The announcement late Wednesday night that Hamidou Diallo is returning to the University of Kentucky might end up being the final piece to the Wildcats’ recruiting puzzle for the 2017-18 season.
John Calipari has two available scholarships, but the only uncommitted player remaining on UK’s recruiting radar is Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, and Lexington appears to be a less likely destination for him with the return of Diallo and the recent commitment of five-star wing Kevin Knox.
Johnson — a 6-foot-8 wing — also has been considering Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and North Carolina. The Tar Heels probably would be the favorites if they can persuade Pitt to drop a restriction that would make Johnson sit out next season if he transfers to UNC. Johnson would have two seasons of immediate eligibility if he transfers to a school outside the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Johnson said earlier this spring that he would be watching the NBA and recruiting decisions of other players at the schools on his list, and those decisions could affect his own college choice. UK and Arizona were the early favorites for the Pittsburgh-area native, but UK has since added Knox and has brought back Diallo, while Arizona returns starting shooting guard Rawle Alkins and has added five-star recruit Emmanuel Akot, a 6-7 small forward.
Five-star center Mohamed Bamba was the Cats’ final uncommitted recruiting target from the 2017 class, and he signed with Texas last week.
So UK’s 2017-18 roster might be set.
Diallo — still listed by Scout.com as a 2017 recruit — gives UK a total of eight players from that class on next season’s team. It’s another No. 1-ranked recruiting class for Calipari, who will have yet another Wildcats team expected to contend for a spot in the Final Four.
Going into the summer, the most likely scenario for UK next season appears to feature freshman Quade Green as the team’s starting point guard, with Diallo and Knox — a 6-9 prospect — starting at the two wing positions.
The two starting frontcourt spots would probably go to some combination of freshmen Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington, and sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Gabriel, Vanderbilt and Washington are all 6-9 players capable of playing away from the basket. Killeya-Jones is a 6-10 power forward, and — although he did not play in UK’s final 19 games last season — drew praise from the team’s coaches for the way he practiced over the last few weeks of the season. Richards is a near-7-foot center and is already projected as a one-and-done pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
The Cats will also return 6-10 center Tai Wynyard in the frontcourt, and they’ll bring in highly touted freshman guards Jemarl Baker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt. Gilgeous-Alexander — a 6-5 combo guard — was bumped to five-star status by 247Sports at the end of the 2017 rankings cycle.
Kentucky also is expected to bring back walk-on guards Brad Calipari, Jonny David and Dillon Pulliam.
It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Calipari to go into a season with extra scholarships, and that’s something that has helped his recruiting efforts over the past two years.
In the middle of this past season, the UK coach added Diallo as a practice player, and he’ll be expected to be one of the top scorers on the 2017-18 squad. Wynyard joined the team during the middle of the 2015-16 season and practiced with the Cats during the spring semester.
As it stands now, next season’s roster of scholarship players would consist of eight freshmen and three sophomores.
“To go along with who we have coming back, this group of young people — I’m ecstatic,” Calipari said last week. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be hard. We will be the youngest team and most inexperienced team in the country. This may be my youngest team ever, but you know what? I love the challenge of it because we have kids that will share, that are going to give it up for each other and that are comfortable in their own skin. They come from great homes.”