UK basketball makes 3 more scholarship offers for Class of 2015

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 22, 2013 

Kentucky has just one basketball commitment from the Class of 2014, but John Calipari isn't wasting any time going after the best prospects in the next group of stars.

UK has offered scholarships to three players from the 2015 class since Saturday, which was the first day that college coaches were permitted to call rising juniors.

The new targets — Mississippi guard Malik Newman, Chicago guard Charles Matthews and Nevada big man Stephen Zimmerman — join Memphis forward Skal Labissiere on UK's offer list for 2015.

Labissiere left his native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and ended up in Memphis playing for a coach that had long known Calipari. The UK head coach traveled to his old hometown for a visit last fall and immediately offered Labissiere a scholarship.

Few recruiting analysts had seen the 6-foot-11 forward play until recently, and he is unranked in the current Scout.com rankings.

That list will be updated soon, and Scout national analyst Evan Daniels said Labissiere will be in the Top 10 when the new rankings come out.

"He's skilled and has great hands, great touch around the basket," Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "He has scoring moves over both shoulders. He can face up and hit mid-range jump shots. And he plays hard and can contest shots on the defensive end."

Labissiere has repeatedly said that UK and Memphis have been recruiting him the hardest. He's already been to several Memphis games and the school's midnight madness.

Next on the to-do list is a trip to Rupp Arena.

"That would be a good experience, because I've heard it's pretty loud and crazy in there," he said at last weekend's NBPA Top 100 Camp.

Labissiere had an impressive showing at the camp in Charlottesville, Va., where he also matched up with the 7-foot Zimmerman.

The center from Las Vegas was one of the first prospects UK contacted once the new period began at midnight Saturday.

"It's an honor," Zimmerman said later that morning. "They're an amazing team, and they obviously have an amazing coaching staff."

The Cats followed up with an offer Monday.

Scout.com rates Zimmerman as the No. 5 overall prospect in the class, and it's unlikely he'll drop from that position after playing at a high level over the past few months.

"The way he's played in the spring — it's going to be tough to keep that dude out of the top five," Daniels said. "He's seven feet tall, he's got great hands and he can score. That's what really stands out to me: at his size and age, how well he scores the basketball."

Daniels noted that Zimmerman has developed a nice hook shot and is capable of hitting mid-range jumpers. The Scout analyst also praised his shot-blocking abilities and mobility for a big man.

The two smaller guys on UK's 2015 offer list — Newman and Matthews — both consider themselves to be "combo guards."

Newman, a Jackson, Miss., native, missed the Top 100 Camp so he could compete with the Team USA under-16 squad, which won a gold medal in Uruguay. The 6-3 guard was named the most valuable player at the event, a continuation of his recent stellar play.

"Malik Newman is a pretty accomplished scorer," Daniels said. "I've been really impressed with him this spring. Not just as a guy who can make long-range shots, but he can really get you points from mid-range and he can shoot it at the rim."

Newman — the son of former Mississippi State standout Horatio Webster — is ranked No. 9 overall by Scout.com, but he could be due for a bump.

"He's really taken his game to another level in the spring," Daniels said.

Duke, Kansas and Arizona are among the other schools that have recently offered Newman, who was already being recruited by the entire SEC.

Although many analysts have predicted that UK is at or near the top of his list, Newman didn't seem too engaged with the recruiting process when he spoke to the Herald-Leader earlier this spring.

"I really feel that it's too early," he said in April. "It's not like I'm going to college next year. So, right now, I'm just worrying about getting my team better and getting myself better."

Newman is leading the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in scoring going into next month's Peach Jam despite competing primarily against players who are a year older than he is.

"What he does best is score," Daniels said.

Calipari visited Matthews at his Chicago high school just before the end of the most recent live recruiting period in April.

The 6-5, 185-pound guard is ranked No. 6 overall by Scout.com.

"What I love about Charles is he's got really good size — he's a true combo guard," Daniels said. "He's a good passer and he's a pretty good athlete. He's quick and athletic around the rim."

Matthews is listed by many websites as a shooting guard, but he plays a lot of point guard and says he's perfectly comfortable at either position.

In a class that's thin on true point guards at the top of the rankings, Matthews might be Calipari's best option if UK ends up with another one-and-done point guard in 2014.

"Charles plays point on his high school team, and I think he's pretty good with the ball in his hands," Daniels said. "I certainly think that's a position he could play in college."

UK already has plenty of ties with Matthews.

He plays for the same EYBL program in Chicago that former Calipari stars Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis ran with.

And Matthews' coach at St. Rita High was Orlando Antigua's high school coach when the UK assistant was growing up in New York City.

"I really always liked (Calipari) growing up," Matthews said. "I see what he does with guards as well. He really gets guards ready for the NBA and really matures them and puts a lot of responsibility on them but lets them play as well. And that really sticks out to me.

"I really have a lot of interest in Kentucky."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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