basketball

How they were built: Kentucky, the NBA factory

HOW THEY WERE BUILT: Villanova | Arizona | Northwestern | Duke

As the tip-off of the 2017 NCAA Tournament draws closer, we look at some of the top storylines and how those teams were built through recruiting.

Today: Kentucky, which is uber talented as always and earned a No. 2 seed after winning the SEC tournament. How did John Calipari construct this Wildcats team?

STEP ONE: A THREE-HEADED FRESHMEN MONSTER

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De'Aaron Fox
AP Images

Kentucky has relied on its three-headed freshman core as it steamrolled its way to yet another SEC title. De’Aaron Fox was the first of the three to commit to the Wildcats, as he chose UK in the fall of 2015 over Kansas, Louisville and LSU. Bill Self and the Jayhawks ran a close second in Fox's recruitment, but the allure of leading the Wildcats to another national title won out in the end.

“I want to win an SEC Championship and a national championship. Seeing that last team go 38-0 makes me want to go 40-0,” Fox told CatsIllustrated.com following his commitment.

Malik Monk joined Fox in Kentucky's 2016 class a few days later. While it was difficult to turn away the hometown Arkansas Razorbacks, the opportunity to play for the Wildcats was too good to pass up.

“Coach Calipari knows how to get the best out of great players," Monk told Rivals.com. “He has proven that in his years of coaching. I trust that he will continue to grow my game."

The final member of Kentucky's freshman trio is Bam Adebayo. For more than two years, many insiders believed that the 6-foot-8 big man would stay close to home and choose NC State. The elite finisher instead went a separate way as he announced his decision to take his talents to Lexington on a national radio show.

STEP TWO: TALENTED SUPPORTING CAST

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Derek Willis
AP Images

Together, Fox, Monk and Adebayo have combined to average over 40 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game. While they have been responsible for the bulk of Kentucky's success this season, they have had some talented help along the way.

Just two seniors remain on the Wildcat's roster, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins. This pair was part of Kentucky's 2013 class that brought Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison to Lexington. Willis, who was ranked No. 115 in the 2013 Rivals150, chose Kentucky over Purdue, Xavier and Indiana. Hawkins was an even less-heralded prospect as he picked the Wildcats over a number of mid-level programs.

Freshmen Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones have been active for the Wildcats as well.

STEP THREE: THE X-FACTOR

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Isaiah Briscoe
AP Images

The top non-freshman contributor for Kentucky this season has been former five-star prospect Isaiah Briscoe. The Newark, N.J. product was once thought to be primed to stay close to home and sign with St. John's, but a late surge from the Wildcats won out.

“Right now, coach Calipari has a machine going on with getting point guards to the NBA with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and players like that and Derrick Rose,”Briscoe said following his commitment. “So I could see myself in that mold and being the next point guard to come out of Kentucky."

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