No stranger to rebuilding a roster virtually from scratch, John Calipari is already preparing for another mammoth reload to follow a season that’s still more than six months away from starting.
Calipari has issued at least a dozen University of Kentucky scholarship offers to players in the class of 2017, and he will watch many of those prospects this weekend at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event in Indianapolis.
The Wildcats probably will need all the help they can get from the recruiting class of 2017, which could be Calipari’s biggest group yet. That’s because UK is projected to lose more than half of its scholarship players after next season.
Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder, Derek Willis and Marcus Lee (if he returns) will all exhaust their final year of eligibility as seniors next season. Three members of UK’s signing class of 2016 — Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk — are already projected as one-and-done, first-round NBA picks by DraftExpress.com.
The Cats’ top remaining target for this recruiting class, Marques Bolden, is also considered a one-and-done player. And it wouldn’t be a stretch for either or both of UK’s other two signees — Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones — to generate some NBA interest following their freshman campaigns.
If point guard Isaiah Briscoe returns for his sophomore season at UK, he, too, will be projected as a selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Add them all up, and Calipari is likely to have eight or nine spots to fill in his 2017 recruiting class.
New point guard target
The most recent class of 2017 recruit to earn a UK scholarship offer is point guard Tremont Waters, who picked one up Wednesday night during a visit with the Wildcats’ coaching staff.
Waters — a 5-foot-11 prospect from New Haven, Conn. — had an excellent weekend playing alongside UK post target Nick Richards for the Nike-affiliated Expressions Elite squad. Waters averaged 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals over three games. He also made seven of 11 three-point attempts.
Going into the weekend, Scout.com ranked him as the No. 70 prospect in the class.
“He looked like a different player this weekend,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “When I saw him during the high school season, he played a little selfishly. He was taking wild, bad shots. This weekend, he played more under control. He shot the ball really well from distance. And he put a lot of pressure on the opposition with his defense. I thought he had a great weekend.”
Until Wednesday night, Oklahoma standout Trae Young was the only point guard in the class of 2017 with a UK scholarship offer. With the likelihood that Briscoe, Fox, Monk and Hawkins won’t be around for the 2017-18 season, the Cats will almost certainly need to find at least two point guards in their 2017 recruiting class.
“You have to take into account, this 2017 class doesn’t have a strong crop of point guards,” Daniels said. “Kentucky is really trying to figure out who they want to go after. And they’ve certainly made an effort with Trae Young. But I think they’re going to cover their bases and recruit a couple other guys. And the way Tremont played the first weekend of EYBL, he certainly warranted a lot of high-major interest.”
Duke also extended a scholarship offer to Waters on Wednesday.
The biggest buzz recruit out of the first evaluation period last weekend was probably near-7-footer Mohamed Bamba, a native of Harlem, N.Y., who plays his high school ball in Pennsylvania and is ranked No. 2 in the class of 2017 by Scout.com.
Bamba — a major UK recruiting target — averaged 15.3 points, 15.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots per game, leading his team to a 3-0 record in the first Nike EYBL session. One of those victories came against the New York Rens, a team that features UK target Hamidou Diallo.
Rens Coach Andy Borman was more than impressed with Bamba.
“Man, he’s great,” Borman told the Herald-Leader. “And he’s a great kid. He came up to me after the game and just said, ‘Hey, Coach, heck of a game.’ Just things like that, the little things. He’s terrific. He’s a competitor. He’s talented, and he’s humble. And I observed that in 45 minutes. I can’t imagine how much of a joy he is to be around every day. He’s unique.”
Under the weather
One UK target who did not have a good showing on the Nike circuit last weekend was John Petty, who earned a Wildcats scholarship offer last April and has emerged as one of Calipari’s top priorities in the class.
Petty — a 6-foot-6 wing from Huntsville, Ala. — averaged 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and had more turnovers than assists over three games. He shot just 21.4 percent from the field. What the box scores didn’t show was that Petty played all weekend while battling the flu.
The illness actually led to him delaying an in-home visit with Calipari that had been scheduled for Monday night. The UK coach met with him Tuesday instead, and Petty will be looking for a more productive (and more healthy) second weekend on the Nike circuit in Indianapolis.
Bolden watch continues
As of Friday, there was still no college decision from five-star center Marques Bolden, who has not yet named a date for that announcement.
“The status is the same: He could decide at any second, but this thing could also be pushed back a couple weeks,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “Nothing would surprise me.”
Bolden is expected to pick either UK or Duke, but there’s no indication when that will happen. The prolonged recruitment has led fans on both sides to read into what the delay might mean for their school.
“I don’t think it matters,” Daniels said. “I think he’s just trying to sort it out and is having trouble picking between two schools. I know that seems too simple, but I think it is that simple.”