The University of Kentucky basketball roster for the 2016-17 season already includes an abundance of highly touted post players, but John Calipari might not be finished adding to that group.
UK has recently emerged as the favorite — in the eyes of some analysts — to add the No. 1 center in the country to a recruiting class that is already ranked as the nation’s best.
247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer recently changed his “Crystal Ball” prediction for five-star center Marques Bolden to Kentucky, which already has signed five of the top 16 prospects in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2016.
“I’ve heard from a couple of sources that I trust that that’s where he’s likely going to end up,” Meyer told the Herald-Leader this week.
Bolden — a 6-foot-10 prospect from DeSoto, Texas — has taken official visits to UK, Duke, Kansas and Oklahoma and is one of the top uncommitted players left in the class of 2016. His AAU coach and mentor is Jeff Webster, a former Oklahoma standout who mentored Julius Randle as a high school player and remains close with the UK coaching staff.
Meyer cited the Webster connection as a possible key factor in Bolden’s recruitment, as well as UK’s recent track record of grooming highly touted post players for the NBA.
Kansas is currently the leader on Bolden’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page, but Meyer gave the recent edge of developing post players to UK.
“There’s been great success with big guys at Kentucky,” he said. “And, this is just me speculating, but you haven’t seen that same kind of success at Kansas with their freshman bigs recently. ... I can’t see how that’s not a factor, and you know that’s part of the recruiting talk that’s going on.”
A part of other schools’ recruiting pitch to Bolden might be that there’s simply not going to be enough playing time to go around at UK next season.
The Cats will bring back current freshmen Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard, and they’ve already signed five-star power forwards Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Marcus Lee could decide to come back for his senior season, and Calipari has floated the idea that Skal Labissiere could be a two-year player at UK. (Both Labissiere and Lee are currently projected as draft picks after this season.)
Meyer said Bolden’s college decision could come before players like Labissiere and Lee make their NBA announcements, and those stay-or-go calls might not have any effect on Bolden’s destination.
“Somebody’s going to have to sit on the bench,” Meyer said. “Calipari has sort of got it to a point where he’s challenging guys — almost challenging their manhood if they want to fight for minutes. The opportunity for early playing time is there, obviously, because of the high rate of turnover. But you’re going there moreso to develop. It’s not about showcasing your talent. If a player wants to showcase their talent, they make a decision like Malik Newman made and go to Mississippi State.
“You don’t really go to Kentucky to showcase your talent. Your numbers are going to be lower. Your playing time might be lower. You go there for the regimen and the competition in practice and the daily grind. And to endure the pressure.”
So what would UK be getting if the Texas native does decide to become a Wildcat?
Meyer said there are some similarities between Bolden — ranked by 247Sports as the No. 29 overall player in the senior class — and former Duke star Jahlil Okafor.
“Very skilled offensive players with a much more advanced back-to-the-basket game than their peers,” he said. “But slower of foot and not really defensively oriented. In some ways, he has a mature game that’s advanced. But why would he be No. 29 and not No. 10? It’s foot speed and quickness and defensive limitations.”
Allen almost a Wildcat?
The other class of 2016 post player still on UK’s recruiting radar is Jarrett Allen, a 6-10 power forward from Austin, Texas.
Allen was once expected to make a decision during the November signing period, and Scout.com director of recruiting Evan Daniels liked the Wildcats’ chances at that time.
“Heading into the signing period, I think Jarrett was leaning toward maybe even committing to Kentucky early,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. “And when Bam (Adebayo) went ahead and committed to Kentucky, I think it kind of restarted his whole process.”
Allen, who is still considering several colleges, told Daniels at a recent high school showcase in California that he isn’t anywhere close to a decision on his future. He took official visits to UK, Houston, Kansas and Notre Dame in the fall. Hometown Texas has also been recruiting him hard.
Scout.com ranked Allen as the No. 16 overall prospect in the loaded 2016 class coming into the season, and Daniels was impressed by what he saw from the athletic post player in California.
“He’s starting to come out of his shell,” Daniels said. “He’s always been this sort-of-shy, keep-to-himself kid. But you can see it out on the court — he’s talking more. He’s being more aggressive. In turn, that’s helping his game. He’s one of the truly elite post players in this class.”
Daniels described Allen as an effective offensive player with good hands and touch around the basket, the ability to score with turnaround jump hooks or facing the rim. He’s also improved his passing from the post and has the tools to become a solid shot blocker.
Kentucky is still in the mix for Allen, who could wait until the postseason all-star circuit to announce a college decision.
“UK is certainly still pursuing Jarrett, and Jarrett obviously has some strong interest in them,” Daniels said. “So, yeah, they’re definitely still a possibility.”
Who else is left?
Five-star combo guard Kobi Simmons is still being mentioned as a possibility to join UK’s class of 2016, though there hasn’t been much movement in his recruitment since he decided to hold off on an early decision.
UK, Ohio State and UNLV were his finalists in the fall, but it’s possible that other schools will get more involved before he’s ready to make a college announcement. The Cats have signed De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk — arguably the top two guards in the class of 2016 — and could return one or more of their starting guards from this season.
Kentucky has not had any substantial contact recently with the other uncommitted five-star prospects in the senior class: Rawle Alkins, Udoka Azubuike, Josh Jackson and Thon Maker. All four of those players are now looking more closely at other schools.
UK’s basketball signees for the recruiting class of 2016
Chapel Hill, N.C.