Kentucky exits the early signing period with three new Wildcats for next season, and John Calipari commented on his trio of 2018 commitments for the first time Thursday.
UK signed five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro and five-star wing Keldon Johnson in the fall period, which ended Wednesday, and that three-player group goes into the winter as the No. 3-ranked class nationally, behind only Kansas and Duke.
“We’ve signed three really good players, really good kids who had a burning desire to be at Kentucky, which tells you they’ve got a toughness to them,” Calipari said in a statement. “They didn’t need to be begged; they wanted to be here. All three are guards, all three are tough, and all three have a fight and a skill about them. All three of them are gym rats — the kind of guys who come here and do well. All three are driven and wired the way you have to be to be successful here. They’re going to add to what we do.”
Calipari coached Quickley — a 6-foot-3 point guard from Maryland — over the summer with the USA Basketball U19 team. Quickley, the No. 8 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings, was Kentucky’s first commitment for 2018.
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“When you talk Immanuel Quickley, you’re talking about one of the hardest-working kids,” Calipari said. “He comes in as a point guard, but like all of our guards, he can play combinations. He can play with another point guard. He’s big, he can shoot it and he can score it. Great leader because he works so hard that people want to be a part of his sphere.”
Johnson — a 6-6 wing at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) — has been on UK’s recruiting radar for more than a year, and he finally received a scholarship offer from the Cats this fall.
He averaged 20.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on the Nike circuit over the summer, and he announced his commitment to UK during the first weekend of the early signing period.
Johnson is the No. 14 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
“Over the life of recruiting him, we did like we do with all of these kids: We want kids that want to be here, that we know can succeed here,” Calipari said. “With Keldon, you’re talking about a guy that physically goes after balls. He can score it, he can handle it and he can pass it. He’s one of those guys that will drive and miss it and then go grab the rebound and stick it back in. Maybe tip that one, grab that one. He’s that kind of relentless player.”
Herro — a 6-5 shooting guard from Milwaukee — was committed to home-state Wisconsin for more than a year before backing off of that pledge last month. UK immediately emerged as a favorite, and he announced his commitment to the Cats on Tuesday.
A 39-percent three-point shooter as a high school junior last season, Herro is the No. 36 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
“Tyler can shoot it and he can score it,” Calipari said. “He has different ways of playing, but you’re talking about a big guard who is as tough as nails — a fighter, a battler. He has that little bit of swag to him like a Devin Booker type of kid. He’s got a burning desire of, ‘Let’s do this. This is where I want to be. This is where dreams are made and met.’”
Calipari likely isn’t done yet.
Williamson — a 6-6 prospect from Spartanburg, S.C. — is the No. 2 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings. UK has long been mentioned as a possible favorite in his recruitment, though there’s also been some recent buzz for Clemson, the local choice and his stepfather’s alma mater.
Brown — a 7-1 prospect from Bronx, N.Y. — got a surprise home visit from Calipari this month, and the coach wants him to take an official visit to UK. A scholarship offer from the Wildcats could come on that trip, and Maryland looks to be Kentucky’s main competition if Calipari goes all in on Brown’s recruitment.
The regular signing period begins April 11, but players can commit to a school any time between now and then.
“I’m excited for this class,” Calipari said. “And we’re not done yet. We have to see where all this stuff goes, but our need, we have filled. These three guys are what we needed, and that’s what’s happened. I’m excited.”