John Calipari has landed at least one of the nation’s top three point guards in each of the past four recruiting classes, and he’ll likely need to do it again with the upcoming class of 2017.
All five of the scholarship backcourt players on UK’s current squad are expected to leave after this season — Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder are seniors, and underclassmen Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are all projected to turn pro — so the Wildcats’ starting point guard for the 2017-18 campaign likely will be playing high school basketball this season.
Finding at least one UK-caliber fit for the all-important position is arguably Calipari’s biggest priority for this recruiting class, but the options are few. Here’s a look at Scout.com’s top 10 point guards for 2017, along with UK’s level of interest in each player:
1. Trevon Duval
High school: TBA
Duval is the consensus choice for No. 1 point guard in the class of 2017 — Scout, Rivals and ESPN all have him in that spot — but he’s had very little recruiting contact with UK. The biggest reason for that is Duval’s move last season from St. Benedict’s (N.J.) to Advanced Prep International (Texas), a program that has ties to the defunct Prime Prep Academy and has drawn scrutiny from the NCAA.
Former five-star point guard Emmanuel Mudiay played for Prime Prep, and John Calipari felt burned by certain aspects of his recruitment (Mudiay chose Southern Methodist over Kentucky in 2013) and has not recruited any players associated with the program since. Mudiay ultimately skipped college to play overseas for a season, amid NCAA eligibility concerns, before being chosen with the No. 7 overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft.
Prime Prep eventually evolved into API, and one of the star players from last season’s team — McDonald’s All-American Terrance Ferguson — also skipped college to play professionally overseas. Like Mudiay, there were some questions about Ferguson’s eligibility had he decided to play college ball (he was committed to Arizona).
Duval was on UK’s recruiting radar before he made the move to API, but the contact stopped after that. He is expected to transfer to another high school for his senior year, but UK is not expected to get back into his recruitment.
UCLA was seen as the favorite for Duval, who surprisingly cut the Bruins from his list of 10 last week. That list now includes Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland, Oregon, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Southern Cal and Villanova.
Duval also played for an Under Armour-affiliated summer program, and Calipari has had little success recruiting that circuit.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 3
2. Collin Sexton
High school: Pebblebrook (Ga.)
Sexton — a 6-2 combo guard — had a phenomenal summer, leading the Nike league by a wide margin in scoring (31.7 points per game) and helping the Team USA U17 squad win a FIBA gold medal in Spain. He led that squad with 17.0 points and 4.2 assists per game. Sexton told the Herald-Leader in June that he had not had any contact with UK, and he seemed uninterested in the Wildcats joining his recruitment that late in the process. There was some reported interest from both UK and Duke a few weeks later, but Sexton named a final 10 of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Kansas, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State and Villanova in late July.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 9
3. Trae Young
High school: Norman North (Okla.)
Young — a 6-2 prospect — remains the most likely point guard from the class of 2017 to ultimately sign with Kentucky. He has emerged as arguably UK’s top recruiting target in the class, regardless of position, and he might be the only player on this list that has the Wildcats among his top two or three choices at this time. Most recruiting analysts think that Young will choose either UK or hometown Oklahoma, and the month of December has been mentioned as a possible commitment timeframe. Young will be in Lexington next month for his official visit on Big Blue Madness weekend — an event he attended last year — and he could take an unofficial trip to UK in the weeks leading up to that date. Oklahoma will continue to be a threat up until Young makes his final decision, but UK should still probably be viewed as the favorite. If the Cats miss on Young, they could be in trouble at the point guard spot, especially if he drags out his decision, which would give UK little time to target other players at the position.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 22
4. Quade Green
High school: St. John Neumann (Pa.)
The 6-1 playmaker from Philadelphia led the Nike summer league with 10.5 assists and 2.9 steals per game, and he has the style that would be perfect for a Kentucky team expected to feature several stars. He can score (14.1 points per game in the Nike league) and shoot (37.3 percent from threes), but he’s at his best running a team. Duke made Green its No. 1 point guard priority during the summer (UK was targeting both Trae Young and Green), and Durham appeared to be the most likely landing spot over the past few weeks. That might not be the case any longer. Green visited Syracuse recently, and the Orange have a lot of momentum going into the fall. Duke also reached out to Matt Coleman (No. 9 on this list) with a scholarship offer over the weekend, perhaps another sign that Green-to-Duke might not be happening. Green cut his list to nine schools last month: UK, Duke, Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Temple, Villanova and Xavier.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 25
5. Nick Weatherspoon
High school: Velma Jackson (Miss.)
Weatherspoon — a 6-2 guard — got a call from UK assistant coach Kenny Payne last week, and that could be the first step toward him becoming a real possibility for the Wildcats. Weatherspoon is a dynamic point guard — a five-star recruit, according to Scout.com — with scholarship offers from Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio State and several others. Mississippi State, where his brother plays, and North Carolina State have been mentioned as possible favorites, but Weatherspoon says he remains open to other schools. The Herald-Leader was told shortly after Weatherspoon’s first contact with UK that he had been hoping to hear from the Wildcats and a scholarship offer could vault them to the top of his recruiting list. If UK shows more interest in the coming weeks (like a visit from Calipari or Payne over the next few days), things could get interesting.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 26
6. Jaylen Hands
High school: Foothills Christian (Calif.)
Hands has been committed to UCLA since last September, and UK was not involved in his recruitment before that.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 27
7. Jalek Felton
High school: Gray Collegiate Academy (S.C.)
Felton has been committed to North Carolina since 2014. He is the nephew of former UNC star Raymond Felton.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 28
8. Makal Ashton-Langford
High school: Brewster Academy (N.H.)
Ashton-Langford committed to UConn over fellow finalist Providence on Monday. He is a former AAU teammate of UK freshman Wenyen Gabriel, and there was some talk over the summer that the Cats might target him as a backup option (or maybe even a second point guard in the 2017 class), but that obviously won’t happen with his early decision.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 32
9. Matt Coleman
High school: Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
Coleman — a 6-2 prospect — picked up offers from Duke and Kansas over the weekend, perhaps a sign that those schools aren’t confident with their previous point guard targets. Last month, Coleman named a top 10 of Arizona, Louisville, N.C. State, Stanford, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Texas, Xavier, Virginia and Washington. The Longhorns were seen as a possible favorite at the end of the summer — Coleman played for Texas Coach Shaka Smart on the Team USA U18 squad recently — but the Duke and Kansas offers could shake that up. Coleman has shown interest in the Wildcats behind the scenes, but there’s been no indication yet that UK will seriously pursue him.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 35
10. Tremont Waters
High school: South Kent School (Conn.)
Waters was actually the second point guard in this class — after Trae Young — to earn a UK scholarship offer, but there hasn’t been much buzz around him and the Wildcats in recent months. Indiana has emerged as the perceived leader in his recruitment. Waters’ official top seven includes UK, Duke, Indiana, Georgetown, Kansas, UConn and hometown Yale.
Overall Scout ranking: No. 36
Note: There are no other uncommitted point guards ranked by Scout.com among the Top 50 overall prospects in the recruiting class of 2017.
UK point guard signees in the Calipari era
Rankings from Scout.com