexington, one that will likely last longer than some of his fellow 2013 recruits. Lee will also likely play in the NBA someday, once he improves upon some negatives in his game and becomes a more complete player. For now though, Lee seems to be the right pick as to which UK freshman will struggle this season, which starts just two weeks from now.