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John Calipari is turning the state of Florida Wildcat Blue … recruit by recruit


It’s been a tough few seasons for Billy Donovan.  Heralded as the “greatest basketball program of all time” after winning the 2006 and 2007 National Titles, things have fallen on hard times for the wunderkid.  First was the ugly mess with the Orlando Magic, then the back to back NIT seasons.  Couple that with the 14-15 players that have left his Gator program over the last few seasons and you sense a major migraine headache happening for Billy Donovan.

Things started to get worse for Donovan last season when John Calipari moved into his conference and in the span of about a month and a half, bested Donovan in a pair of high profile recruiting battles for John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, both of which Donovan felt he had a very good shot at, especially Bledsoe.  Then came a Wildcat season sweep of the Gators and you had to wonder how worse things could get for Donovan.

This recruiting season, John Calipari picked up the fight and took two top 100 recruits, Stacey Poole and Brandon Knight, right from under Donovan’s nose.  Wildcat players from Florida have been few and far between.  AJ Stewart made a brief cameo for the Wildcats, but it had been several years before Stewart that UK had a player from the Sunshine State.  The fact that Kentucky landed both Poole and Knight had to sting Donovan’s ego and raise eyebrows among the fanbase.

Poole was considered to be a legacy player at Florida.  His dad, Stacey Poole Sr, was a Gator basketball player and Gator fans felt pretty good about Junior since he was best friends with current Gator commit Patric Young.  So it was with some surprise that the younger Poole chose Kentucky in the fall.  But Brandon Knight was the big prize for Gator fans.  They had watched the two time Gatorade player of the year in their own backyard for the last two seasons and knew that Knight was going to team with fellow native Floridian Kenny Boynton to form a superstar backcourt.  But alas, it did not happen.  And the player that Florida had to have also donned a blue and white hat with a “K” on it and broke Gator hearts yet again.

And now we come to Eloy Vargas, who earlier on Saturday became the third player from the state of Florida to choose the Big Blue.  “But wait, Vargas could not cut it at Florida”, Gator fans are already howling.  True, Eloy did play one season at Florida and suffered from ankle problems most of the season and was not really a contributor.  And after being a one and done of the bad kind at Florida, he took the JUCO route and averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds. 

I realize that JUCO basketball does not equate to SEC basketball, but Vargas would be rated as a top 25 talent in this year’s class if he were a freshman and ESPN has him rated a “95” player — the same as Enes Kanter.  And never underestimate the fury of a player that feels he has something to prove — as Vargas will in two meetings with the Gators this year.  And keep in mind that before coming to Florida, Vargas was a member of the national champion AAU  Team Breakdown along with Brandon Knight.  Now both of them are at Kentucky and the outlook is not that much better for Donovan as 2011 recruit Austin Rivers (Winter Park FL) has decommitted from the Gators and is now looking at … Kentucky.

Perhaps the best take on the Eloy Vargas situation comes from his former AAU coach, Kenny Gillion, had this to say:

“The Kentucky situation gives Eloy an opportunity to come in and start for the nation’s hottest team,’’ Gillion said. “Eloy is finally 100 percent healthy and has committed himself to hard work and is ready to show the world why pro scouts have been tracking him.”

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