Early UK target Cage still has Cats high on his list

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 23, 2014 

There's still a hint of surprise in M.J. Cage's voice when he reflects on the day John Calipari offered him a scholarship to play basketball for the University of Kentucky.

The primary objective of Calipari's trip to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., last September was to continue the recruitment of five-star forward Stanley Johnson, who at the time was arguably UK's biggest target in the class of 2014.

Johnson went on to sign with Arizona, but the trip wasn't a total loss.

Cage — a 6-foot-9 power forward from the class of 2016 — caught the UK coach's eye.

"He just came up after practice and told my dad that he was giving me a scholarship," Cage told the Herald-Leader last week from the NBPA Top 100 Camp. "I was just amazed, because I didn't expect him to do that. It was crazy."

It's rare for Calipari to offer a scholarship so early in a player's high school career — Cage hadn't even started his sophomore season at the time — but the UK coach had a special tie to this prospect.

Cage's father is Michael Cage, the 15-year NBA veteran who once led the league in rebounding. Calipari coached Cage for one season with the New Jersey Nets.

"I like him," M.J. Cage said. "He's a great guy. And my dad likes him too. He's known my whole family since we were little kids. He's like a family friend."

Cage — ranked as high as No. 8 overall in the class (by 247Sports) — still has two years of high school left, but he's already narrowed down list of college options. He said the three schools he's primarily considering are Kentucky, Arizona and San Diego State.

His father played for the Aztecs.

"He probably secretly wants me to go there," Cage said with a smile, "but he just doesn't tell me."

An eye on the Cats

Arkansas sharpshooter Malik Monk was one of the first recruits from the class of 2016 to get a call from John Calipari last week, when college coaches were finally allowed to directly contact rising juniors.

Monk already knew plenty about Calipari before the call.

"I watch every Kentucky game," he said.

The 6-3 shooting guard from Bentonville said he definitely wants to visit UK in the near future. He likes the way Calipari has used his freshmen in the past. "You want to be pushed so you can be better. I like that."

Monk had one of the best games of the spring a couple of months ago, dropping 59 points in a Nike EYBL contest in Sacramento, Calif. He made 10 of 16 three-point attempts in that one.

"Really, if I'm feelin' it, I'm hard to stop," he said.

The No. 4 overall player in the ESPN rankings, Monk said UK, Arkansas, Indiana and Florida are recruiting him the hardest so far.

He also mentioned that he knows former Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin, who he met as a seventh-grader after joining the Arkansas Wings AAU program. Monk said he plans to talk to Goodwin about UK when it comes time to get serious about a college decision.

Open process

It was a mild surprise when class of 2015 star Tyler Dorsey ended his recruitment early and announced his commitment to Arizona back in January.

It also turned out to be a mistake.

Dorsey — a 6-foot-4 guard from Los Angeles — backed out of his pledge to the Wildcats earlier this month, drafting an open letter to Arizona fans and others to explain his decision.

"I felt that I committed too early," he told the Herald-Leader. "I wanted to enjoy the recruitment, open it back up and really explore my options. I wanted to take my time this time and really do more research. With Arizona, I love the fans, I love Sean Miller. Had nothing to do with that."

Arizona was continuing to recruit multiple high-level players at Dorsey's position, and he's made it clear that he wants to go to a school that will feature him early on.

That school could be Louisville, which he said was one of the first two or three programs to call him after his decommitment.

"They told me they're losing a couple of guards, so they would love to have me come in there as a freshman and control the team," he said. "(Rick) Pitino is really good with guards. The way he was using Russ Smith and Peyton Siva — that was a great two-guard tandem. I think he can get guards to the league, so I'm highly interested in looking over there."

UK was recruiting Dorsey — a five-star prospect — before his commitment to Arizona, but he hasn't heard from that Wildcats coaching staff since the decommitment. He'd definitely be open to UK.

"Who doesn't know about Kentucky?" Dorsey said. "Calipari gets players to the league, so that's always an option if they come calling back."

Not for everybody

Las Vegas wing Ray Smith is another player from the class of 2015 who hasn't heard from Kentucky in awhile.

UK was showing interest when the versatile, 6-foot-7 prospect trimmed his list to 10 schools earlier this spring. The Cats didn't make the cut because they hadn't offered a scholarship, but Smith said last month that he'd still like to hear from them.

He hasn't, and that's OK.

"You never know what it is to this game," he said. "I mean, there's a hundred people (in this class) that can really play. If they don't think I fit there, that's fine. Move on to the next one."

Smith was one of the standouts at the Top 100 Camp, and Louisville is considered one of the favorites in his recruitment.

Down to five

Five-star center Doral Moore said during the Top 100 Camp that he has cut his list to Florida, Illinois, UK, Ohio State and Wake Forest.

Moore — a lanky 7-footer in the class of 2015 — still doesn't have an offer from Kentucky, which has placed more emphasis on several other post players in the class.

247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer changed his "Crystal Ball" prediction from UK to Illinois over the weekend.

'A great guy'

Barry "Slice" Rohrssen was the main reason that 2016 star Mustapha Heron committed to Pittsburgh in January.

Rohrssen, who played overseas with Heron's father, has since left Pitt to take a position on John Calipari's coaching staff at UK.

Still, Heron — a top-25 player in the class of 2016 — said he's "100 percent committed" to the Panthers. He also had nothing but good things to say about Rohrssen.

"He's a great guy. He cares about his players," Heron told the Herald-Leader. "He's just a really coolly guy. He's really relaxed. And he focuses on getting his guys better."

Superlatives

Louisiana State commitment Ben Simmons was named the most valuable player of the Top 100 Camp. The Australia native led the camp in scoring with 18.5 points per game.

Simmons — a hard-working, 6-9 prospect with elite athleticism and the vision of a point guard — made a legitimate case for the No. 1 overall ranking in the class of 2015.

UK recruit Cheick Diallo — last year's camp MVP — finished in the top five in scoring (14.0 ppg), rebounding (7.4 rpg) and field-goal percentage (72.6 percent), and he led the camp in blocked shots (2.3 bpg). Diallo is expected to visit UK later this month.

Derryck Thornton was arguably the best point guard at a camp full of talented playmakers. He led all passers with 6.0 assists per game and also led his team to the Top 100 championship.

The class of 2016 recruit had 54 assists to just 16 turnovers. After the camp, he and his father headed to Lexington for an unofficial visit to UK.

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

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