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Lucas

SUMMIT, Ky. — With the college basketball recruiting season beginning soon, the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team will turn its attention to turning around one of the worst years in program history in 2021-2022.

With a roster full of four- and five-star blue chip recruits, the turnaround figures to be short, but the team is always looking out for the best player, according to recruiting coordinator and assistant coach Jai Lucas.

Lucas spoke with media on Thursday at Boyd County Middle School where head coach John Calipari hosted his satellite camp attended by 70 kids ages 7-17.

“The biggest thing is just getting the best player we can find and then we’ll figure it out when we go from there,” said Lucas, who joined Calipari’s staff in August 2020. “That’s the one thing that coach Cal has always preached. The way basketball is going is you need somebody who can pass, dribble and shoot whether they’re 5-foot-10 or 6-11.”

Lucas had spent the past seven seasons at his alma mater, Texas, where he played before playing professionally overseas and in the NBA’s D-League.

The incoming recruiting class that will be eligible to play this fall includes TyTy Washington and Daimion Collins, both five-star recruits, according to 247sports.com. Collins was among the players who attended the camp on Thursday.

Kentucky’s rich basketball tradition is a factor that works heavily in the program’s favor, Lucas said.

“I think it is easy to sell because people know about it, and they see it on TV and they understand what coach Cal has done in his time here,” Lucas said.

The Wildcats return a young group from last season’s team that finished 9-16 overall and 8-9 in the SEC — the worst mark since Calipari was hired beginning in the 2009-2010 season.

Lucas pointed to the transfer portal and some departures by players who chose to turn professional, as factors that lead to team’s having more success with experienced players. The teams that made runs to the Final Four and the national championship game were teams with juniors and seniors, Lucas said. Despite that, as a former student-athlete who was a transfer himself, he understands the benefits the portal offers to athletes and that the power that gives to the students is a good thing.

Lucas also said the portal can be beneficial to the Kentucky basketball program in that it can provide the coaches with players to fill gaps by those who left school early for professional careers.

During this offseason, Kentucky landed former Iowa guard and Alexandria, Kentucky, native C.J. Fredrick from the transfer portal. Additionally, the Wildcats got transfers Sahvir Wheeler from Georgia, Kellan Grady from Davidson and Oscar Tshiebwe from West Virginia.

UK opens the 2021-2022 season in New York City on Nov. 9 when it plays Duke in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Lucas said it was a game the Kentucky coaches and players were looking forward to as it may be the last time they get to play a Blue Devils team coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who announced his retirement from the program at the end of the season.

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