About an hour before Kentucky and Missouri were set to tip things off at Rupp Arena on Saturday night, three UK assistant coaches sat in different spots near the court, each chatting up a highly touted basketball recruit.
On one bench sat Kenny Payne, who led five-star power forward E.J. Montgomery onto the court earlier in the evening. Payne, Montgomery and his family all talked while watching the Wildcats warm up.
UK freshman Kevin Knox walked out onto the court at one point, and — before he started to shoot around — came over to shake hands with Montgomery and his family.
Montgomery — a 6-foot-10 prospect from Marietta, Ga. — is the No. 6 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2018 and the top available big man left in that group. He visited Duke and North Carolina last week, and UK remains a major contender in his recruitment following his decommitment from Auburn last fall.
On the other bench, Joel Justus sat with University Heights Academy standout KyKy Tandy, who got a call from the Wildcats on Friday morning following his 43-point performance in a district title victory the night before.
Tandy — a 6-2 guard — is averaging 30.6 points per game and shooting 45.0 percent from three-point range for UHA this season. He’s the No. 150 player in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Tandy has early offers from Florida, Cincinnati and Tennessee, among others.
John Calipari has not signed an in-state player since Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins in the class of 2013.
Sitting on the baseline a few feet away from Justus and Tandy sat UK assistant coach Tony Barbee and Maryland point guard Elijah Wood, a promising prospect in the 2020 class. Wood is a top 100 recruit in that class.