The calendar year of 2018 begins with eight high school basketball prospects from the recruiting class of 2019 already holding scholarship offers from the University of Kentucky.
UK Coach John Calipari is casting a relatively wide net early on for players in what appears to be a class with above-average talent, and it’s likely that he’ll have signatures from at least a couple of those prospects before this year ends.
Here’s a quick look at the eight players with early UK offers, and where the Cats might stand heading into 2018:
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A 6-foot-4 combo guard from New Jersey, Antoine is high school and AAU teammates with fellow top-10 junior Scottie Lewis, and both received UK scholarship offers during the fall.
247Sports director of recruiting Evan Daniels mentioned former NBA sharpshooter Ray Allen as a possible comparison to Antoine during an interview with the Herald-Leader last year, and Antoine is the No. 7 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
UK is among several schools he regularly mentions as top options, though Duke has also made him a priority and holds a majority of predictions on his Crystal Ball page.
Brooks — a 6-8 small forward from Fort Wayne, Ind. — is the No. 33 overall player in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and it was a bit of a surprise when he landed an early offer from the Cats.
He’s one of the best wing scorers in the class — Brooks put up a 52-point game last month — and has already visited UK twice in recent months.
Michigan State and Indiana are widely considered to be the major players in Brooks’ recruitment, but the Cats could easily jump to that tier if they continue to make him a priority.
Carey is the No. 1 junior in the country, according to Rivals.com and 247Sports, and he’ll have his pick of colleges when it comes time to make a decision.
The 6-9 power forward from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is the son of former Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman and first-round NFL Draft pick Vernon Carey, and the Canes were thought to be the favorites for the younger Carey until they were mentioned as part of the federal investigation into college basketball over the fall.
Miami is still on Carey’s list, but Duke has been getting a lot of buzz in recent months (he visited Durham last week), and Michigan State is emerging as a possible favorite, too. UK is among five others on the list — along with Florida, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA — though the Cats haven’t been mentioned prominently.
Hurt — a 6-10 forward from Rochester, Minn. — is averaging 39.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game this season, and he’s the No. 5 overall player in the 2019 composite rankings.
Though he has phenomenal footwork for such a young prospect, Hurt is also being groomed to play on the perimeter at the next level. He’s a threat from three-point range and can put the ball on the floor; he’s also capable of defending multiple positions.
UK, which extended an offer last month, has not often been listed as a favorite for Hurt, but the Cats have a better chance here than they’re being given credit for. Hurt has one-and-done aspirations, and Calipari’s track record with future NBA players could be big in this recruitment. All of the blue bloods are pursuing him.
The second player from the 2019 class to land a UK offer, Jeffries plays his high school ball in the Memphis area and grew up a huge fan of Calipari, who watched him play at the Marshall County Hoop Fest last month.
The versatile, 6-7 small forward is No. 18 in the 247Sports composite rankings, and Kentucky should be considered the early favorite for his commitment.
“People in Kentucky, they love their basketball team,” Jeffries said last month. “I feel like that’s something I want to be a part of.”
One of the most exciting players in the class, Lewis is a 6-5 wing from New Jersey who brings jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism and a tenacious defensive approach to the court. He’s the No. 6 player in the 247Sports composite rankings.
He and Bryan Antoine are high school and AAU teammates, and Lewis is probably the most likely of that duo to end up at UK (though they have also discussed possibly playing together in college).
Florida might be the Cats’ biggest competition at this point. Lewis’ AAU team director is a UF grad and major supporter of the Gators, and he’s already visited Gainesville multiple times.
The only point guard so far to earn a UK scholarship offer, Maxey is the No. 12 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings and one of the best playmakers in the country.
Calipari watched him play in November, and he’ll clearly be a major target for the Wildcats moving forward. One snag: his father was recently hired by Southern Methodist in a support staff position — and SMU is recruiting him hard — but the Herald-Leader has been told that UK should be considered the early favorite for Maxey despite that fact.
The first player from the 2019 class to land a UK offer and the No. 1 prospect on Calipari’s recruiting wish list, Wiseman is a dynamic, 6-11 power forward who the UK coaching staff has already compared to Anthony Davis.
He plays his high school ball for Penny Hardaway in Memphis — and also plays for Team Penny on the Nike circuit — and hasn’t shied away from talk that Kentucky is the clear leader in his recruitment. At this point, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t end up with the Cats, and he’d be one of Calipari’s biggest additions so far at UK.
Wiseman has denied rumors that he might go ahead and jump to college early by moving to the 2018 class. He’s the No. 2 player in the 247Sports composite rankings, and he could easily slide into the No. 1 spot in the near future.
Other five-stars to watch
▪ Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.) point guard Cole Anthony — son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony — is the No. 3 player in the class and has already been seen numerous times by Calipari. Duke and Kansas are among his early offers.
▪ Christ School (N.C.) combo guard Jalen Lecque (No. 13 ranking) is on UK’s radar, though he is considering a move to the 2018 class, which would likely rule out the Cats.
▪ St. Benedict’s (N.J.) small forward Precious Achiuwa has not been linked to UK yet, but he seems destined for a top-10 ranking.
▪ Mountain Brook (Ala.) small forward Trendon Watford is still being pursued by UK and is the No. 16 player in the class.
▪ Lower Richland (S.C.) wing Christian Brown is No. 21 in the 247Sports rankings and has already visited Kentucky.