The early list of schools most interested in five-star basketball recruit James Wiseman reads like a rundown of the most celebrated college programs in the game’s history.
The five schools he rattled off here at the Nike Peach Jam finals Thursday — Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana — all have that blue-blood pedigree.
They all love Wiseman’s game, especially UK.
“They think I’ll fit well in their system,” he said. “Just like everybody else says.”
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It would be difficult to find a system that couldn’t accommodate a player of Wiseman’s ability and potential. Officially listed at 6-foot-11 — though he might already be up to 7 feet tall — Wiseman has a versatile game for a big man and is currently ranked by Scout.com as the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2019.
By the start of his upcoming junior season, he could be the No. 1 player in that class.
That spot, for the moment, is occupied by Canadian superstar R.J. Barrett, but he’s likely to reclassify to 2018 next month, leaving a hole at the top of the 2019 list.
Next in line would be Florida big man Vernon Carey — and he’s a formidable prospect — but Scout.com’s Evan Daniels balked this week when asked if Carey would automatically assume the No. 1 spot if Barrett were to reclassify.
“He’s not necessarily a shoo-in,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “Because James Wiseman is really coming on now, too.”
Wiseman and Carey were teammates on the USA Basketball U16 squad that won a FIBA gold medal in Argentina last month, and they were arguably the two best young Americans at that event.
Carey was the team’s leading scorer and tournament MVP. Wiseman averaged 11.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game, shooting 61 percent from the field.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus traveled to Argentina to scout that event for the Wildcats, and he was apparently impressed with Wiseman’s play.
The 16-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., says Justus has been in constant contact with him since he returned to the United States, and the two exchange text messages just about every day.
On Thursday night, one of John Calipari’s top class of 2018 targets — Bol Bol — was playing on a court adjacent to Wiseman’s game. Calipari and UK assistant coach Kenny Payne grabbed two seats right between the courts, so they could keep an eye on both contests. Before too long, UK’s head coach was fully trained on the court featuring Wiseman, often turning excitedly to Payne to draw his attention to that game.
“He’s so long and mobile,” Daniels said. “He always runs rim to rim. When you have that type of size and length and can contest shots, it’s big. I think the light is kind of flickering on with him. You’ve seen him take steps in the right direction over the past year, and this is the time that he needs to do it. He has a lot of upside.
“This is a kid that — at 7 feet tall — can step out and make jump shots. There’s a lot of potential there.”
Wiseman didn’t try to hide his affinity for the Wildcats in interviews here this week.
He said he’d like to take official visits to UK, Duke and Kansas sometime down the road, but the talk often turned back to Kentucky. While speaking to a couple of Duke reporters a short time later, Wiseman again steered the conversation in the direction of the Cats.
Asked if there was anyone he patterned his own game after, he quickly mentioned Anthony Davis. He said he liked Calipari’s coaching style with big men — letting them run the floor and play away from the basket — and his ability to get players to the next level.
“He lets people play,” Wiseman said. “Anthony Davis was blocking shots, and I like blocking shots a lot.”