Highly touted basketball recruit Shareef O’Neal — the son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal — announced Saturday that he is no longer committed to Arizona, a program that has been mired in reports of wrongdoing as a result of the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.
O’Neal is the No. 33 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Kentucky has been mentioned in the past as a possible landing spot in his recruitment.
“At this time I’m opening up my recruitment due to the current events with the UofA basketball team,” O’Neal said in a tweet Saturday. “I would like to thank all the coaches for recruiting me. At the time my family and I think it’s in my best interest to look at other options to assure my play in the NCAA next year.”
An ESPN report late Friday night linked Arizona Coach Sean Miller to aspiring agent Christian Dawkins, one of the key figures in the federal corruption case, over the recruitment of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton, one of the top prospects in the 2017 class. Arizona announced Saturday that Miller would not coach the team against Oregon on Saturday night.
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Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the college assistants arrested in the fall in connection with the federal investigation into college basketball. A few days after that, 247Sports national analyst Andrew Slater logged a Crystal Ball prediction that O’Neal would eventually flip his commitment to Kentucky as a result of the scandal.
At the time, O’Neal pledged his loyalty to Arizona, though he did not sign a national letter of intent with the school in November, instead signing non-binding scholarship papers.
O’Neal — a 6-foot-9 forward — committed to Arizona last April. Before that, his father had been talking up Kentucky as a possible destination in his recruitment.
“My dad actually wants me to lean towards Kentucky,” Shareef told 247Sports a few months earlier. “He has a good friendship with the coach there. I know a lot about that school because a lot of kids dream about going there. I like their style of play.”
Shaquille O’Neal has also been complimentary of UK Coach John Calipari on his podcast and in other public appearances in the past.
“I don’t know where he’s gonna go, but I would love for him to play for a coach like (Calipari),” the former NBA star said last spring. “The fans there are always good.”
Shareef O’Neal did not receive a scholarship offer from Calipari during his recruitment, though he committed to Arizona while still a junior in high school. Kentucky has signed three players for next season, but the Cats do not have anyone taller than 6-6 in their 2018 signing class.
UK is expected to host five-star power forward E.J. Montgomery — a 6-10 prospect from Georgia — for a recruiting visit this weekend. Montgomery is the No. 12 overall player in the 2018 composite rankings and also has scholarship offers from Duke and North Carolina, among others.