He might have to cast a wider net as the 2017 recruiting cycle progresses, but Kentucky Coach John Calipari has scholarship offers out to five highly touted high school seniors.
None of those players — Mohamed Bamba, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt and Trae Young — were at the Marshall County Hoop Fest this past weekend, but 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer was there, and he shared his thoughts on those recruitments with the Herald-Leader.
Starting with Bamba — the No. 3 overall player and the top uncommitted recruit in the 247Sports rankings — Meyer had some positive news for the Cats.
“I think Kentucky is in a good position,” he said. “Quade Green signing with UK definitely helps. If there’s such a thing as momentum in recruiting, which I think there is, I would think Kentucky has it with Bamba.”
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Meyer said he thinks it’ll come down to UK and Duke for the 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y., although he did note that Bamba’s recruitment has been a “hard one to handicap.” Texas, Michigan and Harvard are among the others in the mix.
Calipari was in Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon to watch Bamba and Diallo play in the PSA Cardinals Prep Showcase. Green, one of UK’s four early signees for the 2017 class, also was a spectator at that event, showing up to support both Bamba and Diallo, his friends from the Nike circuit and Team USA basketball. Green and Bamba also were teammates with the Nike-sponsored PSA Cardinals this summer.
Mohamed Bamba Crystal Ball Picks
Knox — a 6-9 forward from Tampa, Fla. — is No. 9 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings. He has narrowed his college choices to UK, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, but the Blue Devils have almost all of the picks on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
“I think Duke is in the driver’s seat,” Meyer said. “I don’t have any reason to think it’s not going to be Duke.”
Knox has already taken his official visit to Duke and is scheduled to take official visits to UK, UNC and FSU later this season. His trip to Lexington will coincide with the Cats’ home game against Kansas on Jan. 28. Knox also visited UK for Big Blue Madness in October.
“They have a chance, but I think Kentucky gets Vanderbilt and Knox goes to Duke,” Meyer said. “They’re not going to go to the same school.”
Kevin Knox Crystal Ball picks
Vanderbilt — a 6-9 forward from Texas — has already taken official visits to UK and North Carolina. Texas Christian, where his first cousin is an assistant coach, and a few other schools remain in the mix.
247Sports ranks Vanderbilt as the No. 20 overall prospect in the 2017 class.
“It seems like Kentucky is strong with him,” Meyer said. “He’s picking up a lot of Crystal Ball picks. You have to look out for TCU. It kind of seems like it’s playing out with either them or Kentucky.”
Jarred Vanderbilt Crystal Ball picks
Even if the Wildcats miss on all three of those players, they should have a formidable frontcourt next season.
UK has signed five-star center Nick Richards and five-star forward PJ Washington. Starting center Bam Adebayo is expected to enter the NBA Draft after this season, but sophomore center Isaac Humphries, freshmen post players Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard, and 6-9 freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel are all expected to return.
What UK needs is guards.
Seniors Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder will definitely be moving on after this season, freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are projected as NBA lottery picks, and sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe could also join them in the 2017 draft.
That would leave UK with zero returning, scholarship backcourt players. The Cats have signed Green and four-star combo guard Shai Alexander, but they’ll probably need to add at least two more guards before next season.
Diallo — a 6-5 shooting guard from Queens, N.Y. — is probably the most likely to join Kentucky’s class. He’ll have the option of jumping straight to the NBA as a post-grad player, but recent indications are that he’ll play college basketball next season instead.
“I don’t think he’d get drafted that high (in 2017),” Meyer said. “He has a lot of work to do on his game. I think he’s a great prospect, but he’d be playing in the D-League. I expect him to play college, and I’ve always felt like he’s a great fit for Kentucky. And I think they’re in a good position.”
Hamidou Diallo Crystal Ball picks
Diallo has expressed a desire to play alongside Green at the college level, something that could work in UK’s favor as his recruitment progresses.
“It would only make sense to want to play with Quade,” Meyer said. “He’s a great point guard to play with. He has a feel for distributing the ball, and he’s not really looking for his shot as a first priority.
“From what I gather, (Diallo) wants to play with him.”
UK was once considered the favorite for Young — a 6-2 point guard from Norman, Okla. — but that changed after Green and Alexander signed with the Cats last month.
Ray Young, Trae’s father, has told the Herald-Leader that UK’s other backcourt additions would not negatively affect his son’s view of the Wildcats, but most recruiting analysts are predicting he’ll end up somewhere else.
Trae Young Crystal Ball picks
“I never thought Trae and Quade would play at the same school,” Meyer said. “I think being close to home is really important to Trae and his family. I have Kansas picked right now, because I think he wanted to play for a blue-blood. That’s what attracted him to Kentucky. But I think Kansas is a more realistic destination because of Quade Green (at UK) and proximity to home. It’s easier for them to watch him play if he’s in the Big 12.”
Meyer put UK’s chances for Young at “if not zero, close to it.”
Young has mentioned early January as a possible commitment timetable, but the other four players with UK offers haven’t given much indication as to when they might be ready to announce a college decision.
The McDonald’s All-American Game is scheduled for March 29 in Chicago, and a few of these recruits might be uncommitted at that time.
“That’s very possible,” Meyer said. “I have no idea what they’re thinking on a timetable. I don’t think anybody does.”
UK basketball early signees for the class of 2017