The fall recruiting period for college basketball is almost a week old, and it’s been a busy few days for John Calipari and his assistant coaches.
A few UK-related notes on what’s coming up next and what you might have missed during this hectic stretch:
Barrett heads to Durham
No. 1-ranked prospect R.J. Barrett heads to Duke this weekend for what will be an important 48 hours in his recruitment.
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Barrett — a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Ontario — took an official visit to Kentucky earlier this month. That was the first such trip of his recruitment, and the feedback in the days following the visit teemed with positivity about the Wildcats’ chances.
The Herald-Leader has been told that UK remains optimistic with Barrett, who was seen by many as a Duke lean going into these official visits.
Our expert panel of recruiting analysts called the Blue Devils the favorites for Barrett ahead of the UK visit. Scout.com’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader this week that he had “no idea” who might lead for the top recruit at this point, however, and Barrett will still have official visits to Arizona, Michigan and Oregon after this weekend.
Given the overwhelmingly positive reaction that followed Barrett’s visit to UK, it will be interesting to hear the feedback in the days after the Duke trip.
▪ Worth a reminder here that five-star recruits Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley will take official visits to UK this weekend. Scout.com’s Evan Daniels talked to the Herald-Leader about those two players earlier this week.
Still no visit
UK Coach John Calipari made the trip to Vermont to see five-star power forward Simi Shittu on Tuesday morning, as expected, and he shared the sideline at the 6 a.m. open gym with several other coaches, including North Carolina’s Roy Williams.
As of Friday morning, there was still no word on when Shittu would visit Kentucky.
Vermont Academy assistant coach Matt Elkin joined Adam Zagoria’s “Four Quarters” podcast after Tuesday’s open gym, and he said that Shittu still plans to visit Lexington. The assumption is that UK will extend a scholarship offer on that trip.
“We think that once that happens … there’s no doubt that offer will come, and hopefully that’s something that both sides can really benefit from,” Elkin said on the podcast.
Vermont Academy head coach Alex Popp made similar comments regarding UK’s recruitment of Shittu during an interview with the Herald-Leader last week, and that visit to Lexington is expected to be scheduled soon.
Listen to Zagoria’s full interview with Elkin at this link. (Starts at about the 13:00 mark).
Zion Williamson — the No. 2 player in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2018 — shared Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recruiting pitch in his USA Today blog Monday.
“He said he was gonna play me the way he played LeBron (James) in the Olympics in 2012 so I did my research! Coach K gave him the chance to showcase that he was still the best player in the world,” Williamson wrote. “I thought that was a real, genuine answer because Coach K is always 10 steps ahead.”
Krzyzewski’s time in charge of the Team USA program has clearly helped his recruiting efforts at Duke in recent years, and he’s in a unique position to give players like Williamson — possibly the most-hyped high school prospect since LeBron — pitches like that one.
Williamson had in-home meetings with John Calipari, Kansas’ Bill Self, UCLA’s Steve Alford and South Carolina’s Frank Martin this week, and he’s scheduled to meet with UNC’s Roy Williams in a couple of days.
The Herald-Leader was told that Williamson’s meeting with UK on Wednesday night went really well, and he’s expected to be in Lexington next weekend for an official visit — the first of his recruitment.
Looking good in 2019?
Something mentioned toward the end of our Herald-Leader basketball recruiting podcast earlier this week: UK seems to be in great shape early — and it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to call the Cats the favorites — for top-five recruits James Wiseman and Scottie Lewis from the class of 2019.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus’ first stop of the fall recruiting period last weekend was to see Wiseman in Memphis. The 6-11 power forward was recently elevated by ESPN to the No. 1 ranking in the 2019 class, and he’s had terrific things to say about Kentucky. On Thursday, he became the first 2019 recruit to land an offer from John Calipari.
UK assistant coach Tony Barbee started the early signing period in New Jersey, where he watched Lewis and fellow top-five recruit Bryan Antoine, teammates at the high school level and on the Under Armour circuit.
Lewis — a 6-5 shooting guard — is the No. 5 junior in the 247Sports rankings, and the Herald-Leader was told recently that Kentucky could be considered the team to beat early. UK is also very much in the mix for Antoine — a 6-4 combo guard and the No. 3 junior in the 247Sports rankings — though the Cats’ chances with him look a little less clear at this stage.
Kentucky also extended an offer Thursday to class of 2019 small forward D.J. Jeffries, the No. 13 player in the class and one of Wiseman’s teammates on the Nike circuit. The Cats also appear to be in good shape early on with Jeffries.
UK held its official photo day Monday.
That wasn’t open to the local media, which will have its own photo day next week, but some of the material was released through social media. One takeaway: freshman center Nick Richards — tentatively listed at 6-11 and 240 pounds — is noticeably the tallest player on this season’s squad.
He might also have the most upside.
Covering him at various Nike, camp and all-star settings over the past couple of years, it was interesting to see Richards’ rapid progression at each stop along the way. He went from being a very raw, but clearly gifted prospect a couple of years ago to a defensive force in the post with a growing offensive game this past spring, when he competed at the McDonald’s All-American game.
Scoring could still be a struggle this season, as was explained to SEC Country this week by ESPN analyst and former coach Seth Greenberg, who has seen UK practice recently.
“Nick can’t score — he can block shots, he can rim run and play off penetration —which I think is going to be a concern,” Greenberg told SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker.
That will be the next step in Richards’ evolution, and he knows it. “It’s not really there yet,” Richards told the Herald-Leader when asked about his offensive game in the spring.
The Jamaica native has been playing basketball for only four years, and — looking back at how far his game as come in that time — it would be foolish to think he won’t be able to better develop those skills going forward.
Another win for the SEC
New Louisiana State head coach Will Wade pulled in another huge recruit this week with the commitment of five-star post player Naz Reid, the No. 15 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings. Wade had already landed recent commitments from class of 2017 point guard Tremont Waters and class of 2018 point guard Javonte Smart, both top-50 players nationally.
Thirteen of the top 30 players in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, have already announced a college commitment. Four of those 13 players are headed to the Southeastern Conference (and UK hasn’t even gotten started yet). The two top-30 SEC commitments other than Reid and Smart are Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry (No. 12) and Auburn’s E.J. Montgomery (No. 24).