A very important game for the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend will also include a very important visitor behind the UK bench.
Five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey is scheduled to be in Lexington on Saturday afternoon for a recruiting visit centered on the Cats’ home game against Alabama.
Maxey — a 6-foot-3 prospect from Dallas, Texas — is the only player in the recruiting class of 2019 classified as a point guard with a scholarship offer from UK.
He’s the No. 13 overall player in that class — and the No. 2 point guard nationally — according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
“He’s a big strong physical guard that can really score it. He’s aggressive off the bounce,” 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a solid athlete. He plays a physical brand of basketball, and he competes on both ends. He’s a hard-playing dude — a competitor.”
Sounds like some of John Calipari’s past greats at the position.
Daniels stressed Maxey’s ability to score and said he actually views him as more of a combo guard than a point guard. That wouldn’t necessarily be bad news for UK, which could still have Quade Green and class of 2018 signee Immanuel Quickley — both five-star point guards — around by the time Maxey is set to arrive on a college campus.
Daniels said it’s too early in Maxey’s recruitment to get a real feel for any possible favorites. Several Texas schools are involved, and Michigan State is among the other major programs that extended early scholarship offers.
But the Herald-Leader has been told throughout the winter that Kentucky is in a great spot in Maxey’s recruitment and should be considered possible early favorites. Calipari, who watched Maxey play with his high school team last Friday night while in the area for the Cats’ matchup the next day with Texas A&M, has made the junior playmaker a major priority. Calipari also saw Maxey twice in the fall and hosted the five-star prospect for an unofficial visit on Big Blue Madness weekend.
One possible hang-up for UK’s chances: Maxey’s father was recently hired as a staff member at Southern Methodist — as the program’s “director of recruiting,” no less — and that move led to a flurry of SMU predictions on Maxey’s Crystal Ball page last summer.
Still, the Cats appear to be in a great spot with the young guard’s recruitment.
Nothing on Simons … yet
Former Louisville commitment Anfernee Simons — now a top-10 recruit in the 2018 class — wrapped up an official visit to North Carolina State last weekend and has also been on an official visit to Tennessee recently.
Simons — a 6-4 shooting guard and one of the top scorers in the country — told Evan Daniels after the N.C. State visit that he’s also considering Florida, Minnesota, SMU and Dayton, along with Tennessee.
What about Kentucky?
“He didn’t mention them at all,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader.
UK has not yet been publicly linked to Simons’ recruitment, though there’s been buzz of the Wildcats’ interest in the dynamic offensive prospect in recent weeks.
Kentucky still has some time if it wants to get more involved with Simons. His age and status as a post-graduate player at IMG Academy (Fla.) make him eligible for this year’s NBA Draft, and he has already said that he will go through the pre-draft process before making a decision on his basketball future.
That process could drag well into the spring.
Three NBA mock drafts posted in the past few days all have Simons projected in the 2018 draft. Sports Illustrated has him at No. 20 overall, ESPN has him at No. 23 overall, and The Athletic has him at No. 34 overall.
Simons told ESPN earlier this month that he would probably need to be in the “top 25” range of the draft to go through with the jump to the NBA this year.
UK signee Immanuel Quickley was on the wrong end of a nasty fall during a game earlier this week, and he was sidelined from his team’s following game Wednesday night.
The Herald-Leader was told Thursday that Quickley’s absence from the latest game was a precaution and he’s thought to have a knee bruise from the fall. He was also scheduled to have an MRI on the knee Thursday.
Quickley received his McDonald’s All-American jersey during a ceremony at his high school Tuesday, the day after the fall, and told USA Today then: “I’m good, I’m good. I’m feeling better.”
Welcome to Rupp
The first recruit from the class of 2017 to earn a scholarship offer from John Calipari was John Petty, who ultimately signed with home-state Alabama.
Petty, whose decision came down to the Tide and the Cats, will play his first game in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon.
How’s he doing this season?
Petty is averaging 10.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, starting 24 of 26 games for Alabama. He had a 30-point performance in a victory over Alabama A&M early in the season and scored 27 to lead the Tide past Auburn last month, but he failed to score in double digits in six straight games after that.
Petty has been back on track in the last two games — both Bama victories — going for 14 points and four assists in a shellacking of Tennessee last weekend and scoring 11 points against Louisiana State on Tuesday.
One area where Petty definitely could have helped this UK team? Shooting. The freshman is 38.1 percent from long range and has made 67 threes this season. The Cats’ leader in three-point makes, Kevin Knox, has made 42 in the same number of games.
Also of note: Petty was teammates with UK freshman PJ Washington on the Nike-sponsored Team Penny squad two summers ago.
The Orlando Magic’s official website had an interesting story on former five-star recruit Khem Birch this week.
Birch — the No. 14 overall prospect in the 2011 class — told the site that his original recruitment came down to Pittsburgh and Kentucky. He committed to Pitt in the fall of 2010.
“I kind of made a rush decision without taking any visits,” Birch said. “I was set on Pitt because of my relationship with the assistant coach, but he had left before I even got there.”
The assistant was Pat Skerry, who spent just one season with the Panthers before becoming the head coach at Towson University, where he’s now in his seventh season. Skerry also recruited Birch as an assistant at Providence before Pitt hired him.
Birch ended up playing just 10 games at Pitt before leaving midway through his freshman season and transferring to UNLV, where he was the Mountain West defensive player of the year in both seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels.
What if he hadn’t made that rush decision as a recruit?
Birch couldn’t have done much more to help the 2011-12 Kentucky team as a freshman — those Cats won the national title, after all — but, had he stayed in school for more than one year, he could have been a force on the teams that followed. Placing Birch’s shot-blocking alongside freshmen Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein the next year would have made for a ridiculous post defense, for example, and who knows what that 2012-13 team could have been with a sophomore Birch in the paint. That squad, of course, has been Calipari’s only one at UK to miss the NCAA Tournament.
Birch made his NBA debut this season after going undrafted in 2014 and spending the time since in the NBA developmental league and overseas. He’s averaging 12.5 minutes in 21 games for the Magic.