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Swag is back

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John Calipari has his swag back.

I don’t know if it was the 9-16 season in 2020-21 or maybe the shocking NCAA tourney loss to Saint Peter’s in March but something has rejuvenated Calipari. Maybe it was the Shaedon Sharpe fiasco. Maybe it is having Orlando Antigua back on staff to energize recruiting. Maybe it is the concern many UK fans have that the program has slipped.

Whatever it is, Calipari is back being Calipari and got another huge verbal commitment from top-five prospect Justin Edwards of Philadelphia. He’s the top-ranked wing player in the country and follows the earlier commitments of Rob Dillingham, the No. 1 point guard in the 2023 class, and Reed Sheppard, a rising top 30 prospect from North Laurel.

Kentucky is on the verge of a monster 2023 recruiting class with D.J. Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw and Ron Holland, all top 15 players, all on the radar not to mention Ugonna Kingsley, a five-star center who is reclassifying to the 2022 class and will make his college choice Aug. 1 and most believe he will pick  UK over Oklahoma.

However, no matter who Kentucky adds, Edwards could be the cream of the crop after picking UK over Tennessee. He’s currently the consensus No. 4 player in the 2023 recruiting class but is a talented, long athletic wing who can do a lot of things that UK has been missing.

The 6-7, 180-pound Edwards  led Imhotep Charter (28-4) to a Philadelphia city championship and Pennsylvania state title last season when he averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He was named WPIAL Player of the Year.

Edwards played well on the Nike EYBL circuit and then averaged 16.3 points, seven rebounds, three steals and one assist per game in six games at Peach Jam last week.

Amy Fadool Kane, a former Lexington TV sportscaster, is now an Emmy award winning sports anchor/reporter for NBC Sports Philly who hosts Philadelphia 76ers pregame and postgame shows. She knew Edwards had a “really good” summer between his sophomore and junior years followed by a terrific junior season.

“It’s not a surprise he has vaulted up the rankings like he has,” she said. “He might have burst on the scene a little late, but this kid is good. I could see him ending up the No. 1 or No. 2 player in this class.”

Fadool, an avid UK fan, says he is a “good” 3-point and free throw shooter who could be better but notes he normally shoots about 50 percent overall from the field.

“He has a good shot,” she said. “I also think he’s a really good dribbler. He can handle the ball. He can also jump out of the gym and has a huge wingspan. But you have to see the guy get up and down the court to appreciate his speed. He stays in control. He’s not a crazy person in the open court and knows how to finish in transition.”

Most recruiting analysts seem to consider Edwards the most well-rounded player in the 2023 class, a belief that Kane certainly shares because of his length, athleticism, dribbling, passing and scoring. She says he also defends and rebounds well.

“I think he has a really high ceiling,” Kane said. “He will be a one and done and a lottery pick but I think Kentucky fans will really like him because he’s really a special player who just keeps getting better.”

Larry Vaught
Larry Vaught is a seven-time winner of the Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year award and has covered University of Kentucky sports since 1975. Larry now has a syndicated UK sports column appearing in 34 newspapers across the state as well as http://www.yoursportsedge.com/, and http://www.cameronmillsradio.com/. Larry also joins Mark Buerger and Anthony White on WLAP Sunday Morning Sports each week in Lexington as well as appearing each Tuesday with Tom Leach on The Leach Report.

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