Next Cats notes: 2015 guard Blakeney gets Calipari's pro potential stamp of approval

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2014 

Elite Youth Basketball

Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, center, watches players at the Elite Youth Basketball League at the Riverview Activities Center at Riverview Park, Friday, July 18, 2014, in North Augusta, S.C. (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Sara Caldwell)


NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — When Charles Matthews picked Kentucky back in February, that left Malik Newman as the only uncommitted guard in the class of 2015 with a scholarship offer from John Calipari.

That was the case for several months, until Antonio Blakeney took the summer by storm with a series of stellar performances in camps across the country.

Blakeney — a 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Orlando, Fla. — certainly got Calipari's attention. The UK coach offered him a scholarship last week and has seen just about every one of his games so far at the Nike Peach Jam.

"That made me feel good, because they only offer pros," Blakeney told the Herald-Leader. "So in order for them to offer me, they must think I'm a pro. That's my ultimate goal, so that makes me feel like they think I can do that."

His improving game has also led to a rise in his recruiting rankings.

All of the major recruiting services now consider him a five-star player and top-20 prospect. national analyst Evan Daniels says Blakeney is good enough to play for any team in the country.

"I love his ability to score," he said. "Honestly, he's one of the top scorers in this class. He knows how to create space with his dribble.

He's turned into a tremendous athlete. He's very good in transition. He can get to the mid-range and make shots.

"And he's getting better. He's clearly a hard worker, because he's made tremendous strides in his game over the past year."

Blakeney says he's in the gym "every day, three times a day" improving his game.

He's been working on his ball handling and defense, but every college coach who's recruiting him points to the same attribute as his strength.

"They like that I can really score the ball," he said.

Calipari personally invited Blakeney to visit Lexington for Big Blue Madness in October.

Blakeney called that trip "a possibility," but there are plenty of other top schools pursuing his commitment, including Louisville, which has made him a top priority and has already hosted him for a visit.

Others that have offered include Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri and Florida State.

"Everybody who has offered me is recruiting me hard, and everybody who is recruiting me hard — they have a chance," he said.

Slice and Swanigan

UK assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen has watched quite a bit of Caleb Swanigan this week at the Peach Jam.

Swanigan — a 6-8 power forward from Fort Wayne, Ind. — hasn't been on UK's radar much lately, but Rohrssen has been tracking him for a while.

"I've been close with Slice since he was at Pitt, and when he moved over to Kentucky that was an immediate connection," Swanigan said.

"He's easy to relate to. He's not uptight. He's a good guy."

Rohrssen sent Swanigan a text message Wednesday, wishing the player well.

"Just go to work at Peach Jam," the message said.

Swanigan — the No. 12 overall player in the Scout rankings — is off to a good start, averaging 18.3 points and 13.7 rebounds over his first three games. In one of those, he nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime, and then did the same thing to force a second OT.

Rohrssen was there to see it, Swanigan noticed.

"He was (also) there when I hit a buzzer beater in high school," he said, "so that was nothing for Slice."

Swanigan has spoken to Calipari, but it's been two or three months since their last conversation. The five-star prospect has switched from the class of 2016 in the meantime, and UK is already recruiting several post players for the 2015 class.

Still, Calipari showed up Thursday morning to see Swanigan for himself.

Status quo

There's nothing new in the recruitment of Derrick Jones, the high-flying wing from Philadelphia who has had a UK scholarship offer for nearly a year.

Jones got a text message from Calipari before the July recruiting period began, but those around him have been handling most of those calls for the moment.

"I haven't been in contact with all of the schools," Jones said. "I've just been focused on AAU and getting my game better and all that.

They've just been talking to my dad and my coaches."

It's been reported that Jones would definitely visit UK next month, but he said he doesn't have any concrete plans. His only recent visit was a trip to UConn a few weeks ago.

"It was like every other visit," he said. "Coaches tell you everything you want to hear, just because they want you to be at their school."

A tough Friday

The Kentucky Travelers looked like a sure thing to start Peach Jam with a 3-0 record until a disastrous 60 seconds of basketball set the tone for the rest of their Friday.

The Travelers led Houston Hoops by double digits with less than a minute left in Friday's opener. They ended up falling 71-69 when Houston hit a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left, stole the inbounds pass and nailed another three at the buzzer.

The Oakland Soldiers — led by five-star recruits Ivan Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman — defeated the Travelers 70-60 in the nightcap, dropping the team of Kentucky stars to 2-2 for the week. They'll need a victory and a little help Saturday morning to advance to the Peach Jam quarterfinals.

Knott Central's Camron Justice is averaging 17.3 points per game for the Travelers. Manual's Dwayne Sutton is leading the team with 11.0 rebounds per game.

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

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