Next Cats: Uncertainty clouds Kentucky's 2015 recruiting process

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 5, 2014 

The basketball rankings for the Kentucky recruiting class of 2015 underwent some drastic changes Thursday, including a new No. 1 player, a couple of additions to the top 10 and several prospects whose status plummeted.

One of the biggest drops happened to Kentucky's only commitment for next year. Chicago guard Charles Matthews — ranked No. 15 in the previous Top 100 — fell 33 spots to No. 48 overall. national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said Matthews was probably "ranked a little too high to begin with," adding that he needs to work on his jump shot before he heads to UK. Despite the drop, Daniels remains bullish on Matthews' basketball future.

"People are going to look at these rankings and think negatively toward him, and that's not fair," Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "He's a top-50 recruit. He still brings a lot to the table — athleticism, speed, defense. He's a very good rebounder from the guard position. He's very good in transition.

"Kentucky fans are used to top-five, top-10 players. A top-50 recruit is still a big deal."

Milwaukee center Diamond Stone took over the No. 1 spot in the new rankings. The 6-foot-10, 255-pounder has been terrorizing the Under Armour circuit, averaging 24.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game this spring.

Kentucky has been in contact with Stone, but there has not been a confirmed UK scholarship offer for the top prospect. Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, UCLA, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Marquette are among the schools at the forefront of his recruitment.

The school that lands Stone might also get Mississippi combo guard Malik Newman, who fell four spots to No. 6 in the Scout rankings. Stone and Newman — one of UK's top targets in this class — have repeatedly said over the past few weeks that they will attend the same school.

Duke pulled off the "package deal" recruitment last year with Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Daniels said the Stone-Newman dynamic is starting to look similar.

"Diamond has been very adamant to me that this is indeed a package deal and that they certainly intend on playing their college basketball together," he said. "I think the way things are going, it's pretty believable. ... It'll be an interesting one to follow."

The decision to make Stone the No. 1 overall player in the class didn't come easy for the recruiting team. Daniels recounted a days-long back-and-forth between he and his fellow analysts that centered around four possibilities for the top spot: Stone, Ben Simmons, Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown.

Simmons, ranked No. 2, has already committed to Louisiana State. UK has offered both Rabb (No. 3) and Brown (No. 4).

Brown — a 6-7 small forward from Georgia — has had a tremendous spring playing on the Adidas circuit. He received a UK scholarship offer in April and — of the four players in the debate for No. 1 — he seems the most likely to end up a Wildcat.

Daniels doesn't think his recruitment will end anytime soon.

"I know Kentucky is heavily involved, and they've certainly done a good job of recruiting him and prioritizing him," he said. "But I don't think Jaylen is in any kind of hurry to make his college choice. I think it's going to be a little while until he makes his decision."

Another UK target, Cheick Diallo, came in at No. 5. Diallo — a native of Mali who plays for a high school in New York — has a UK scholarship offer and developed a close relationship with new UK assistant coach Barry Rohrssen when the latter was on staff at Pittsburgh.

Rounding out the top 10 were Newman, Wisconsin center Henry Ellenson, Las Vegas big men Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter, and Memphis forward Skal Labissiere.

UK has offered Newman, Zimmerman — a confirmed Big Blue Madness visitor — and Labissiere. Coach John Calipari recently started recruiting Ellenson, who jumped 55 spots to No. 7 overall.

Cleveland forward Carlton Bragg — another major UK target who has already received a scholarship offer — is ranked No. 11. Bragg will visit UK for a second time in the fall.

Philadelphia wing Derrick Jones, who also has a UK offer, fell 29 spots to No. 42 overall.

Trinity forward Ray Spalding — at No. 65 — is the only Kentucky high school player on the list. UK has shown cursory interest but has not yet offered.

Kentucky will have 12 scholarship players for the upcoming 2014-15 season, and none of them are seniors. Several of those Wildcats are projected as NBA Draft picks, but — as fans saw last season — early draft projections don't always pan out.

The uncertainty of who stays and who goes in 2015 is already having an effect on this recruiting cycle, and UK's class is likely to remain unclear for much of the season.

"I think that's probably the story of UK's 2015 recruiting," Daniels said. "It's tough to gauge how many scholarships they're going to have, and how big this class is going to be. And then, there's no way around it, they're going to have to hope guys wait or push guys to wait until the spring to make decisions. Because they're going to want to see how that roster plays out. And don't get me wrong, it's a tremendous problem for Kentucky to have. It's just something they're going to have to navigate through."

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

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