published Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

SEC makes haul of top hoop stars

HELP IS COMING

After a disappointing season in men's basketball, the SEC is getting replenished with a record 10 McDonald's All-Americans:

Kentucky

PG Andrew Harrison

SG Aaron Harrison

SF James Young

PF Julius Randle

PF Marcus Lee

C Dakari Johnson

Florida

C Chris Walker

PG Kasey Hill

Arkansas

PF Bobby Portis

LSU

PF Jarrell Martin

Men's basketball in the Southeastern Conference was mediocre at best this past season, but help is on the way.

A lot of it.

Of the 25 McDonald's High School All-Americans in the 2013 signing class, a record 10 are heading to SEC programs. Six signed with Kentucky, while Florida landed two and Arkansas and LSU got one each.

"I hear all the comments about our incoming freshmen and how they're this or that," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday during the league's summer teleconference, "but at the end of the day, if you want to do something special, you've got to be a terrific team. Having talented players doesn't guarantee that you will win, but having bad players will guarantee you are going to lose.

"I think we have a talented group, but how good we're going to be depends on how they come together and how hard they're willing to work for each other."

Kentucky won the 2012 national championship but then had six players taken in last June's NBA draft, a purging that resulted in this past season's Wildcats limping into the NIT and suffering a first-round loss to Robert Morris. The roster in Lexington has been restocked and then some with the additions of center Dakari Johnson, power forwards Julius Randle and Marcus Lee, small forward James Young and guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who are twins from Fort Bend, Texas.

Rivals.com rates Randle as the No. 2 player in this year's class behind Kansas signee Andrew Wiggins, while Andrew Harrison is No. 5, Aaron Harrison No. 7, Johnson No. 9 and Young No. 11. Florida's top two signees, center Chris Walker and guard Kasey Hill, are No. 6 and No. 10, though Walker has yet to be academically cleared.

"Good players make good coaches, and you want to get the best talent," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "With Kentucky, it seems like every year they're bringing in the best players in the country. Billy Donovan has done a great job at Florida, and you can't help but notice what's going on at Tennessee with Cuonzo Martin.

"Hopefully the league will take this talent and put more teams into the NCAA tournament."

The excitement over an expanded SEC panned out in football last fall, as the league won a seventh consecutive national championship and produced six of the top 10 teams in the final BCS standings. It was not the case on the hardwood, as only three of 14 teams received invitations to the NCAA tournament.

That 21.4-percent acceptance rate was the lowest for the SEC since 1979, when Tennessee and LSU were the lone representatives from a 10-member collection.

There have been several years in which the SEC didn't bring in any McDonald's All-Americans, the most recent being 2006. The SEC's previous high was seven in 2011, when Florida signed Bradley Beal, LSU landed Johnny O'Bryant, Georgia got Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kentucky snagged Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer, who announced Monday that he is looking to transfer.

Beal, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrest and Teague played just one season before bolting to the NBA.

"We're losing a kid [Caldwell-Pope] who was a McDonald's All-American," Georgia coach Mark Fox said, "and as many of those guys who are leaving early, the more you can add to the league helps. Kentucky returns some key players, too. There will be a lot of teams that will be a little more mature compared to a year ago."

The SEC has won six of the past 20 national championships, more than any other league, but has not been imposing from top to bottom. After sending six teams to NCAA play six consecutive times from 1999 to 2004, the SEC hasn't provided that many in any of the last five.

"It's going to be some exciting stuff when you talk about Florida and with [Jarnell] Stokes coming back at Tennessee," Calipari said. "You look at what LSU has coming back and what they've got coming in. Any time you're adding talent, there is hope.

"If you tell me there is a guy out there who likes to coach them up, well, he can coach them up. I like to get talented guys and then figure out my challenge."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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