It’s a busy time on the recruiting trail this week, with John Calipari already making stops in Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Vermont — South Carolina is on the flight plan for Wednesday — and his assistant coaches have been doing plenty of traveling, too.
The Herald-Leader caught up with Scout.com national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels on Tuesday night to get the latest on some of the Wildcats’ top targets in the class of 2018. Read until the end for extra notes on all of the top UK targets not covered in that conversation. We’ll start with the nation’s No. 1 recruit:
Following five-star small forward Cameron Reddish’s commitment to Duke a couple weeks ago, the question of how that news might affect R.J. Barrett’s college decision was a common one among UK fans.
“Duke’s pitch has been that those two can play alongside each other and play together,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “I think that’s probably been their pitch from the beginning. In terms of how it affects RJ, he’s the only one who can necessarily answer that question. I think that all involved have said the right things to this point. I think it’s something that Duke was pretty up front and honest with them about, and they’re continuing to recruit him.”
Barrett — the No. 1 recruit in the Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN rankings — will take his official visit to Duke this weekend. Barrett plays a similar position as Reddish, but he’s also said since Reddish committed that he would have no problem playing alongside the top-five recruit in Duke’s backcourt. So, Reddish’s commitment likely won’t have any negative effect on Barrett, who visited UK a couple of weeks ago and also has trips planned for Arizona, Michigan and Oregon.
Duke has been viewed by many as the favorite in recent weeks, so Daniels’ comments on possible frontrunners could be seen as a bit of good news for UK.
“I have no idea who leads for R.J. Barrett,” he said. “None.”
The Herald-Leader has been told that there’s still a sense of optimism on Kentucky’s side of the recruitment following what was said to have been an extremely positive official visit two weekends ago.
UK will host five-star shooting guard Keldon Johnson for an official visit this weekend. He was in Lexington late last month for an unofficial visit, and the Oak Hill Academy (Va.) standout received a scholarship offer from the Wildcats on that trip.
UK Coach John Calipari and assistant coach Joel Justus visited Johnson on Monday.
The consensus around his recruitment is that it’s shaping up as a Texas-UK battle.
“I think Texas has done a great job and has been in there from the beginning,” Daniels said. “North Carolina State, Maryland, Florida State — all those schools are vying for his services. I think that Kentucky is probably fighting a little bit of an uphill battle. They’ve been recruiting him for a while but hadn’t really ramped it up until the last couple weeks.
“But if there’s anything we know about Kentucky and John Calipari, it’s that they can make up ground and they can do it quickly. There’s a couple of schools that have done quite a bit of work there, but they’re certainly in the hunt.”
Texas Coach Shaka Smart was also at Monday’s open gym at Oak Hill, and he hosted Johnson for what the Herald-Leader has been told was another highly successful official visit earlier this month.
“If I was handicapping it, (Texas) might be in the best position right now,” Daniels said. “That would be my guess. But there’s still a ways to go.”
Johnson will visit Maryland next weekend, and Terps Coach Mark Turgeon was also at Monday’s open gym.
A few weeks ago, it was unclear just how serious UK was about Quentin Grimes, a Houston-area native and five-star combo guard in the class of 2018.
On Sunday, he became the first recruit in his class to get an in-home visit from John Calipari during the fall recruiting period.
Still, UK doesn’t appear to be a likely landing spot for Grimes at the moment, Daniels said.
“It would be a surprise to me at this stage,” he said. “But they’re certainly still trying, and they’re still recruiting him and he’s clearly listening. So, they’re certainly attempting it.”
Grimes — a 6-foot-5 prospect who played on the Adidas circuit — cut his list in early August to seven schools: UK, Kansas, Arizona, Baylor, Marquette, Texas and Texas A&M. The Jayhawks have 100 percent of the picks on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
“I don’t know if there’s a clear favorite,” Daniels said. “Kansas is certainly pretty deep in there. I think we’ll know a little bit more about Quentin Grimes’ situation when he sets up official visits, which should be very soon.”
Grimes is expected to take an official visit to UK later this month.
For months, Immanuel Quickley has been seen as the most likely recruit in the class of 2018 to ultimately commit to UK, and he’ll be in Lexington for his official visit this weekend.
Daniels, who is admittedly cautious with his predictions, thinks Quickley will be a Cat.
“I think I’ve made this one pretty clear — more clear than I usually do,” he said. “I think Kentucky has been and will be — ’til the end — the school to beat for Immanuel Quickley.”
The end could come soon. Quickley is expected to announce a commitment to one of his three finalists — UK, Kansas or Miami — in the next couple of weeks.
The rest of UK’s targets
▪ Calipari’s original plan was to have an in-home visit with five-star recruit Zion Williamson on Monday, but Hurricane Irma rearranged that schedule. The Herald-Leader was told Tuesday that Calipari’s meeting with Williamson is now set for Wednesday. Kansas Coach Bill Self met with Williamson on Tuesday night, and the Jayhawks are currently seen as UK’s top competition in that recruitment. Rivals.com’s Corey Evans reported Tuesday night that Williamson will come to Lexington next weekend for his official visit.
▪ Calipari visited Vermont Academy on Tuesday morning to check out five-star power forward Simi Shittu. Several of Shittu’s other suitors — including UNC Coach Roy Williams — were also at that open gym.
▪ Bol Bol’s mother told the Herald-Leader on Sunday night that John Calipari had set up a meeting with her son for this weekend. That’s still the plan. The buzz in recruiting circles is that Bol’s recruitment could still go a variety of ways, though, so this one could be a roller-coaster ride for those following along. Bol will be at UK for Big Blue Madness in October, and Evan Daniels has a new report with info on his other official visits.
▪ Still no word of a UK in-home visit with Romeo Langford, the elite shooting guard from New Albany, Ind. Langford’s father told ZagsBlog on Tuesday that Kansas, Louisville and UCLA will visit his son later this week. Indiana and Vanderbilt have already been by for visits. UK remains a major long shot.
▪ As of Tuesday night, UK was still in the process of scheduling an in-home visit with Nashville point guard Darius Garland, who is expected to be in Lexington for next month’s Big Blue Madness. Garland will also take official visits to Duke, Indiana and Vanderbilt next month.