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With Noel, UK's 2012 class goes from good to great

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By any standards other than his own, John Calipari had an elite recruiting class.

With Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein all signing early, Coach Cal's fourth class at Kentucky was ranked second nationally according to most major outlets. Perhaps nothing has been more revealing about the unprecedented wave of talent converging on the Bluegrass than the fact that the group felt incomplete.

You see, UK fans aren't accustomed to seeing their team ranked anything other than No. 1 these days. And after a commitment from the consensus top prospect in the class of 2012, it appears they aren't going to be reminded what it's like this offseason.

On Monday morning, Nerlens Noel faxed his National Letter of Intent to Kentucky, likely ensuring Coach Cal would have his fourth consecutive top-ranked recruiting class since arriving in Lexington in 2009.

A 6-foot-11 center, Noel is rated as the No. 1 prospect in his class according to ESPN and The Everett, Mass., native is expected to step in immediately and be a centerpiece on a team that will defend UK's eighth national championship. For Noel, the lure of pursuing another title as a Wildcat was too much to resist.

"I just thought it was the best fit for me personally," Noel said on the ESPNU Signing Day special where he initially announced his commitment on Wednesday night. "I talked to my mom. She liked it as well. She liked all three schools (UK, Georgetown and Syracuse), but when it came down to it, she liked Kentucky. She met with Coach Orlando (Antigua) and Coach Calipari and they just had a great idea. Just watching them on TV with what they do with Anthony Davis, she thought it was the best fit for me, and I did too."

Lauded by experts as the best high school shot-blocker in recent memory, Noel's scouting report is a near facsimile of Davis', the reigning consensus national player of the year. It remains to be seen whether he can even threaten Davis' 186 blocks, a record for NCAA freshmen, but it seems a near lock the product of Tilton School will make an instant impact.

"I've been blessed three times in my career to have a player that can change the game without really scoring with Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis and now Nerlens Noel," Calipari said. "I will tell you that Nerlens, just like Anthony, is not a finished product. He's got a lot of work to do and we have a lot of work to do to get him to where I think he's capable of being, but he is a special player who I am ecstatic to have an opportunity to work with."

As happy as Coach Cal and the fans are at the news of Noel's commitment, it would be hard for them to top the elation felt by his fellow signees. Goodwin and Poythress were both in studio for the announcement of his verbal commitment during ESPNU's Signing Day special and did not yet know his destination.

In fact, probably the only people who did know where he was headed were his family members and the barber who shaved a logo representing his choice in the back of his signature high-top fade. The world at-large only learned he was a Wildcat when he turned his head to the camera to show off the interlocking "UK" logo he'll wear on his jersey next season. It was a unique introduction to those few Kentucky fans who didn't already know of him and it sent Goodwin jumping into Poythress' arms in celebration.

"Obviously he's a dynamic player on defense," future teammate Goodwin said on ESPNU's Signing Day Special. "(He) has a lot of great athletic ability. Long arms, great talent on defense and also a great offensive player. He just brings a lot to the table with the way he works and the way he times the blocked shots. He's another Anthony Davis in my eyes because he doesn't need offense to make an impact on the game."

Each one of the individuals that comprise UK's 2012 class is a good player in his right, but Coach Cal believes it's the way the parts fit together that will make this group special - and similar to the one that just cut down the nets in New Orleans.

"As we recruit, just like last year, it's like piecing together a young group that will play off one another," Calipari said. "The four that we've now signed will all play off one another. They're all great kids who have a desire to win, have terrific talent and who all complement each other."

With Noel in the fold, attention now turns to the few unsigned recruits that still remain. Calipari is still working on putting the finishing touches on another masterpiece of a class, but that's not to say the already-signed foursome isn't already pretty good on its own.

"We're coming for a repeat," Poythress said. "We're coming for it again next year."

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